Social Sensitivity

Because White’s purpose was to show the cruelty of war and the evils of humanity, there is a great deal of fighting and lopping off of heads in the book. Additionally, White’s use of cruelty to animals as a device to reveal the villainy of his evil characters may disturb some readers. Queen Morgause boils a cat in an attempt to find a magical bone, and her sons brutally betray a unicorn and sever its head. However, these actions-appearing as they do in a book that celebrates the beauties of nature-are clearly used to establish certain characters as excessively vicious and depraved.

White does exhibit considerable cultural bias against people of Celtic descent, whom he depicts as incapable of logical thought. The Scots are the villains of the story, a plot element inherited from Malory. But White makes numerous negative references to the Irish that are extraneous to the story. The reasons for this were evidently personal. White wrote most of the novel while living in Ireland. At first he proclaimed himself Irish (his father was half-Irish), tried to learn Gaelic, and worked for acceptance in his adopted society. Unfortunately, his efforts failed. Because of the history of English-Irish conflict, wartime Ireland feared an English invasion and held all Englishmen suspect. White was deeply hurt by what he felt was unjust treatment.

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