The Buried Giant

by

Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Narrator / The Boatman Character Analysis

The boatman is responsible for carrying people to the island, but is also responsible for putting couples who want to go together through a test to determine whether or not their marriage is strong enough. Axl and Beatrice meet the boatman at the beginning of their journey to find their son and he tells them about the test, and that, unfortunately, even the marriages that seem to be maintained by the strength of the love between husband and wife, he frequently finds only resentment, anger, or indifference. In all the years he has spent administering this test, the boatman has learned how to tell just by looking at a couple whether or not they will be able to go to the island together. The test the boatman gives involves asking the couple about their happiest and saddest memories together, but most fail when sharing their bad memories and reveal how much anger they still have. The boatman is eventually revealed to be the narrator of the book who has been telling the story from some point in the future. In the end, the narrator gives Axl and Beatrice the test that determines whether they can go together after they begin to regain their memories of their lives together. Although it seems as though they’ve passed, the narrator only brings Beatrice to the island. Axl does not listen to the narrator’s request that he wait on the shore for his turn, believing they have failed. He walks away from Beatrice, much to the narrator’s disappointment.

The Narrator / The Boatman Quotes in The Buried Giant

The The Buried Giant quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator / The Boatman or refer to The Narrator / The Boatman. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Buried Giant published in 2015.
Chapter 1 Quotes

I have no wish to give the impression that this was all there was to the Britain of those days; that at a time when magnificent civilizations flourished elsewhere in the world, we were not much beyond the Iron Age. Had you been able to roam the countryside at will, you might well have discovered castles containing music, fine food, athletic excellence; or monasteries with inhabitants steeped in learning. But there is no getting around it. Even on a strong horse, in good weather, you could have ridden for days without spotting any castle or monastery looming out of the greenery. […] I am sorry to paint such a picture of our country at that time, but there you are.

Related Characters: The Narrator / The Boatman (speaker)
Page Number: 4-5
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

“But isn’t it hard, sir,” Beatrice asked, “to see what truly lies in people’s hearts? Appearances deceive so easily.”

“That’s true, good lady, but then we boatmen have seen so many over the years it doesn’t take us long to see beyond deceptions. Besides, when travelers speak of their most cherished memories, it’s impossible for them to disguise the truth. A couple may claim to be bonded by love, but we boatmen may see instead resentment, anger, even hatred. Or a great barrenness. Sometimes a fear of loneliness and nothing more. Abiding love that has endured the years—that we see only rarely. When we do, we’re only too glad to ferry the couple together.”

Related Characters: Beatrice (speaker), The Narrator / The Boatman (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Island
Page Number: 43-44
Explanation and Analysis:

“But Axl, we can’t remember those days. Or any of the years between. We don’t remember our fierce quarrels or the small moments we enjoyed and treasured. We don’t remember our son or why he’s away from us.”

“We can make all those memories come back, princess. Besides, the feeling in my heart for you will be there just the same, no matter what I remember or forget. Don’t you feel the same, princess?”

“I do, Axl. But then again I wonder if what we feel in our hearts today isn’t like these raindrops still falling on us from the soaked leaves above, even though the sky itself long stopped raining. I’m wondering if without our memories, there’s nothing for it but for our love to fade and die.”

Related Characters: Axl (speaker), Beatrice (speaker), Axl and Beatrice’s Son, The Narrator / The Boatman
Related Symbols: The Island
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

What had brought the pair of them to that village that morning? Axl remembered the cries of outrage, children crying, the looks of hatred, and his own fury, not so much at Harvey himself, but at those who had handicapped him with such a companion. Their mission, if accomplished, would surely be an achievement unique and new, one so supreme God himself would judge it a moment when men came a step closer to him. Yet how could Axl hope to do anything tethered to such a brute?

Related Characters: The Narrator / The Boatman (speaker), Axl, Harvey
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

“What do you suggest, mistress? That I committed this slaughter?” He said this tiredly, with none of the anger he had shown earlier in the tunnel, but there was a peculiar intensity in his voice. “So many skulls, you say. Yet are we not underground? What is it you suggest? Can just one knight of Arthur have killed so many?” He turned back to the gate and ran a finger along one of the bars. “Once, years ago, in a dream, I watched myself killing the enemy. It was in my sleep and long ago. The enemy, in their hundreds, perhaps as many as this. I fought and I fought. Just a foolish dream, but I still recall it.” He sighed, then looked at Beatrice. “I hardly know how to answer you, mistress. I acted as I thought would please God.”

