The Buried Giant

by

Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Buried Giant: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After a long hike upwards, Axl, Beatrice, Wistan, and Edwin realized they would have to find a bridge to cross a large river. However, the bridge was guarded by a group of soldiers, and even though they waited in the trees for a long time, the men didn’t leave. Realizing the soldiers belong to Lord Brennus (a Briton) and aren’t about to leave their post, Wistan suggests that he will keep his “jaw slack like a fool’s” and leave the talking to Axl and Beatrice, who will say that Wistan is “a mute and a half-wit,” that Edwin is his brother, and that they have been given to Axl and Beatrice to pay a debt. Beatrice asks if this is necessary and Wistan says it is merely a precaution.
Wistan’s plan to act like “a mute and a half-wit” rather than risk appearing able-bodied and mentally stable in front of Briton soldiers shows that he, at least, doesn’t trust that existing peace means he won’t be stopped and ill-treated by Lord Brennus’ soldiers. This is also the first clue that Wistan has something to hide and could be lying about his intent in traveling through the country. 
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Although they’re not wearing chainmail, it is obvious that the three men are trained soldiers, and one of them, the grey-haired soldier, is apparently in charge. Walking up to them, Axl bids them good day and asks if they can cross the bridge, assuring them that they are “simple farmers” going to their son’s village. One of the soldiers asks Axl who the two boys traveling with them are and Axl explains that they are brothers and will be trained to help them on the farm. The grey-haired soldier watches as Edwin holds their horse and Wistan giggles manically to himself. Axl notes that the grey-haired soldier seems ready to reprimand the two other soldiers for harassing Wistan, which reminds him of something he may have done himself once.
Axl relates to the grey-haired soldier’s evident desire to tell the other two soldiers not to be needlessly cruel, particularly because Wistan appears to be mentally ill. This shows that Axl himself is not a willfully cruel person and is predisposed to kindness and understanding rather than bravado. Axl’s sense that he’s been in a position similar to that of the grey-haired soldier also indicates that he remembers a time when he would have been the one in charge, but unable to exercise complete authority over those under him.
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Axl comments that the soldiers must be busy and again tells them that he and his group just want to cross the bridge in peace. Tension is thick in the air when the grey-haired soldier finally comes over and tells them that there are some broken planks on the bridge and says they might be there to warn travelers of the risk. The grey-haired soldier asks Axl if they’ve seen any strangers, but Beatrice is the one who answers in the negative. The grey-haired soldier’s look softens as Beatrice tells him they are going to visit their son. He tells her that he hasn’t seen his own parents in a long time before allowing her and the others to go “in peace.” His fellow soldiers hesitate but let them pass.
Beatrice reminds the grey-haired soldier of his own mother, which causes him to be much kinder and gentler to the whole group. The soldier’s ability to relate to Beatrice because of the love she evidently has for her son, which is similar to the love the soldier has for his mother, is enough to do away with the suspicion that all of the soldiers clearly felt. This shows that while suspicion existed, it was something easily gotten over once two people could find common ground.
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Once out of sight of the soldiers, Wistan drops his act and suggests they take a shortcut to avoid the main road. As they hike, Beatrice calls back to Axl from time to time to make sure he’s still there. They wonder if the people back at their warren miss them, although Beatrice insists it was wrong of the people to take their candle away, and she believes the darkness is what caused the pain in her side. Axl reassures Beatrice that her pain is “nothing more than a tiny trouble,” but promises that he’ll ask for a candle when they return.
Even though they now travel with two more people, Beatrice and Axl stand apart because of their relationship and age. The fact that Beatrice associates her pain with having their candle taken away validates Axl’s desire to get her away from the warren. Clearly the social environment there was worse for her than she had let on at the time.
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When they emerge from the forest back onto the main road, Wistan realizes that there is a rider somewhere ahead of them. Standing in the road, the group sees a man wearing armor and sitting against a tree next to a horse. The man calls out and demands that the group tell him who they are. Wistan tells Axl to do the talking, so Axl calls back that they’re “simple wayfarers” who “wish only to go by in peace” with their horse, a young boy, and “a half-wit mute.” The man tells them to come and rest next to him and he’ll share his bread. Beatrice asks if they should accept the invitation and Wistan says they should, so they go forward after establishing that Edwin will keep the horse nearby, Wistan will resume acting like a mute, and Wistan’s sword will be kept well-hidden.
Although Wistan remains suspicious enough to want to pretend to be weaker than he is, the stranger is clearly very trusting and truly believes that no matter who these people are, he will surely be safe with them. The stranger has more confidence in the peace between Saxons and Britons, giving him no reason to be as suspicious as Wistan, Beatrice, and Axl clearly are.
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Seeing their hesitation, the man calls out that he’s a knight, but only carries his sword and armor “out of duty” to King Arthur, who died many years before. As they get closer, Axl notes that the knight is, in fact, very old and that his armor is rusted and creaky. The knight says that his horse, Horace, tricked him into stopping to rest and eat. He invites Axl and the others to share some fresh bread. Axl and Beatrice sit next to the knight, but Wistan and Edwin stay at a distance with the horse. The knight asks where they are going, so Beatrice tells him about going to find their son’s village and their intention to stop at the monastery. The knight tells them he’s sure the monks will welcome them.
