The Buried Giant

by

Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Buried Giant: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Saxon village, notes the narrator, looks more like a traditional village: it’s made of houses and buildings, not dug into a hillside like Axl and Beatrice’s warren. Around the town is a large fence with sharpened poles to keep creatures (and people) from climbing over it. Looking down at it, Beatrice observes that there are several soldiers guarding the gate, which is different than in the past when it was just one or two men and a couple of dogs.
The heightened security at the gates of the village indicate that there is some new tension or problems in the town and the people have become afraid and suspicious of outsiders. Even though there is peace, there is still this feeling among the Saxons that they need to protect themselves with large fences and guards, unlike the Britons who live in unsecured warrens.
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Axl worries that they won’t be welcome here, but Beatrice assures him that they know her because she trades there with other women from the warren. Furthermore, the leader of the town is a Briton and a friend of hers. Even still, Beatrice says that the increased security means something serious has happened. Axl is prepared to find shelter for the night somewhere else, but Beatrice disagrees because it’s nearly dark and she wants to see a medicine woman in the village about a discomfort in her side she’s been experiencing. Axl is worried, but Beatrice tells him it’s “nothing to worry about.”
Even more evidence of peace is shown by the fact that this Saxon town is being led by a Briton and Britons are also welcome to come and go when they have goods to trade, which shows that Britons and Saxons are cooperative and work together instead of trying to avoid each other. Still, Axl seems to fear that, being Britons, they will not be welcome, which reveals suspicion and tension despite apparent peace.
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As they approach the gate, the Saxon guards look “panicked,” so Beatrice insists that she go up alone and Axl wait for her at a distance. After checking both Beatrice and Axl out, the guards let them enter the town, which is not as orderly as it had appeared from a distance. Beatrice notes that it is “eerily still” in the village, which is usually busy and lively. Beatrice decides to go to the medicine woman before going to the inn. Stepping into what appears to be a village square, they see a bonfire and a number of people talking around it. Axl and Beatrice, however, continue on their way to the medicine woman’s house.
All around them in the town, there is evidence of unexplainable tension. As Britons, both Axl and Beatrice are “others” in this environment, which makes them vulnerable to suspicion and that could put them in real danger. Even Beatrice, who was confident about their welcome even when she saw the guards, senses that something truly serious is going on by how “eerily still” the town is.
Themes
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Beatrice finds the medicine woman and they talk together in the Saxon language (which Axl can’t understand) for a while before the woman leads Beatrice toward her hut. Beatrice tells Axl to wait outside, so he leans against a wall and observes the people in the square. There is “a growing restlessness” and many people are walking back and forth hurriedly. Just as he’s about to nod off, the crowd makes a simultaneous movement and several men walk out of a nearby building. One man seems to be the object of everyone’s attention, and Axl realizes the man is dressed and acts like a warrior. The two men who emerge with the warrior look nervous even though they carry spears.
Saxons have a completely different language than Britons, which highlights how different the two groups really are. Axl is able to recognize the strange man at the center of attention as a warrior, which harkens back to his own sense of remembering things when the boatman talked about past wars and battles. This could indicate that Axl recognizes something in this warrior that is also applicable to some part of his own past, possibly as a warrior himself. 
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Suddenly Beatrice is next to Axl and tells him that the warrior arrived shortly before they did, and that he is a Saxon from a distant part of the country. Beatrice also explains that, earlier in the day, a villager ran into the village with a hurt shoulder and a story about ogres attacking him, his brother, and his nephew. The ogres killed the man’s brother and “carried off the boy, who was alive and struggling.” The man had come back to get backup and return to where the ogres had been to rescue his nephew. Unfortunately, there was a trap and three of the party were killed before the rest were able to return to the village. Shortly after the group returned, the warrior came into town asking for shelter. He volunteered to help search for and rescue the boy with the help of several more men from the village.
Beatrice’s confirmation that the strange man is indeed a Saxon warrior from far away brings up a new question: if the land is at peace, why is a mysterious warrior traveling through it? In fact, the existence of a warrior at all implies the continued existence of Saxon armies, which would mean that, even in the absence of conflict, this group stands in readiness for future conflict.