Related Characters: Sir Gawain (speaker), The Narrator / The Boatman (speaker), Beatrice, King Arthur
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:
Gawain’s First Reverie Quotes

Yet I was a good knight who performed his duty to the end. Let me say so, and he will see I do not lie. I will not mind him. The gentle sunset, his shadow falling over me as he moves from one side of his vessel to the other.

Related Characters: Sir Gawain (speaker), The Narrator / The Boatman
Related Symbols: The Island
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

“What did you hope to gain, sir, preventing not just your wife but even yourself grieving at your son’s resting place?”

“Gain? There was nothing to gain, boatman. It was just foolishness and pride. And whatever else lurks in the depths of a man’s heart. Perhaps it was a craving to punish, sir. I spoke and acted forgiveness, yet kept locked through long years some small chamber in my heart that yearned for vengeance. A petty and black thing I did her, and my son also.”

Related Characters: Axl (speaker), The Narrator / The Boatman (speaker), Beatrice, Axl and Beatrice’s Son
Page Number: 312-313
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Narrator / The Boatman Character Timeline in The Buried Giant

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator / The Boatman appears in The Buried Giant. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
The narrator notes that the English landscape at the time this story is being told is very... (full context)
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...despite having numerous neighbors in the warren, Axl and Beatrice lead “an isolated life” there. The narrator notes that warrens are a primitive habitat and reassures the reader that there are castles... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
The narrator notes that the reader may wonder why Axl doesn’t ask someone in the warren for... (full context)
Chapter 2
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...around and asks Axl and Beatrice to hear him out. He says he’s “a humble boatman” and works hard, and this is one of his rare spells of free time. The... (full context)
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...instead let Axl help her kill it cleanly. Beatrice scolds the woman for harassing the boatman, but Axl tells her to get the woman’s side of the story before rushing to... (full context)
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Beatrice tells the boatman it was cruel of him to separate the married couple, but the boatman tells her... (full context)
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...of the way and talk if she likes, but that she needs to leave the boatman in peace. The woman doesn’t answer, but silently stands up, walks to an opening, and... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Beatrice observes that the house must have been magnificent in its prime and the boatman agrees, saying that he’s just happy it’s still standing and that it has survived past... (full context)
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
The boatman wishes Axl and Beatrice a safe journey as they walk away, but suddenly Beatrice stops... (full context)
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
The boatman explains that he separates the couple and asks them each what their most cherished memories... (full context)
Chapter 3
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
The Saxon village, notes the narrator , looks more like a traditional village: it’s made of houses and buildings, not dug... (full context)
Chapter 6
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...about Beatrice’s pain, but realizes that the questions Beatrice is really afraid of are the boatman’s. (full context)
Gawain’s First Reverie
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...question Arthur’s decisions. Sir Gawain thinks that when his time comes, he will “greet the boatman contentedly” because he was “a good knight who performed his duty to the end.” For... (full context)
Chapter 15
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
The narrator states that some people will have “fine monuments by which the living may remember the... (full context)
Chapter 17
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
The narrator sees the old couple riding through the rain and wonders why they get off their... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...there in his boat once the rain clears. Axl asks if the narrator is a boatman, and he says that he is. Axl fearfully holds his wife closer. (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Axl asks if there is shelter with a fire nearby to warm Beatrice. The narrator says he has one in the cove, but Axl says that they’d better stay under... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Beatrice calls to the narrator and asks if the island they see is the same she heard of in stories... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...Axl walking together with a basket of eggs. Axl smiles and says he remembers. The boatman says they should go get the boat ready and they start walking back. (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
On the way, the narrator asks if there are any memories that cause “particular pain,” assuring Axl he is no... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...tells the narrator to give them a moment. She tells Axl that she trusts the boatman will return for him and asks him not to argue. Axl asks her if she... (full context)