The Cone Gatherers

The Cone Gatherers
By Robin Jenkins
Robin Jenkins
• Born on 11 September 1912 in the village of
Flemington, near Cambuslang in Lanarkshire.
• Became a committed pacifist, Jenkins registered as a
conscientious objector (CO); and for his war service
was directed to work for the Forestry Commission.
• His experience of forestry work in Argyll from 1940 to
1946 is reflected both in his first novel So Gaily Sings
the Lark and in the better-known The Cone Gatherers.
• There are themes of good versus evil in nearly all
Jenkins's books or short stories and the reader can see
this developing over the course of Jenkins's literary
career. Jenkins's anti-war viewpoint was something he
tried to convey through his stories - he saw war as evil
caused by men who are themselves evil.
Key Exam Areas for the Cone Gatherers
• Characters – information on important character; their
qualities, their motivation, their personalities, their loves
and hates and the effect of these on their fates.
• Setting – Place and time. It can involve customs and morals
of a particular society or era. It will inevitable influence the
characters and their actions.
• Themes – Themes will encapsulate the main concerns of
the text, for example, the corrosion of jealousy; the power
of hysteria; the strength of religions fervour; the struggle
between good and evil. Themes are not just one word like
'ambition’; they have to explain what the word does, for
example, ‘the destructive nature of ambition’ or ‘ambition
• Others = Structure and Language
• Characters – Duror, Callum, Neil, Lady Runcie
Campbell, Roderick
• Setting – Scotland, The Estate, The
Woods, The Town etc
• Themes – Good vs. Evil, Social change,
In The Cone Gatherers Jenkins examines the 'mystery of evil' as he shows the
downward spiral of Duror into madness, murder and then his own death. Duror may
not have been born evil; but he has been troubled since he was a boy and over the
years he has become cynical and feels that whatever he does in life eventually fails.
Duror becomes embittered, feeling everyone and everything is against him.
He becomes withdrawn then angry as first his marriage then his career and his
aspirations crumble before his eyes. As he descends into madness he blames Calum
with his crippled body and angelic face and behaviour. Duror may look normal on the
outside but we learn that inside he is rotten . Callum on the other side is considered
abnormal on the outside, but inside he can’t be faulted by anyone. He is pure and
innocent. Because of this he becomes a target for Duror's hate – he is the polar
opposite of Duror in every way. Evil therefore slinks into the story and the theme of a
battle between good and evil is expanded until the dramatic and horrific last scenes.
Also prevalent in the background is fear. The world is changing too quickly for some;
the recent Great War wiped out almost a whole generation of young men which is why
there are so many spinsters and childless widows in the country. Now there is another
war going on with all the change, death and disruption to formerly peaceful lives.
Social Change
• The biggest change is the impending social upheaval.
The working classes are more educated and the rise
of the socialist and communist political parties has
meant they will not accept the current social order.
• The war will change things to such an extent that
society itself will be changed. The upper classes, who
inherited their wealth, much of which in Scotland
was based on the theft of land and property from the
lower classes, are no longer to be respected or
obeyed without question.
• This, more than losing the war, is what the upper
classes and aristocrats fear most. The power of 'old
money' and inherited respectability is still strong but
waning; there will be less submission by the workers
to their landlords and employers thanks to the
increasing power of the unions and the legal
enactment of a National Health Service and Workers'
Rights which undermine or destroy much of the
feudal authority of the landed gentry in Scotland and
• Another major aspect of the
background to The Cone
Gatherers World War 1.
• It is ever present in the
subtext of the novel.
• It is the reason for the cone
gatherers arriving in the
forest; the forest must die to
help the war effort and the
seed cones must be collected
to enable the rebirth of the
wood (and the local area)
after the war.
All the main characters are affected by the war in some way.
Find quotes to show how the war affects the following
Callum: “He had been
Neil: ‘Haven’t I told you,
hundreds of times, there’s a
war? Men and women and
children too, at this very
minute are having their legs
blown away and their faces
burnt off them” p.7
Neil: ‘Haven’t I told you,
hundreds of times, there’s a
war? Men and women and
children too, at this very
minute are having their legs
blown away and their faces
burnt off them” p.7
told that all over the world
in the war now being
fought men, women and
children were being were
being slaughtered in their
thousands; cities were
being burnt down. He
could not understand it,
and so he tried, with
success, to forget It.”