Two Drovers whilst being fundamentally about the rights or wrongs of a violent
conflict between Harry Wakefield and Robin Oig, is also a microcosmic representation
of a long standing historical contention between England and Scotland --of social,
ethical and judicial matters- a 'clash of cultures'. By taking a historically
objective view of the story, as well as by weighing the moral content of the
issues leading up to and including the fight itself, it may well be argued that
Robin Oig could in fact, be said to have 'won'.
From the outset Scott makes it quintessentially clear that both the main protagonists, although friends, are culturally polarised and thus blinded to the finer aspects of each other's traditional backgrounds. For example,
...Robin could hardly have comprehended his companion's stories about horse-racing and cock--fighting or fox hunting, and although his own legends of clan-fights and creaghs varied with talk of Highland goblins and fairy folk, would have been caviar to his companion, they contrived nevertheless to find a degree of pleasure in each other's company.(Scott 1992 p. 306)
Both are presented as national
stereotypes, and it is from this that Scott is able to build upon and highlight
the growing misunderstanding which is the essence of the story.
It is however, their pecuniary and vocational interests that predominantly allow them to find the common ground on which they base a mutual respect for each other. For example, when English and Scottish cattlemen are droving livestock together "...they co-operate on the journey. With one man as guide and interpreter in the Highlands, and the other in England, Robin Oig and Harry Wakefield form a partnership of mutual advantage." (Overton 1986 p 213) Ironically, when this partnership falls prey to what could almost be described as a comedy of errors, they are then forced to revert to their respective social values and customs to fatally resolve what is essentially a commonplace misunderstanding. Herein lies the tragedy. Perhaps it is from this perspective that the reader, in order to appease this sense of tragedy, must seek some sense of balance or justice by attempting to apportion the blame to one character or the other, and/or by declaring that 'neither side can be said to have won'. Alternatively, if the reader decides that it is necessary to establish a 'victor', (if that's the appropriate term), then surely the reader's decision must be formed from a broader cultural interpretation of the events, thus granting equal credence to Oig's social values. Moreover, since the story orbits closely around pugilism, it seems only fair to include a very brief history of the art, in order to establish a fundamental understanding of Wakefield's nature and cultural background.
Boxing within England had enjoyed a massive increase in popularity from about the mid-1700s and had become by the later part of the century so popular that "... a large part of the aristocracy, including the Dukes of York and Clarence (later William the IV ), [gave it] their ardent support'' (Johnston 1995 p 47). Thus boxing became synonymous with English upper class valour and supremacy both in the normal run of society and on the battlefield. A prime example of this, is the English boxing master John Shaw, who was immortalised after his heroic death at Waterloo, and through this he ''...was speedily taken up as an emblem of English manliness...[and ]...helped confirm the status of pugilism in English culture.'' (Johnston p 51)
In conjunction with the English belief in their own superiority and the respectability that pugilism acquired, it is easy to see how Wakefield would view boxing as the only means to a fair and just solution to his dispute with Oig. But it is through this inherited dogma that Wakefield fails to see past his own cultural complacency--his rules and his own misplaced understanding of what, to a Highlander, constitutes violent interpersonal conflict. He echoes this sentiment to Robin who has returned to settle the matter after getting his dirk back from Morrison; "Tis not thy fault man, that, not having the luck to be an Englishman, thou canst not fight more than a school-girl." (Scott p 315) This is a good example of how Wakefield clearly demonstrates his failure to understand the rules. Robin comes from an armed society where any decision to engage in combat must be considered in the most serious light and indeed avoided altogether unless dire circumstance dictate no alternative but to resort to violence. ''For Robin, to fight is to kill- hence his desire not to fight, but, if at all possible, to agree amicably and rationally.''(Johnston p 58) In fact Oig is far more amicable than Wakefield and he proves this the moment it is revealed that Wakefield must look elsewhere for rented grazing property. He attempts to "...offer his English friend to share with him the disputed possession." (Scott p. 308) When Wakefield refuses this, Oig then offers to help him to drive his cattle to another location, once again he is spurned with the words; "[g]o to the devil with thyself..."(Scott p 308). Later, at the inn, when the situation has degenerated into a physical confrontation, Robin yet again tries to resolve the problem through appealing to the Englishman's sense of justice by offering to take the matter up with the English law courts. But sadly, he meets with resistance not just form Wakefield himself, but from the bailiff and the bloodthirsty mob. Finally, Oig seeing no way out attempts to bring the fight into an arena respected by both Highlanders and Englishmen alike--the use of broadswords. "The Englishmen laugh at such aristocratic pretensions, and here Scott's story becomes savagely ironic. A good fight, it appears, requires a common nationality!" (Gordon 1969 p. 168)
Robin in his rational efforts to avoid a fight demonstrates a great deal more cultural flexibility than his friend. He is prepared to subjugate his national pride in favour of a peaceful resolve by any English means, other than boxing, but his efforts are frustrated at every turn, eventuating in his receiving a beating at the hands of Wakefield.