The knight serves the now deceased King Arthur, which is further proof that the wars between Saxons and Britons occurred only a few short years before the current day. The knight’s willingness to own that he was part of King Arthur’s army (made up of Britons) so close to a Saxon village means that he expects all those in the country to share his respect for Arthur and is not worried about any lingering anger. It’s also clear that the knight is very familiar with the area, which is near where Querig is said to live, because he knows the monks enough to be able to reassure Beatrice that they’ll all be welcomed there. 
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Wistan suddenly walks up, drops his act, and apologizes for having pretended to be a mute before introducing himself and telling the knight that he is on a mission for his king. The knight observes that Wistan is far from home. Wistan agrees with this and then hazards a guess that the knight is none other than Sir Gawain. The knight confirms that he is, and that King Arthur had been his uncle. Wistan tells Sir Gawain that even though he’s a Saxon, he holds King Arthur in high esteem.
Even though he is a Saxon, Wistan seems to know that he is safe around a knight of King Arthur, which seems to confirm Sir Gawain’s feelings that Arthur is universally respected and liked. Because King Arthur is Sir Gawain’s uncle, it means that Arthur’s reputation reflects directly on his own and that of his family, which makes Sir Gawain even more anxious to see that Arthur is considered a positive figure in English history.
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Having become friendly with each other, Wistan asks Sir Gawain to look at Axl, who is about as old as Sir Gawain, and tell him if he’s seen Axl before somewhere. Beatrice is surprised, and Axl asks how Wistan thinks he recognizes him. Instead of answering, Wistan says they should let Sir Gawain do as he asked. Sir Gawain, thinking it’s a game, turns and looks. As he looks at Axl, however, Sir Gawain is evidently surprised and Axl looks away. Sir Gawain says he’s never seen Axl before, and Beatrice asks Wistan what he’s looking for in Axl. Wistan says Axl’s face reminds him of someone from the past, but he can’t remember whom. Axl tells Beatrice not to worry, that Wistan has just made a mistake. Still, Beatrice wants to know if Axl’s face brings Wistan good or bad memories, so Wistan tells her that he thinks they’re good memories but can’t remember.
Wistan expects that Sir Gawain will be able to remember who Axl was once upon a time, which is another indication that Axl had been part of the army led by King Arthur. Sir Gawain evidently does remember Axl, and Axl senses that this is so, but he is also anxious to convince Beatrice that this can’t be possible and that a mistake has been made. This shows that there are other things Axl is worried Beatrice might learn about their past that would challenge her love for him. Wistan’s assertion that he associates Axl’s face with good memories is comforting to all of them, including Axl, who is still not entirely sure of what role he might have played as a soldier.
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Axl asks Wistan why he insists on using a disguise even though the country has been at peace for years. Wistan says that the question is a fair one and explains that he doesn’t want to get into a fight with Lord Brennus or his soldiers on account of being a Saxon in Briton-ruled territory. Furthermore, Wistan has been asked by his king to look into rumors about Saxons being ill-treated by Britons in the area. Sir Gawain says he understands Wistan’s situation perfectly, having traveled in Saxon-ruled land himself.
Wistan confirms that there is still a predisposition for violence and a deep lack of trust between Saxons and Britons when he says that he was sent to check on the state of Briton-Saxon relations. Presumably, if Saxons are being mistreated then the Saxon king will send armies to defend them, bringing war back to England.
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Wistan asks Sir Gawain if he receives the same respect as a knight of King Arthur in areas where Arthur “was once such a dreaded enemy.” Sir Gawain assures him that Arthur’s name is a well-respected one everywhere he’s gone because he had been so generous even after defeating the Saxons. As they talk about Arthur, Axl discovers a “fragment of a memory” of himself being in a tent near and battlefield and feeling very angry about something.
Wistan says Arthur was once a “dreaded enemy,” which is a direct challenge to the image of a wise and just leader that Sir Gawain encourages. Wistan’s awareness of this previous perception of Arthur means that nothing about Arthur’s history is as simple as Gawain makes it out to be. As Wistan and Gawain discuss Arthur and his legacy, Axl receives a clearer memory of battle and being angry. The timing of this memory suggests that Axl’s anger had something to do with Arthur.
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Beatrice tells Wistan that there are several Saxon families in their own village and he points out the prosperity of the Saxons in the town they lately left. Sir Gawain also assures Wistan that, although there are wars in other places, Saxons and Britons have “long been friends and kin” in this country. Wistan agrees and says he’ll be happy to tell his king as much. Wistan also asks Sir Gawain how King Arthur brought peace to the land. Sir Gawain says that the people who were conquered by Arthur simply “saw his fairness and wished him as their king.” Wistan finds this hard to believe after so many Saxon children were slaughtered, but Gawain tells him that Arthur had always ordered them not to touch innocent women or children. Still, Wistan says that the peace there is “remarkable” and wants to know if Axl agrees.
