The Buried Giant

by

Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Buried Giant: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Although he’s exhausted, Axl has a difficult time sleeping because their bed is in an upper story and he’s never been able to sleep so high up. Axl thinks his sleeplessness might also be due to the strange sounds in the monastery, although Beatrice fell asleep quickly in spite of them. Edwin, too, is asleep, but Wistan waited until the monks retired to bed and then snuck out to explore and, even though he was warned not to, cut more wood. Although he hasn’t heard their voices in a long time, Axl believes there are dozens of monks listening to Wistan just below the window.
Wistan is cutting wood even though he was told not to, which means he has an ulterior motive for wanting to be outside in the courtyard even in the middle of the night. The warning to Wistan also shows that there is some kind of suspicion attached to him and by cutting wood he is drawing a dangerous amount of attention to himself.
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Earlier that day, Axl looked out at the monks and noticed “a furtive mood among them” as they whispered to one another and looked impatiently at one of the stone buildings. Another monk, Father Brian, brought up a tray of food for Axl and Beatrice while Wistan and Edwin were out exploring the monastery. While Axl and Beatrice eat, Father Brian talks about other visitors, fishing in a nearby stream, and a dog they had cared for once. All the while a group of birds inside the building flew back and forth above them until another monk came running up to scream at the birds, trying to chase them out and throwing rocks until Father Brian convinced him to leave.
The “furtive mood” in the monastery shows that the monks are ill at ease with the arrival of Wistan, Axl, Beatrice, and Edwin. This implies that the monks know something about the group and are suspicious, but are also anxious to avoid that being noticed, further implying that something is not right and the group could be in danger.
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Once the monk who yelled at the birds was gone, Beatrice asked Father Brian if she could meet with Father Jonus to ask his advice soon. Father Brian told her that Father Jonus was unwell and that there were orders from the abbot not to let anyone disturb him, although he promised to ask the abbot to make an exception for her as soon as he could. Beatrice spotted the abbot returning and pointed him out to Father Brian, who promised to talk to him that day if he could.
Although he is not directly saying no, Father Brian is knowingly making a false promise to Beatrice that he will get her an interview with Father Jonus. His promise to talk to the abbot falls through immediately.
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Listening to Wistan chop wood, Axl thinks back to their parting from Sir Gawain, who had attempted up until the last moment to make Wistan promise not to try to kill Querig and instead speed home immediately after bringing Axl and Beatrice to the monastery. Wistan refused to give Sir Gawain this promise. Afterward, Sir Gawain looked at Wistan “with intense hostility.”
Sir Gawain’s eagerness to make Wistan promise not to kill Querig and “intense hostility” when Wistan refuses to make that promise confirms that there is a lot of distrust, suspicion, and even hatred on Sir Gawain’s part. Furthermore, Gawain feels threatened by Wistan, as shown by his desire to exact the promise not to kill Querig.
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Lying in the dark in the monastery, Axl feels sorry for the grey-haired soldier and suddenly remembers being on horseback behind a man named Harvey, whose entire posture “announced malevolence” toward a group of people heading their way. Knowing the “savagery” of his companion, Axl carefully brought his horse up next to Harvey’s, thus coming between him and the people trying to pass safely. Harvey, not realizing Axl’s real purpose, simply nodded to him. Axl had been “especially anxious” for these travelers because not long before he had seen Harvey suddenly start beating innocent villagers. Axl was angry at whoever had “handicapped him with such a companion,” but he had no choice but to press on. 
As more of Axl’s long-term memories come back to him, it becomes clearer that he had been a soldier under King Arthur, but that he had not entirely fit in. He sees his companion, Harvey, as a burden because of his violence, which shows that Axl himself was not violent and preferred peace to war. This would also mean that Axl got very little pleasure from being a knight, but his concern for the safety of the shepherds shows that he may have been better suited to politics or diplomacy.
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Axl also remembers talking with Beatrice, who was much younger then, about whether or not a plant they had found was rosemary or a weed that brought bad luck to maidens. Beatrice had called him off the road to ask him if he could recognize the plant, but he believed it was just a weed and teased Beatrice for thinking so much about its potential for bad luck. Axl wonders if this was the first time the two of them had talked, or if she had known him already.
Axl’s memory of Beatrice shows that they had once been very playful together. This differs from their current attitude toward one another; now they are serious, gentle, and careful with one another even though, at one point, Axl had been comfortable teasing her.
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Axl hears Wistan resume cutting wood and wonders why the warrior is so intent on working so late at night, especially after Father Jonus told him not to do it anymore. Axl had believed that the woodcutting was just out of courtesy, but Wistan explained to him that the view from the woodshed allowed him to keep an eye on everything going on in the monastery. Furthermore, delivering wood where it is needed gives Wistan further opportunities to explore the area.
Wistan confirms that he is suspicious of the monks and what is going on in the monastery. Wistan wants to explore the area, which could also mean that he wants to be sure of being able to find an exit when they need one, which reveals that his suspicion is that someone might come looking for him in the monastery.