Themes
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The medicine woman tells Beatrice that she and Axl need to go straight to the longhouse (an inn) and stay inside until morning because the whole town is so tense. Before they can leave, however, the crowd starts cheering and chanting with the warrior and the group of men accompanying him begin to head out. Once the group moves away, Beatrice asks for directions to the longhouse and she and Axl start walking there. Before long, however, they are lost and find themselves walking along the perimeter fence. Suddenly Axl and Beatrice hear a rush of footsteps, and before they know it, they are surrounded by guards. Axl panics, but Beatrice speaks in Saxon to one of them. They hear shouting from somewhere and an elderly man appears, scolding the guards for leaving their posts.
The medicine woman’s advice is more evidence that, as Britons, Axl and Beatrice are vulnerable to suspicion in a Saxon town. Given the events earlier that day involving the young boy, there is evidently a fear that Axl and Beatrice might find themselves in trouble if they stumble on the wrong group of people, which appears to happen when they are suddenly surrounded while innocently walking down the street.
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The elderly man, addressing Axl and Beatrice in the Briton language, wonders how the guards could so soon forget their duty to stay at their posts. Beatrice, addressing the man as Ivor, observes that all the men are exceptionally jumpy that evening. Ivor apologizes for the guards’ behavior and Beatrice asks for directions. Ivor tells her it’d be better if she and Axl stay at his house for the night, and they agree to follow him there.
Even though the guards clearly don’t trust Britons in general, they trust and respect Ivor in particular. This means that, taken individually, Saxons and Britons can and do get along and any distrust between the two groups exists in a general sense and can be gotten over on an individual basis.
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Ivor’s house is large, comfortable, and warmed by a big fire. Axl unpacks his and Beatrice’s blankets as they find comfortable spots to sit. Ivor apologizes for the guards once again, and Axl tells him he understands and appreciates the kindness Ivor is showing them. Ivor notes that it’s still strange that the men forgot their orders to stay at their posts and says that “such strange forgetfulness” happens all the time. Axl says it’s the same where he and Beatrice are coming from. Ivor thinks this is interesting and wonders if it’s because he’s old or because he’s “a Briton living here among Saxons” that he seems to remember more than those around him. Axl notes that he and Beatrice remember more than “the younger ones” and asks Ivor if he knows where the mist that makes them forget comes from. Ivor says he’s heard a lot about the mist, but before he can share what he knows, a noise outside distracts him and he excuses himself.
Ivor’s account of the forgetfulness in the village confirms that the mist is affecting a much larger area than perhaps Beatrice or Axl had considered. Ivor also believes that there is something about being a Briton makes him less susceptible to the mist’s ability to make people forget, which implies that he believes he has a stronger mind than the Saxons. This type of bias, if it is indicative of what most Britons think of the Saxons, could contribute to ongoing tension and suspicion between them, despite the prevalence of peace and cooperation.
Themes
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With Ivor gone, Axl and Beatrice wonder what he would have said about the mist. Axl asks Beatrice if Ivor has always lived with the Saxons and Beatrice tells him it’s only been since Ivor married a Saxon woman, but she isn’t sure what happened to the wife since then. Beatrice also says it would be “a fine thing to know the cause of the mist.” Axl agrees, but doubts that it would do any good. Beatrice is upset by this and asks how he can speak “so lightly of it” when it could make “such a difference” to them. Axl apologizes and says he was thinking about the men who went out in search of the kidnapped boy. Beatrice, still upset and believing he’s speaking too “harshly,” tells him there’s no need to snap at her. Axl apologizes again and says they’ll talk to Ivor about the mist before they leave.
Ivor’s marriage reveals just how integrated the Saxons and Britons have become over time and also explains how he may have come to be the leader of the town. The argument between Axl and Beatrice, even though it is only a minor one, reveals a huge difference in what they think of the mist and the possibility of getting their memories back. Beatrice is preoccupied with being able to remember her life with Axl, but Axl has managed to put it largely out of his mind, which could indicate that he is already unsure that getting their memories back would actually be a good thing.
