“It was the unfair rape of their Cornish grandmother which was hurting Gareth—the picture of weak and innocent people victimized by the resistless tyranny—the old tyranny of the Gall—which was felt like a personal wrong by every crofter of the Islands. Gareth was a generous boy. He hated the idea of strength against weakness. It made his heart swell, as if he were going to suffocate. Gawaine, on the other hand, was angry because it had been against his family.
He did not think it was wrong for strength to have its way, but only that it was intensely wrong for anything to succeed against his own clan. He was neither clever nor sensitive, but he was loyal—stubbornly sometimes, and even annoyingly and stupidly so in later life. For him it was then as it was always to be: Up Orkney, Right or Wrong. The third brother, Agravaine, was moved because it was a matter which concerned his mother. He had curious feelings about her, which he kept to himself. As for Gaheris, he did and felt what the others did” (White, 223).
The theme of this passage is the duty of man to fight against tyranny. The Orkney brothers recall the story their grandfather’s murder and of the forced marriage of Ingraine (the lady of Cornwall and their grandmother) to Uther the former king of Pendragon. These Orkney boys consider their grandparents to have been wronged by those connected to the Kings of England. Gawain goes on to say, “And this, my heroes […] is the reason why we of Cornwall and Orkney must be against the Kings of England ever more, and most of all against the clan Mac Pendragon” (White, 223).
In their mind it is their duty to continue being opposed to those who provoke and harm others. The story they tell is of immense importance to the plot, as they make an initial connection between the Orkney clan and the house of King Arthur. It places the boys in the place of victims and the reader suspects from this incident that despite their future places as knights in King Arthur’s court, they may end up being opposed to all that (they believe) Arthur stands for.
The use of this image to support the theme highlights the fact that duty may rise up in the form of revenge against tyrannical acts. The graphic nature of the image shocks the reader to attention, yet it also highlights the irony of the position to which King Arthur has risen. Although the king is a decent person, the throne on which he sits is tainted by the unjust acts of past kings. The selected quote shows the level of challenge that awaits Arthur in gaining the trust of his subjects, despite the duty that he too has toward righting wrong.
It hints that many of his subjects believe in the cruelty of kings and expect a high level of disregard from the ruler of their state. It also justifies Arthur’s desire for might to be use for right rather than for the sake of power, and it highlight’s Arthur’s own duty to fight for justice. It shows how people have truly been affected by the unjust actions of kings in the past, and legitimizes the selection of the well-meaning Wart as the divinely chosen King Arthur.