Harvest depicts a primitive but highly functional and idyllic community just as it’s annihilated by economic progress. There’s a clear contrast between the village, usually characterized positively, and the insidious forces of change, represented by Edmund Jordan and his mantra of “Profit, Progress, and Enterprise.” Complicating this contrast is the villagers’ behavior towards the outsiders in their midst, including Mr. Quill, the Beldam family, and Walter himself. While Jordan sacrifices the village to his dreams of a sheep-farming fortune, the villagers are quick to blame outsiders whenever it will get them out of trouble, replicating their new master’s behavior on a smaller level. This pattern of behavior is impractical; it’s often outsiders who can impart helpful knowledge or information, while by themselves the villagers are largely helpless against Jordan. Moreover, by pointing out the violence and hostility lurking beneath the village’s sleepy rhythms, the novel implicitly questions the isolated and insular lifestyle on which it outwardly heaps praise.
The villagers quickly establish a pattern of blaming the least integrated member of the community for any crime or misfortune. In the novel’s opening scenes, the villagers awaken to find that Master Kent’s dovecote is burning down. Though Walter and several other villagers correctly surmise that Brooker Higgs and the Derby twins, are responsible, no one blames them. Instead, the villagers take advantage of the fact that three outsiders, whom they nickname the Beldams, have set up camp on the commons, and attribute the blame to them. After they place the Beldam husband and father in the pillory, the older man dies of exposure, even though the whole village knows he’s guiltless.
Later, when Jordan’s bad intentions become clear, the villagers quickly become suspicious of Walter; though he’s lived among them for a dozen years, he says “they’re closing ranks already and I am not included,” even when the whole village goes to the manor house to petition for the return of Lizzie Carr, Kitty Gosse, and Anne Rogers, who have been detained after the murder of Master Kent’s horse, Willowjack. In order to establish the women’s innocence, they say that Walter has been behaving strangely. Walter’s neighbor, John Carr, tells him guiltily that “we had to take care of our own,” and Walter feels little surprise to find he’s no longer “included in ‘our own.’”
In this same incident, the village accuses Mr. Quill of troublemaking. It’s notable that they seize on his small acts of kindness towards other outsiders—giving a hand to Mistress Beldam after Brooker Higgs clubs her, or putting an arm around her husband while he’s in the pillory—as evidence that he’s of bad character and aligned against the village. Given that Jordan has raised allegations of sorcery, the villagers have put both men in an extremely dangerous position through these allegations. In one climactic scene, Jordan’s groom threatens young Lizzie Carr and the entire town attacks the outsider, beating him until he’s nearly dead. It’s a display of primal mob violence, and in fact Walter compares the villagers to animals, referencing their “livestock sounds” and “waspy fits.” Walter concludes that the manservant will either die or go mad.
This pattern of behavior is unwise; rather than protecting the villagers from Jordan, it hastens the community’s demise. After attacking the groom, the villagers quickly realize that “everything has changed for the worst.” To avoid punishment, they must flee the village immediately. The harshest display of violence towards outsiders, then, immediately precipitates the abandonment of the village.
More importantly, while Walter romanticizes the village’s way of life, the violence and hostility the villagers display towards anyone they perceive as not belonging emphasizes that the village has deep moral flaws, despite its aura of purity and simplicity. In disowning outsiders, the village casts away the very people who could help them, or at least explain Jordan’s confusing and sinister agenda. The Beldams, for instance, are victims of enclosure themselves, and so have the benefit of experience in confronting this threat. Mr. Quill is also deeply sympathetic to the village; he gives Walter much more information than he technically should, and makes clear that he’s aligned with the villagers, but they don’t trust his goodwill enough to make use of it.
Moreover, the outsiders are among the most sympathetic and highly characterized in the book. Mr. Quill’s natural kindness is quickly apparent, and his dignity in the face of a disability that frequently exposes him to mockery from other men makes him likeable. While they’re wary and proud, the Beldams are much like the villagers, coming from a similar way of life; that they honor the regional custom of constructing four walls and building a fire in order to petition entrance into the village shows that they crave acceptance and inclusion.
Most importantly, the novel’s narration is completely controlled by an outsider. Walter’s sensitive observations, and his wholehearted desire to be considered a full member of the village, make him sympathetic on a personal level and align the reader with the plight of the outsider in general. In light of this, the village’s pattern of unthinking hostility is disturbing, indicative of a severe flaw in their way of life. While the novel ostensibly casts them as victims, helpless against the forces that threaten them, it implicitly sympathizes with the people that they themselves oppress.
While Harvest takes place in the distant past, Crace is a contemporary writer whose work often comments on contemporary issues. As such, the tragedy of the village’s demise can be viewed as a critique of globalization, which prioritizes economic progress above all else and is indifferent to the destruction of smaller cultures. At the same time, his preoccupation with the fate of outsiders in those very communities is an implicit indictment of xenophobia, questioning the moral rectitude of isolated cultures which prioritize homogeneity and perceive difference as a threat.
Outsiders and Blame ThemeTracker
Outsiders and Blame Quotes in Harvest
We know we ought to make amends for shearing her. That’s why she’s standing there, awaiting us. She’s asking us to witness what we’ve done […] For a moment, the temper of the barn is not that she has shamed our evening but that we’ve found our Gleaning Queen.
Their suspicion of anyone who was not born within these boundaries is unwavering. Next time they catch me sitting on my bench at home with a cup and slice, they are bound to wonder if it tastes all the sweeter for not being earned with labor.
The air was cracking with the retributions and damnations that, in my heart of hearts, I knew that some of us deserved. I prayed that this was just a dream and that soon the couldn’t-care-less clamor of the sunrise birds would rouse me to another day, a better day, a bloodless one, one in which, despite my hand, I’d do my common duty and drag up a log or stone to make that short man tall.
It feels as if some impish force has come out of the forest in the past few days to see what pleasure it can take in causing turmoil in a tranquil place.
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.
It is a warning–among country folk, at least–that life should be allowed to proceed in its natural and logical order. In other words, you do not eat before you cook, you do not weave before you shear, you do not attempt to light the fire until you have the kindling…