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Axl asks Beatrice if she received an answer from the medicine woman about her pains. Beatrice tells him that the medicine woman told her the discomfort was a normal part of aging. Axl says he knew there was no reason to worry, but Beatrice reminds him that he had insisted on her seeing the medicine woman that night. Beatrice tells him that the medicine woman mentioned a wise monk named Jonus in a monastery nearby who helps a lot of people from the village. Axl says they may as well go visit Jonus even though Beatrice says the trail will be hard to climb up. Axl insists on at least thinking about going there and then sees Ivor coming back.
Even though they just had an argument, Axl’s primary concern is Beatrice’s health, shown by his questions about what the medicine woman said and his insistence on going to see Jonus even though the climb up the mountain will be difficult and exhausting for him. Although neither of them have said it openly, it is clear that both Axl and Beatrice are concerned that Beatrice’s pain might be more serious than she is willing to admit.
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Ivor comes back into the house and says that a “young fool” thought he saw a “fiend” come over the fence, but it turned out to be just a dream—the man had fallen asleep at his post. Ivor tells Axl and Beatrice that they’ll have to sleep in the main room while he sleeps in an inner room. Axl thanks him again for giving them such a comfortable space in which to stay the night. Ivor asks where they are traveling and Axl tells him about their plan to find their son’s village and to take a detour to meet Father Jonus. Ivor observes that the path to the monastery is in “Querig country,” which somewhat startles Axl and prompts him to ask if the “she-dragon” is still feared there. Ivor says that there are accounts of her attacking travelers but he thinks that it may actually be wild animals or bandits doing this.
Axl’s surprise that Querig is still roaming the mountains near the monastery reveals that he has some kind of long-term memory associated with the dragon, as does everyone else. Querig, it would seem, is perceived as being a greater threat to everyone in the country than anything else, but her extended absence and Ivor’s lack of belief in the accounts of recent attacks casts doubt on the idea that she is actually alive and/or able to do anyone any real physical harm.
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Ivor says that he thinks the real danger associated with Querig “comes less from her own actions than from the fact of her continuing presence.” Ivor believes a “dark force” surrounds Querig and draws evil toward her, and he thinks it is “a disgrace she remains unslain all these years.” Beatrice asks Ivor who would be brave enough to face Querig and Ivor tells her there’s an old knight from the days of King Arthur who says his plan is to slay the dragon, but he doubts that “the old fool” has ever given Querig “a single moment of anxiety.” Ivor tells Beatrice and Axl to press on to the monastery, but to be careful.
Ivor’s story of the old knight and his relation to King Arthur places the story after King Arthur’s death. This knight, however, is still alive, which confirms that the wars between Saxons and Britons, in which King Arthur is known to have played an important role as leader of the Britons, took place in the not too distant past. This would mean that Axl was alive at the time and his memories that were aroused by the sight of the Saxon warrior and the boatman’s stories of war, which indicates he may have taken part in these wars as soldier.
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Ivor starts going toward his bedroom, but Beatrice sits up and stops him, asking him to finish what he had been saying earlier about the mist. Ivor says that a strange Saxon had come through the year before and was really interested in why the people in the village were being affected by the mist. The stranger theorized, and Ivor has begun to agree, that “God himself had forgotten much from our pasts, events far distant, events of the same day,” and that if God forgot these things then human beings stood no chance of remembering them either. Beatrice asks Ivor if God would really forget everything, but Ivor doesn’t know how to answer. Instead, he excuses himself for bed.
Ivor’s opinion that the mist is the result of God’s desire to forget the past is a way of denying the past’s reality. If it was God who made everyone forget, then it would be akin to him giving both Saxons and Britons a clean slate from which they could build more peaceful relations, but this, it would seem, could only happen by making everyone forget. However, this forgetting also means people forget the good parts of their pasts, which is why Beatrice is appalled that God would do that to them.