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Axl leaves Beatrice dozing in their room to talk to Wistan in the courtyard while the monks are away in a meeting. Axl asks Wistan if he’s suspicious of the monks. Wistan says that he wants nothing more than to sleep, but now that they’re in the monastery, he can’t shake the idea that it “holds dangers” for them. In explanation, Wistan tells Axl that when brought his horse to the stables, he heard the sounds of another horse behind a wall but couldn’t find access to it. He had asked another monk, but that monk said they didn’t keep any horses. Wistan says this leads him to believe that another person has arrived, and that the monks are trying to hide this fact from them. Axl points out that Father Brian mentioned an important visitor was due to arrive, and Wistan agrees that this may be the explanation but says that he sent Edwin to explore some more just in case.
The secret space in the stable implies that there are a number of secretive things that happen in the monastery at all times, not just now that Wistan and the others are there. This casts suspicion on all of the monks themselves and whether they are really there out of faith or if they have some other motive and are using their status as monks to deflect suspicion from outsiders. Unlike Wistan, Axl is predisposed to give the monks the benefit of the doubt, which is a testament to how much of a trusting person he is.
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Wistan tells Axl that Edwin came to him earlier to report that he had heard moans “as of a man in pain” coming from a nearby shelter, and had noticed blood, both fresh and old, by a locked chamber. Axl tells him that it may be that a monk fell down the narrow stairway, which Wistan agrees might be the case. Still, Wistan wishes he had his sword nearby and mentions that the “walls whisper to [him] of days gone by.” Axl asks what he means and Wistan explains that the building had not always been a monastery but was very likely a Saxon fort with traps to keep the inhabitants safe and trap invaders. Wistan states, “This is today a place of peace and prayer, yet you needn’t gaze so deep to find blood and terror.”
Wistan is evidently familiar with Saxon military history and traditions because he is able to recognize details that indicate traps and imply some sort of past violence. By turning the fortress into a monastery, the monks are trying to cover up the truth. Between this and evidence that the monks are on edge and hiding something, Wistan begins to see the monastery as a dangerous place, shown by his desire for his sword.
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Axl shudders at Wistan’s description but realizes it’s the truth. Wistan goes on to say that, in times of war, the Saxon families would have stood in the yard to “witness the invaders squeal like trapped mice” as they were slaughtered at the gates. Axl disagrees and says they would have hidden and prayed to God because such people “would take no pleasure in bloodshed, even of the enemy.” Wistan, however, argues that they were a people “at the end of a brutal road, having seen their children and kin mutilated and ravished” and, although the fort would have been their final retreat before being overtaken, they would have cherished the sight of the invaders being killed. Still Axl disbelieves that it’s possible “to hate so deeply” for something that hadn’t happened yet and insists they would have held out hope. Once again, Wistan says that Axl is wrong and that he himself has seen “dark hatred as bottomless as the sea” in the elderly and children alike, and felt this hatred himself.
Axl and Wistan’s discussion reveals how differently they think: Wistan readily sees the hatred and negativity present in men’s hearts, but Axl focuses on the good, hope, and light in men. This further confirms that Axl is more of a diplomat than a solder and that he would struggle with having to commit violence. Wistan’s description of the people who would have used the monastery as a fortress also implies that Wistan has had similar near-death experiences during a war and is, therefore, better able to understand the fear and hatred the Saxons felt there.
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To end the argument, Axl says he’s glad that the idea will never be put to the test. Wistan looks “strangely” at Axl before apologizing for “questioning that good knight” about whether or not he recognized Axl. Axl tells him that he took “no offense” and has no doubt that Wistan made a simple mistake. Wistan tells Axl that he mistook him for a man who was “a thing of wonder” to him when he was a child and who often came to the village to talk with the elders and move amongst them, even though he was a Briton. This, however, was before Wistan was taken by soldiers and trained as a warrior by Britons. Wistan tells Axl that seeing him the first time brought back memories of this man from his childhood, but he admits he was mistaken.
Wistan looks “strangely” at Axl after hearing Axl say that he’s glad they’ll never witness the kind of violence Wistan just described. This look shows that Wistan is still struggling with the feeling that he recognizes Axl as someone from his past, which was evidently characterized by hatred and war. This calls into question exactly what role Axl played in the war in his youth and whether he had always been so unwilling to use violence against another person.
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Edwin comes back from his exploring and speaks to Wistan for a moment. Axl walks over to them and Wistan tells him that Edwin found something that they should go see for themselves. On the way, Wistan says he may keep and train Edwin as a warrior instead of leaving him at a village. Edwin leads them to a distant part of the monastery in which there is a cart with a cage full of chains, manacles, and an iron mask with only a small hole for the mouth. Observing it, Wistan realizes that the device is for holding a man in place while the mountain birds peck away at him. Wistan also sees that it has been used recently, an observation that sends a chill down Axl’s spine.
