In its various uses, the pillory represents the village’s initial vitality and eventual decline. At the beginning of the novel, Walter notes that the village doesn’t have a church, only a pile of stones that no one has had time to assemble. Instead, the pillory, which Walter describes as a cross “more muscular and far reaching than the usual, narrower crucifix” is the site of many rituals that would normally take place in a church; Master Kent conducts marriages, baptisms and funerals here, and the village congregates at the pillory to give thanks for successful harvests. The funerals of Master Kent’s wife, Lucy, and Walter’s wife, Cecily, take place at the pillory as well. In this sense, the pillory shows the village’s distance from conventional sources of authority, like the church. By emphasizing the similarity between the funerals of Lucy, an aristocrat, and Cecily, a peasant, the novel further suggests that this distance facilitates the village’s remarkably egalitarian character.
However, early on in the novel the villagers consign the Beldam father and husband to the pillory for no greater crime than trespassing. The depiction of the two men dangling from the cross with “hanging heads and hands” is a clear comparison to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion narrative, which in turn casts the villagers as oppressive Roman soldiers and Master Kent as a tyrannical Pontius Pilate. While it establishes the village as harmonious and cohesive, then, the pillory demonstrates that this strength comes with an intense hostility to outsiders that makes the villagers complicit in injustice, not just victims of it. Before fleeing at the end of the novel, the Beldam husband chops down the pillory, marking the final disintegration of a way of life at once beautiful and deeply flawed. While Master Jordan is the major threat to the village’s integrity, it’s important that he’s not responsible for the pillory’s destruction; rather, it’s a moment of retribution from someone the village has wronged independently of him.
The Pillory Quotes in Harvest
Our church ground has been desecrated by our surliness. Our usual scriptures are abused. This body on the cross is not the one that’s promised us. Yet, once again, it’s Mr. Quill who teaches us our shortcomings. It’s Mr. Quill who’s intimate and kind. It’s Mr. Quill who’s valiant. It will not make him popular.