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Axl is suddenly shaken awake by Beatrice in the middle of the night. There are noises outside, and Ivor tells them to hope for good news as he rushes out the door. Beatrice tells Axl to get out of bed so they can go see what’s happened. Still “bleary with sleep,” Axl takes Beatrice’s arm and they walk out toward the town square with the villagers. The bonfire is burning fiercely, but just beyond it, Axl spots the warrior, who appears calm even though he has specks of blood all over his face, standing there. As the crowd closes in, the warrior begins talking, although Axl can’t understand what he says. The crowd reacts as he makes gestures and tells a story. To his horror, Axl sees the warrior lift up the severed arm of a large creature and then toss it on the ground. The warrior continues talking and Beatrice tells Axl that the warrior has killed both monsters and points out the rescued child, who is sitting on a stone staring at the warrior and surrounded by women who are cleaning his face.
The sight of the warrior covered in blood and holding the severed arm of a large monster, presumably an ogre, is an alarming sight, particularly because this is a town that has only known peace for a long time. The warrior’s calmness implies that he has seen some kind of combat before and is unbothered by violence and bloodshed, but also begs the question of how he experienced these things in what is supposed to a peaceful land.
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Looking at the boy, Axl feels not happiness, but a “vague unease” that he attributes to the “odd manner of the boy himself.” However, Axl soon realizes that what’s really odd is how the boy is being treated: “there [is] a reserve, almost a coldness” rather than jubilation. This reminds Axl of Marta and he wonders if the boy was being forgotten when he was suddenly found. Beatrice has trouble understanding what’s being said as the crowd grows louder, but suddenly Ivor appears next to the warrior and tries to say something. The crowd starts shouting and Beatrice tells Axl they should go back to Ivor’s house. Axl asks her what was being said, but Beatrice is unsure and says there’s an argument over the boy and that they will find out more in the morning.
If Axl is right and the boy was being forgotten by his family and the rest of the village, then this could explain why they’re acting suspicious of him now that he’s returned. Once again, despite peace, Beatrice and Axl worry that if violence breaks out, they will be targeted because they are two of only three Britons in a well-protected Saxon town.
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Axl wakes up the next morning just as the sun starts lighting up the room. He is “in good spirits” because he woke up with a “pleasant memory drifting through his head.” Looking at Beatrice, Axl feels a rush of “tender joy,” but he is unsettled when, unexpectedly, there is also “a trace of sadness.” Axl hears noises outside, but they seem to be the regular noises of daily life in a village. He realizes they’ve slept in later than he planned, so he opens a door, letting the sunlight in to wake Beatrice up. Beatrice also realizes it’s late in the morning but is comforted by sounds outside that indicate life is going on as usual after the events of the night before.
The “trace of sadness” Axl experiences is yet another indication that there is something wrong between him and Beatrice, but it’s buried under the surface and Axl is actively trying to bury it further, not wanting to remember the reality. The return to daily life after such violence just the night before could be another sign of the power of the mist to make people forget, although it’s clear that some people, including Axl and Beatrice, remember something of what happened.
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Axl and Beatrice quickly get dressed and pack up their belongings before heading outside to find something to eat. The town is bustling with life as they walk into the street and spot Ivor talking with the warrior. Spotting them, Ivor tells them he tried not to wake them up too early and offers to bring them to the longhouse for breakfast. He also introduces the warrior as Master Wistan and tells them that Wistan speaks the Briton language with ease. Axl greets Wistan and tells him it’s an honor to meet such a brave man. As Wistan thanks him and commends his comrades from the night before, he stares intently at Axl, “as though some mark on the latter’s face greatly fascinate[s] him.”
Wistan speaks both the Briton and Saxon languages fluently, which means that he has spent a lot of time in both groups and cultures and would have an elevated understanding of their relationship, differences, and perhaps take a unique view of the peace that exists between the two groups. Wistan staring at Axl in fascination implies that he recognizes Axl from somewhere, but this memory would likely be something locked away in his long-term memory, which has been shown as particularly vulnerable to the mist’s influence.
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Axl tells Wistan that he speaks “our language” very well. Wistan, catching himself staring, tells Axl that although Wistan is a Saxon, he lived among Britons for many years. Axl also notes that Wistan wears his sword like a Briton and not a Saxon, which Wistan laughingly confirms, explaining that he had been very well trained by a Briton. Wistan, observing that Axl is not from the village, asks Axl where he comes from. Axl describes the warren, but Wistan asks again if he’s not from some place further west. Axl denies this and Wistan apologizes, saying he finds himself “seeing everywhere shadows of half-remembered faces” before asking Axl where they’re going. Axl explains their journey and decision to go to the monastery. Ivor tells Wistan he needs to bring Axl and Beatrice to the longhouse for breakfast, and they leave.
