Death of the Laird’s Jock by Walter Scott
In Death of the Laird’s Jock by Walter Scott we have the theme of conflict, honour, defiance, family and connection. Narrated in the form of a letter (an epistolary narrative) it becomes clear to the reader after reading the story that Scott may be exploring the theme of conflict. Both internal and external. The internal conflict within the story is the battle the John Armstrong faces on the loss of the sword while the external conflict is a little bit clearer and is the fight that occurs between Armstrong’s son and Foster. What is interesting about Armstrong’s internal conflict is that he mourns the loss of the sword more than he does the loss of his son. Something which some readers might find unusual. However the sword represents power, freedom and independence to Armstrong and he knows that with his failing body, the loss of his son and the loss of the sword. That things will never be the same again and that England will eventually defeat Scotland. If anything the Armstrong is a proud man and is fighting for his country and honour. However the reality is that he can no longer fight for his own life. Something that becomes clearer to the reader when Armstrong dies three days after his son. It is as though he has given up on life.
It may also be frustrating for Armstrong that he is only too well aware that with the death of his son and the loss of the sword. Any legacy he might like to have wished to see after his death has disappeared. There is nobody left to be as successful as him nor does the sword lie on the right side of the border (between Scotland and England). It is as though Armstrong knows that just as the sword has been lost so too has Scotland. The defiance that Armstrong had previously shown is now nothing more than a scream or a roar of disapproval. Such is the physical condition of Armstrong. If anything Armstrong may be more devoted to his country than he is to his family. He may actually be a fervent nationalist rather than a caring or loving father. Feeling as though he is more connected to the land (Scotland) than he is to his family. Something that would not have been unique at the time with many men and women in Scotland feeling strongly about the direction their country was taking and how it should remain independent of England.
Though some critics might suggest that Armstrong’s reaction or rather his lack of reaction to his son’s death shows an element of selfishness. It may be a case that Armstrong feels so strongly about a war with England that he himself wishes he could fight it. Something that is noticeable when he stands up after Foster has killed his son. Armstrong is a proud man and perhaps it is his pride that has made him unable to connect with his family. His primary focus appears to be on Scotland being independent of England and the roar that he gives after the fight may be his own signal to himself that the war between both countries is not over. Despite the loss of his son and more importantly the sword. The role of Armstrong’s daughter in the story is also important as she acts as Armstrong’s nurse. She is playing a role which would have been expected of females at the time. It is also interesting that she is the only one who has the capacity to grieve the loss of her brother as by doing so the reader suspects that the connection that is lacking between Armstrong and his son. Is not missing when it comes to Armstrong’s daughter and son.
The end of the story is also interesting particular the narrator’s suggestion that the flag of Scotland (St. Andrew) and the flag of England (St. George) could be painted in a painting that suits the story. It is as though the narrator is attempting to reignite any animosity that might exist between Scottish and English people. What is known is that the narrator signs themselves off as ‘The author of Waverley’ so it can be safely assumed that the narrator is Walter Scott who wrote the novel Waverley. A Scotsman who may have been as proud as Armstrong. Believing perhaps like Armstrong, when he roars, that despite defeat the battle must go on. Scotland needs to be a free and independent country. Something which still divides critics today. In reality Scott may be simply stoking the fire and pushing the cause of independence that so many in Scotland still long for. Though rather than using a sword Scott is using the medium of art, literature and poetry. Perhaps these may have been his own weapons of choice.