Harvest

by

Jim Crace

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Sheep Symbol Icon

Sheep in the novel represent an unfeeling yet unavoidable modernity, whose cost is the dissolution of a more communal way of life. When Master Jordan arrives to take control of his property, he announces a plan to enclose the common lands, previously used for farming, and convert them to a large sheep farm. Jordan describes this as a move towards progress, and in some ways he’s right; it would move the land away from subsistence farming, which barely provides enough food for the villagers, and instead link it to a large, modern economy with the promise of much greater profits. However, Jordan’s total lack of concern about the villagers’ fates shows that his idea of progress is entirely economic, with no considerations of ethics. In this sense, the arrival of sheep symbolizes the transition from an ancient, communally-centered life to an aggressively capitalistic modernity which harms more people than it helps.

Notably, there are several comparisons between the villagers and sheep. Jordan compares the perplexed villagers to “so many sheep,” and after they have fled he says mockingly that “the meek shall inherit the earth,” contrasting the villagers’ flight with the imminent arrival of his livestock. Playing on this, at one point Walter describes the villagers exchanging “sheepish” glances. Jordan’s cruel humor and Walter’s adoption of it emblematizes the villagers’ shift in their self-conception, from informal owners of the land to disposable tenants. In this sense, sheep imagery represents the tragic dispossession of the villagers, who by the end of the novel have lost not only their homes but their entire worldview.

Sheep Quotes in Harvest

The Harvest quotes below all refer to the symbol of Sheep. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Harvest published in 2013.
Chapter 6 Quotes

I bring you sheep, and I supply a Holy Shepherd too. There’ll be a steeple, higher than the turret of this house, taller than any ancient oak that we might fell. This place will be visible from far. And I will have a bell cast for the very top of it to summon everyone to prayer. And hurry everyone to work.

Related Characters: Edmund Jordan (speaker), Master Kent
Related Symbols: Sheep
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

There’s nothing like a show of heavy justice–and a swinging corpse–to persuade a populace not used to formal discipline that their compliance in all matters–including those regarding wool and fence–is beyond debate.

Related Characters: Walter Thirsk (speaker), Edmund Jordan
Related Symbols: Sheep
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

“Nothing but sheep,” he says, and laughs out loud. His joke, I think, is this: we are the sheep, already here, and munching at the grass. There’s none more pitiful than us, he thinks. There’s none more meek. There’s none to match our peevish fearfulness, our thoughtless lives, our vacant, puny faces, our dependency, our fretful scurrying, our plaints.

Related Characters: Walter Thirsk (speaker), Edmund Jordan
Related Symbols: Sheep
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

“I have the sense my cousin is taking pleasure from sowing these anxieties, in the same way we take pleasure in the sowing of our seed,” says Master Kent. “I fear his harvesting. I think he means to shear us all, then turn us into mutton.”

Related Characters: Master Kent (speaker), Walter Thirsk, Edmund Jordan
Related Symbols: Sheep
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Harvest LitChart as a printable PDF.
Harvest PDF

Sheep Symbol Timeline in Harvest

The timeline below shows where the symbol Sheep appears in Harvest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Individuals and the Community Theme Icon
...the masters have enclosed common fields with fences, cleared timber, and turned the land into sheep farms in order to produce and sell wool. (full context)
Individuals and the Community Theme Icon
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
...have to work hard all year and face uncertain harvests. Instead, they will rely on sheep, which are predictable and don’t rely on good weather to produce fleece. Their work will... (full context)
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
Individuals and the Community Theme Icon
...Beldam hesitates for a moment and then walks away through the gate. The villagers “exchange sheepish glances” and, with the atmosphere spoiled, everyone hurries away to bed. (full context)
Chapter 4
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
...to a cousin, named Edmund Jordan. It’s Jordan, not Master Kent, who plans to introduce sheep and disrupt village life, and he’s arriving this afternoon to enforce his wishes. (full context)
Chapter 6
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
...the steward, Mr. Baynham, will build fences and prepare the land for the arrival of sheep in the spring. The trees will be cut down and sold for tinder. (full context)
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
...will build a church and employ a priest, bringing a “Holy Shepherd” along with his sheep. It will have a steeple taller than the felled trees, and a bell that can... (full context)
Chapter 7
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
...secure some benefits for the villagers and protect some of the common ground before Jordan’s sheep arrive. (full context)
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
...a circle “like a preacher.” Looking around the land, he laughs and says, “nothing but sheep.” Walter knows that the joke comes at the villagers’ expense, mocking their meek and fearful... (full context)
Chapter 8
Individuals and the Community Theme Icon
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
...afternoon, Walter works with Mr. Quill and daydreams about finding employment with him when the sheep push him out of the village. It’s sad to think of leaving Master Kent, but... (full context)
Individuals and the Community Theme Icon
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
...Mr. Quill, he’s eager for a new adventure, and to leave the village before the sheep arrive. Mr. Quill nods, understanding Walter’s hint. Walter asks about his own background, and he... (full context)
Chapter 9
Outsiders and Blame Theme Icon
...wrongs—from the ransacking of the cottages, to Willowjack’s death, to the impending arrival of the sheep—to Mistress Beldam. Even Walter considers the possibility that “she’s brought a curse onto our land.”... (full context)
Individuals and the Community Theme Icon
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
Outsiders and Blame Theme Icon
...the village because their own common ground, not far away, has been converted into a sheep farm. Walter is unhappy to hear that Mistress Beldam, the object of his fascination, is... (full context)
Chapter 10
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
...confession. He tells Walter that Jordan “means to shear us all, then turn us into mutton.” (full context)
Chapter 12
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
...left, Jordan laughs and announces that “the meek shall inherit the world,” referring to his sheep. (full context)
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
...wants to turn the village, which has always produced just enough to survive, into a sheep farm that will waste nothing and produce a large profit for him. Now that the... (full context)
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
...wants Walter to stay behind as his agent, since Mr. Baynham has left to acquire sheep and hired men. He makes Walter promise not to let the young man out of... (full context)
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
Individuals and the Community Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
...on their behalf. If Walter agrees to watch over his land and wait for the sheep, he will release them, but not on his own land, where “their greatest sorcery has... (full context)
Chapter 14
Renewal and Decay Theme Icon
Progress and Dispossession Theme Icon
...new respect for Mr. Quill. He even talks about oxen, which he prefers to helpless sheep. (full context)