The Outlander books are a huge tapestry, and there are threads of many colors—various themes—that run in and out of every inch. Some of the threads are family … home … courage … faith … duty … and one bright thread woven throughout is that of forgiveness.
In DOA, Jamie and Young Ian beat poor Roger senseless and give him to the Iroquois as the result of a string of horrendous miscommunications. When Roger eventually returns and takes up residence on Fraser’s Ridge, he and Jamie circle each other awkwardly for a time. Roger has several choices to make, including returning to his own time. He chooses forgiveness, and soon Jamie becomes a beloved father figure.
Claire’s decision to forgive involves one of the men in the gang that abducts and rapes her. When she encounters him, surprisingly still alive years after the killing raid by Jamie and the men from the Ridge, she spends most of three chapters at the end of MOBY finding a path of forgiveness. Her role model in the process is Jamie; she has spent years watching him forgive Jack Randall.
Brianna, too, chooses to forgive her rapist. In her case, it’s Stephen Bonnet, and her decision is at the urging of her father, who writes to her:
“For the sake of your Soul, for the sake of your own Life, you must find the grace of forgiveness.”
Ironically, at the time when Brianna reads this note, she and Jamie are estranged because of his actions with Roger—and eventually, she will forgive Jamie for those, too.
So Jamie is the needle pulling the thread of forgiveness through the Outlander tapestry. For Jamie, forgiveness is a process, and it’s beautifully shown in chapter 48 of DOA. After an emotional encounter with Brianna brings his own mostly-buried trauma to the surface, he walks outside in the night and wrestles a bit with the shade of Jack Randall. Finally, though, he is able to say:
“Go in peace…you are forgiven.”
He knows that he has to convey this to Brianna:
…That only by forgiveness could she forget—and that forgiveness was not a single act, but a matter of constant practice.
Jamie’s forgiveness of Jack Randall is a defining moment for him. On more than one occasion, he expresses doubts to Claire about his own basic goodness. He knows that he has a great capacity for violence and that he deeply feels the need for revenge when he (or someone he is responsible for) has been wronged. He knows, too, that he’s capable of manipulating others for his own purposes. Perhaps more than any of his positive attributes (and Jamie has many), his ability to forgive is the one that most differentiates Jamie from other men. It is not a sign of weakness—it takes considerable strength to forgive.
Forgiveness, however, doesn’t mean saying to the one who has done wrong that their actions were just dandy—that you really don’t mind what happened. Jamie’s not likely to buy into the axiom that “forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it”—he’s not particularly interested in shedding a flowery fragrance anywhere. Rather, forgiveness is a decision to keep the wrong actions of others from blackening one’s own soul. To Jamie, forgiveness is possible, but justice is still necessary.
“And if ye could forgive him, he needn’t die, ye’re saying? That’s like a judge lettin’ a murderer go free, because his victim’s family forgave him.”
There are many more examples of Outlander characters forgiving wrongs done to them:
- Claire forgives Malva for having betrayed her, calling Malva the “child of my heart.”
- Bree’s forgiveness of Stephen Bonnet extends to a second offense against her and ends with a mercy killing.
- Jamie forgives Claire for her sexual acts with the king and with Lord John (although he admits that he may well remind her from time to time).
- In The Scottish Prisoner, Jamie also forgives Lord John for a terrible conversation, with the simple words te absolvo.
- Jenny forgives Claire for any number of perceived wrongs against Jenny’s men, including failing to heal Ian.
- It appears that Frank forgives Claire for—well, for everything associated with her ‘abandonment’ of him. It wasn’t possible for his forgiveness to reach Claire during the stretch of their difficult marriage, but he demonstrated it through his love of Bree (and his behind-the-scenes workings; we’ll get more of those in the next two books, I think).
- With the help of Claire and Brianna, Young Ian comes to a place where he can forgive himself for the failure of his marriage to Emily.
I want to mention one example of unforgiveness, and how it’s a black thread in the Outlander tapestry. Arch Bug’s unwillingness to forgive Young Ian for his wife’s death totally consumes him, and eventually leads to his own violent demise.
What’s our takeaway, then? Well, this is a blog, not an advice column, and you’ll have to work out for yourself the role that forgiveness may take in your life. But indulge me for a minute while I use this platform to address young William Ransom.
William. Dude. You need to forgive your papa. He did what he did for you. Think of what you have learned from this good man who loves you: loyalty … honor … soldiering … love of family. And now think of James Fraser, and find forgiveness for him, too. ‘Mac’ sacrificed everything he had when he walked away from you at Helwater, and he, too, did it for you.
From both your fathers, you can learn what it is to be a man.
[Coming soon: part 2, in which we discuss vengeance and justice, and when forgiveness just doesn’t cut it.]
Jan Ackerson is a retired teacher, a writer and editor, and an absolute cuckoo about all things Outlander. You can find her on a much-neglected Twitter account (she’s mostly there to follow the Outlander gang) @janackerson1, or on Facebook (Jan Worgul Ackerson). Her book of micro-fiction, Stolen Postcards, is available at Amazon or https://bofapress.com/collections/all.
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