The torture device Edwin finds was obviously not supposed to be found because it reveals a side to life at the monastery that is not as cheery and straightforward as Father Brian tried to portray. Instead, it becomes clear that something dark is going on there and it goes beyond the fact that the monks are suspicious of the group.
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Axl says he wants to return to Beatrice, and Wistan agrees. As they start walking back, Edwin abruptly stops, and they notice a monk watching them silently. Wistan leads them over to the monk and asks him what the purpose of the device they just found is. The monk remains silent but leads them down narrow paths back inside the monastery, where Beatrice is waiting for them. The monk leads them to a small room and a “frail voice” welcomes them. There is a monk in the bed suffering from numerous injuries, who introduces himself as Jonus, and the silent monk as Ninian. Beatrice asks him how he got his injuries, but he changes the subject.
Ninian brings Axl, Beatrice, Wistan, and Edwin to Jonus in private, which reveals divisions between monks in the monastery. This also implies that Father Brian is suspicious of what Father Jonus might tell them and is using Jonus’s injuries as an excuse not to give him the chance to talk to them.
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Jonus asks Edwin to come forward, but Wistan doesn’t let him even though Beatrice says he should let Jonus look at Edwin’s wound. Jonus asks why Wistan seems so cautious, so Wistan explains that he has seen the torture device and believes they use it as a form of penance for past iniquities and questions how their God can be bribed this way. Jonus tells Wistan that their God is merciful, to which Wistan replies that “boundless mercy” is useless since it allows people “to pursue their greed, their lust for land and blood” knowing they can receive mercy later. Jonus agrees with Wistan’s feelings and says the presence of the birds is a sign of God’s anger. Wistan becomes more understanding and asks if this means he has “friends” in the monastery, which Jonus confirms. Wistan then allows Edwin to be examined by Jonus, who says the wound will go away if kept clean.
Wistan evidently scorns the Christian god because Christians use the possibility of forgiveness to justify their crimes. This attitude allows them to commit the worst atrocities without allowing it to weigh too heavily on their conscience—at least, if they truly believe in God’s forgiveness. Wistan’s condemnation of the Christian god also shows that he prefers vengeance and making those who did wrong pay for their crimes. It follows that Wistan himself will not show much mercy to those who wrong him. Father Jonus’s confirmation that Wistan has “friends” in the monastery means that there are others who are supportive of Wistan’s mission in the country and may be able to help him in some way, which further highlights the divisions between monks in the monastery. 
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Interested in the conversation between Jonus and Wistan, Beatrice tells Jonus about her conversation about the mist with the medicine woman. She asks Jonus if either he or Wistan knows where the mist comes from and how she and Axl “might be free of it” and get their memories back. Wistan tells her that Querig causes the mist and that the monks in the monastery protect her. Beatrice tells Axl this means that everyone’s memories will come back if either Wistan or Sir Gawain can kill the dragon. Still, there is danger that Wistan will not be able to do so if he is caught at the monastery, so both Beatrice and Jonus urge him to hurry on his way. Wistan doesn’t agree, but steps out with Edwin so Beatrice can ask Jonus about her pain.
Father Jonus says that the monks in the monastery are there to protect and help care for Querig. It is also known that the monks are Britons, which means that whoever gave them the orders to take care of Querig was also a Briton. Beatrice’s immediate thought is that they can use the knowledge of the source of the mist to end it and benefit themselves by restoring their memories. This shows either a lack of consideration for the possible negative repercussions of reminding the entire country about all that used to divide them, or a firm belief that, for all those in England (as well as themselves), the return of bad memories along with the good will not be enough to disrupt the peace and happiness they are all enjoying.
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Axl struggles to identify the emotions he felt when he and Beatrice were told the cause of the mist, but he is unable to. Jonus asks Beatrice questions about her pain and where it started, eventually telling her that she’ll be able to go to her son in safety, although Axl can’t remember how Jonus arrived at this conclusion. Jonus notes that Beatrice is happy to know about the mist. Beatrice confirms this and says it gives her and Axl a clearer idea of what they should do going forward. Jonus asks her if she’s sure it’s not better for them to have forgotten the past, but Beatrice insists they’re ready to know the whole truth.  
Axl’s inability to recognize how he felt when he learned there was a way to restore his memories indicates that he is as yet unsure that he wants the past to be revealed to them and is keenly aware that, as strong as the peace between Britons and Saxons (as well as between Beatrice and himself) may be, nobody can be sure that restoring everyone’s memories is actually the best thing for anyone.
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A bird flying across the room startles Axl and he realizes he had fallen asleep. He notices the sound of Wistan’s woodcutting has stopped. Axl thinks about Jonus’s questions about Beatrice’s pain, but realizes that the questions Beatrice is really afraid of are the boatman’s.
Beatrice’s primary concern is that she will be separated from Axl by the boatman, which means they will both be alone for eternity. Axl realizes this and it tells him that Beatrice is insecure about their relationship even though they are so happy in the present.
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