As someone who spent much of his life with both Britons and Saxons, Wistan brings with him the best of both worlds. This is shown by his adoption of the Briton way of carrying his sword. Wistan says he was trained by the Britons, but this once again brings up the question of why he is being trained as a soldier in addition to why he, a Saxon, was being trained by a Briton. Wistan’s questions about where Axl is from confirm that he recognizes Axl from somewhere long ago, but he can’t quite remember where or how and hopes to remember more details about it if Axl can verify where they would have met.
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Ivor, Axl, and Beatrice reach the longhouse and Ivor shows them in. Beatrice asks Ivor what happened the night before and he shares that some women found a small wound that looked like a bite on the boy, whose  name is Edwin, and wanted to have him killed. Ivor locked the boy in a barn to keep him safe. Beatrice asks how this could happen and Ivor explains that “pagans will not look beyond their superstitions”—they think the boy will be transformed by the bite. Ivor has asked Wistan to take the boy with him and leave him at a village of Britons where he’ll be safe, and Wistan has agreed to think this plan over. Before leaving them to eat breakfast, Ivor asks them to come say goodbye before leaving and then walks back into the town square.
Ivor confirms his belief that, as a Briton, he is somehow superior to the Saxons, who are plagued by what he sees as nonsense superstitions that limit their ability to think intelligently because they “will not look beyond” them. Furthermore, his choice of words (that they will not look instead of cannot) implies that he believes that Saxons are willfully living in ignorance and choosing not to be reasonable, presumably by adopting the beliefs of Britons.
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As they eat, Beatrice asks Axl if he thinks there was anything to what Ivor said about the mist the night before. Axl says he doesn’t know what to think and Beatrice tells him that she thinks God is angry and ashamed about something they did in the past and is wishing for them all to forget it. Axl asks what they could have done, but Beatrice doesn’t know what it might have been. Axl tells her that maybe the wise monk they are going to see will have an answer and he shares with Beatrice a happy memory he woke up with: walking arm in arm with her when they were young. Beatrice, trying to remember, says that Axl had gotten jealous over something a drunken man said to her that day, but Axl disagrees with this. Even though they disagree about the memory, Beatrice asserts that it’s a wonderful thing to remember anything, and they continue eating.
Beatrice’s opinion that human beings in England have done something unbelievably terrible in the recent past and that God has grown ashamed of them indicates that she herself believes some major sin has been committed, although she struggles to imagine what that sin might have been. The disagreement Axl and Beatrice have over what was supposed to be an innocent and happy memory is alarming because it reveals that, even though they are happy together now, they can’t agree about the happiness they might have shared in the past, which, as Beatrice knows, would be a problem if they had to answer the boatman’s questions.
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Related Quotes
Walking back to Ivor’s house, Beatrice and Axl spot Wistan sitting on a lookout platform. All three are leaving shortly, but Wistan asks Axl to come up to him to talk for a moment. Beatrice tells Axl to go while she prepares for their departure. Up in the lookout post, Axl and Wistan admire the view of the countryside, which Wistan says stirs up strange feelings and memories in him. Wistan then tells Axl about Edwin’s plight, saying that he wants to bring the boy to a village of Britons where Edwin will be safe. Wistan asks Axl if he would consider taking the boy to a Briton village himself, although Wistan will also accompany them for a while on the road, and Axl says they’ll be happy to help and can bring the boy to their son’s village. Axl and Wistan decide they should leave soon.
Wistan once again drops a hint that he recognizes Axl from somewhere by stating that just being in the country there is calling back to his mind a number of memories from the distant past. It is another testament to the general amiability between Britons and Saxons that Wistan is so confident Edwin, an injured Saxon boy who presumably does not speak the language of Britons, will be treated well and welcomed into a Briton village.
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