Beatrice’s anxiety to convince Wistan that Britons and Saxons get along shows that she understands how dangerous things can get if Wistan decides Saxons are being mistreated. Sir Gawain’s explanations, however, seem inadequate. He fails to account for the fact that, as Wistan says, women and children were slaughtered during war and it is highly unbelievable that entire Saxon villages that had been threatened and even plundered by Arthur’s armies would simply accept him as a leader because he was generous. Wistan is of this same opinion, which is why he continues to challenge what Gawain is saying. Gawain is choosing to share the image of Arthur that he wants people to remember but refusing to admit any of Arthur’s faults or mistakes, thus endowing him with a much better reputation that he would otherwise have.
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Related Quotes
Just then the group notices Edwin calling to them from the road and then they hear hooves approaching. The grey-haired soldier from the bridge appears and greets Sir Gawain. Wistan resumes acting like a mute and Edwin stealthily moves closer, but the grey-haired soldier tells him not to come any closer, telling Sir Gawain he wants to question Axl and the others. Axl watches the soldier adjust his position, which makes it impossible for Wistan to rush at him without being killed. Axl and Beatrice stand up and then help Sir Gawain up. Axl asks the soldier if he’s forgotten quizzing them not long before. The soldier says he does remember them, but at the time had forgotten his duty, only rushing after them once he remembered that he was looking for a Saxon warrior and a young boy.
The appearance of the grey-haired soldier and Wistan’s immediate reaction to resume acting like a mute is a stark reminder of the danger of letting one’s guard down in the country at the time. The event also highlights that nobody is truly safe from the mysterious mist that makes people forget, as shown by the fact that the soldier had forgotten the one assignment he had been given by his commander.
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Axl explains to the grey-haired soldier that he doesn’t think the Saxons he’s traveling with are the ones the soldier is looking out for because they were given to Axl to pay off a debt. The soldier asks Sir Gawain what he knows about them and Sir Gawain confirms that they are “simple creatures.” Even when the soldier raises his sword to Wistan, he doesn’t break character and continues to act like a mute. Sir Gawain grows angry at the soldier, but the soldier insists on inspecting Edwin to see if he is the same boy he’s looking for. The soldier is distracted just long enough for Wistan to call his horse and grab his sword. Preparing for a duel, the soldier begs Sir Gawain to help, but he refuses.
Sir Gawain grows just as angry with the grey-haired soldier as the same soldier grew with his own men when they harassed Wistan, which had reminded Axl of similar feelings he had experienced once. This shows that all three men are keenly aware of the importance of being just, but also shows that they struggle to stand up for people who are being wronged when those in the wrong are doing what they’re told to. This calls into question exactly how much wrong they would allow to happen on their watch in the name of following orders, even if they know those orders are unjust or inhumane.
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The grey-haired soldier tells Sir Gawain that Wistan is here to slay Querig, which alarms Sir Gawain. Wistan confirms that this is part of his mission but says he doesn’t see why anyone would be against it. Sir Gawain explains that King Arthur had entrusted the slaying of the dragon to Sir Gawain himself, and he doesn’t want help doing it. He tries to talk Wistan out of pursuing the dragon. The soldier continues asking for help, but Sir Gawain continues to refuse. Beatrice asks Wistan if he can’t just disarm the soldier and send him away, but Wistan predicts and the soldier confirms that he would just go to Lord Brennus for backup. This established, the soldier is forced to face Wistan alone and is quickly killed in a duel.
The grey-haired soldier seems to know that Sir Gawain would be alarmed by the news that Wistan means to kill Querig, but Sir Gawain’s insistence that he be the one to do it just because Arthur told him to seems rather inadequate. This implies that there is a different, secret reason for Sir Gawain’s alarm. More importantly, the soldier is obviously trying to justify the use of violence against Wistan and knows that Sir Gawain will not stop him because, secretly, Gawain will want him to win, thus ensuring Querig’s safety from Wistan.
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Turning away from the dead soldier, Wistan tells Sir Gawain that the Saxon king has also received word that Lord Brennus wants to wage war and take the land in which they’re traveling. Furthermore, he reveals that they have received word that Lord Brennus has a man who can tame dragons with him, and he intends to tame Querig and use her in battle. Wistan’s mission is to kill the dragon before she can be taken by Lord Brennus. Sir Gawain is surprised but believes Wistan’s words. Sir Gawain then says he will help bury the soldier’s body and then return the soldier’s horse to Lord Brennus and say he was attacked by bandits. He also begs Wistan to return to his homeland and leave Querig to be slain by himself.
It would seem both Lord Brennus and the Saxon king are prepared for war to break out despite the peaceful relationship between most Saxons and Britons. This indicates that, for a select few at least, the wars from the past are not entirely over; their mutual preparedness to do battle together means this period of peace is doomed to end in the near future. And, as is soon discovered, whether Querig lives or dies is one of the most important determining factors in how soon violence breaks out across the country again, hence Sir Gawain (who loves peace) is anxious to convince Wistan to let Querig live.
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