Essay on The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins

The Cone Gatherers Essay

In Robin Jenkins novel “The Cone Gatherers” we follow the malevolent character of Duror who goes through an internal struggle to try and control his hatred for deformities. Duror’s mental decline is driven by the presence of Calum, a hunchback who is collecting cones in Duror’s forest, which ultimately leads to the dramatic ending of the novel. The novel is centred on the theme of good versus evil and how they co-exist to balance each other; one cannot live without the other. Jenkins uses interesting detail and description to clearly convey the development of Duror’s evil character which also helps us to fully understand the theme of the novel.

During the opening chapters of the novel we are introduced to the malevolent character of Duror. His obsessive hatred for Calum contrasts the opinions of everyone else in the estate who feel sympathy for the cone gatherers: “Since childhood Duror had been repelled by anything living that had an imperfection or deformity...” This clearly conveys how Duror’s inner hatred of deformities has been repressed and kept hidden since he was a young boy. However, with Calum in the forest Duror’s disgust for imperfections grows leading to the tragic events throughout the novel. The reader is clearly able to see the evilness in Duror which helps us understand the central theme of the novel: the interdependence of good and evil.

People around Duror are able to guess that he is not quite right but are not yet aware of his evil state of mind. While Duror is walking home from the forest he is met by Dr Matheson who offers him a lift and tries to make small talk with Duror:“... were twisting and coiling there like the snakes of damnation ... there could not be victory.” The effective religious imagery used here gives connotations of the evil and twisted thoughts lurking around in Duror’s mind the source of Duror’s inner conflict. Dr Matheson is unable to completely understand the workings in Duror’s mind which makes him unable to help Duror. The word-choice of “victory” gives connotations of Duror’s inner battle with his emotions. Also the reference to “victory” and the fact that Duror will not gain any gives us a little hint that tragic events that will happen during the book. The reader is able to see that the evil inner thoughts of Duror and the fact that he tries to repress these emotions help us to understand more about his character.

Duror’s emotional struggle is clear in his relationship with his wife, Peggy. After coming in from the forest he is confronted by Mrs Lochie who dislikes Duror as she believes he doesn’t treat her daughter the way he should:“... that love itself could become paralysed.” This is an ironic statement as Peggy is the one who is physically paralysed however Duror is the one is emotionally and mentally paralysed. It also conveys the intensity of Duror’s hatred as it affects his closest family. By showing the reader Duror’s lack of passion for his obese wife because of his hatred of deformities makes us see him as the vindictive and evil character he is.

Duror’s inner turmoil becomes clear during the key incident of the deer drive. During the deer drive a deer is wounded, Calum throws himself upon the wounded deer with sympathy when Duror emerges from the forest wanting to kill the deer: “He seemed to be laughing in some kind of berserk joy.” These actions of Duror, slitting the deer's throat then remaining beside the deer show his complete loss of control because of the hate he has been trying to hide. We are also made aware of the extreme hate Duror has for Peggy as he imagines Peggy is the deer he is attacking. This image of Duror laughing allows the reader to clearly understand the evil within Duror which highlights the theme of good versus evil. Also because of Calum’s goodness wanting to comfort the deer we are clearly able to see the effective theme of the co-existence of good and evil .

Duror’s hatred for Calum is evident in his lies about the cone gatherer. Duror attempts to lie to Lady Runcie Campbell about a doll which he claims Calum stole from the beach hut: “... he had begun to utter quietly, hoarsely, and with an undercurrent of pleading, the most loathsome accusations against the little cone gatherer.” This shows Duror loss of control at trying to contain his evil emotions forcing him to lie about Calum. By suggesting repulsive and disgusting actions of Calum he tries to convince Lady Runcie Campbell he is not suited for the wood. At this point Lady Runcie Campbell is forced to accept that Duror is mentally unstable. Also the word-choice of “little” gives connotations of the child-like innocence and goodness of Calum conveying to the reader the theme of good versus evil.

Duror’s malevolent character ultimately brings the novel to it tragic climax. Lady Runcie Campbell goes to Scour Point to ask for the help of the cone gatherers but she arrives too late as she hears a gunshot knowing Duror has murdered Calum. She then sees Duror walking away from the scene:
“He was walking away among the pine trees with so infinite a desolation in his every step that it was this memory of him, ... which was to torment her sleep for months.”

Lady Runcie Campbell who has experienced the horror and emptiness lurking inside Duror is now witness to the climax of his turmoil. Duror’s murder of Calum leaves emptiness in him, an emptiness of emotion and an emptiness of humanity leaving Duror as only a hollow person as without his hate for Calum has nothing to live for. With Duror unable to go back and unable to move forward he self-destructs and commits suicide. This tragic ending to the book clearly displays to the reader the central theme of the novel, that when good versus evil they co-exist to balance each other conveyed by the sacrifice of Calum which leads to the death of Duror changing the lives of people within the wood.

In conclusion, Robin Jenkins effectively develops the malevolent character of Duror which allows us to clearly understand the theme of good versus evil and how they co-exist as one cannot live without the other. Throughout the novel Jenkins develops Duror into a very unstable and dangerous character whose hate for deformities leads to the tragic murder of Calum at the end of the novel. Jenkins characterisation is clear to us through literal techniques such as the contrast of good and evil and interesting use of imagery and word-choice.