In all fairness, Wakefield is, in a sense, a victim also. He through his inability to see past his English national pride and a fanatical sense of indisputable righteousness, coupled with an 'ancestral dislike of northerners' ( Gordon p 168), fails to see the magnitude of his folly. In other words, he fails to understand all the implications of a conflict with a Highlander--he can only see that a fight with Robin will, for him, be a means of "...relieving his feelings and clearing the air." (Gordon p 168) Furthermore, he allows himself to be pushed into the fight by the mob at the inn who view Robin as "...a comic victim whose honour is lightly regarded. So he [Robin] blindly resorts to the method of his forefathers, and his dirk settles the argument forever." (Gordon p 169)
If the reader goes as far as to regard the fight as multicultural event, i.e.: the rules and values of both sides are fairly taken into consideration, then the outcome can only be, holistically speaking, fair. The method and means of fighting is always culturally influenced and each warrior has his own particular values and criteria.
The Englishman though vulnerable to the charge of cowardice, puts his economic interests first; but for the Highlander, once humiliated, neither profit matters nor the life itself. ...His values are influenced neither by economic motives which weigh with the Englishman nor by the legal constraints invoked by the judge. For these and other reasons, the emotional pull of the story is with the Highlander.(Overton pp 217-18)
Robin Oig is judged by the English legal system- a fate which he fully expects, he is prepared, in other words, to die as a consequence of his actions. To him, his own death is part of the battle--part of the rules. It is the price of victory. He acknowledges this at the end of the story; " I gave a life for the life I took" he said, and what can I do more?" ( Scott p. 320) Robin had exhausted all recourse to a moral and ethical solution, he is left with the only option available to him, to follow the course of his Highland heritage and seek vengeance. He, as opposed to Wakefield, has a greater awareness of all the rules, that is, his own cultural values and those of the English. In the light of this, it could be argued that Oig had won the fight, and arguably, the idea that 'neither side can be said to have won', tends to be founded more on the English cultural and social ideology as opposed to the Highlander's views. Robin successfully avenges his family name, and, to him, after that, nothing else matters. Wakefield, however, dies because of his cultural complacency, his ignorance of Highland values and customs and a dogmatic refusal to listen to Robin's appeals. In short, he seriously underestimates his 'enemy', and worse still, an enemy which, largely speaking, is one of his own creation .Therefore, "...Harry Wakefield emerges as a lesser man than his killer" ( Overton p 221) .
Gordon. Robert, Under Which King? Oliver and Boyd Ltd, Scotland, 1969.
Johnston. Christopher, Scottish Literary Journal, "Violence and Justice in Scott's 'The Two Drovers' ", Vol. 22 no.1 May 1995. pp46-60.
Overton. W.J, Studies in Scottish Literature, "Scott, the Short Story and History: "The Two Drovers" ", University of South Carolina, 1986, pp 210-223.1
Scott. Sir Walter. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition, "The Two Drovers" W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, New York and London, 1993, pp 306-320.