In my last post about forgiveness in Outlander, I mentioned this snippet of dialog—Jamie to Claire on the subject of forgiving her rapist:
“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.”
I had a feeling as I was writing that this dichotomy between forgiveness and justice would have to be revisited. Sure enough, as soon as I posted the blog, I got some thoughtful “But what about ______ ?” comments. So today, we’re getting the flip side of forgiveness, and an attempt to answer the questions:
In the Outlander universe, when is forgiveness not necessary or possible? What situations call for vengeance?
I’m going to stick with Jamie’s character in my response. Because Jamie.
While I don’t suppose that Jamie ever sat down and formulated a Personal Code of Justice, he was a Highlander and the son of a good and moral man. He wasn’t always consistent about who got roses and who got thorns, but I believe that in the instances below, Jamie was motivated by honor, tradition…and selflessness.
Yep, selflessness. Here we go.
In Outlander, when Jamie thinks that Claire is probably incapable of bearing a child, he says to her:
“I can bear pain myself, but I couldna bear yours. That would take more strength than I have.”
That’s nothing to do with vengeance—just illustrative of Jamie’s essential selflessness. He’s only in his early 20s there, but he’s already developed the virtue of putting others above himself. We see this in DIA on a greater scale, when he attempts (twice!) to save the Lallybroch men from slaughter, and later in Voyager, as Mac Dubh caring for the men in Ardsmuir. So keep that characteristic of selflessness in mind as we consider some of the people who suffer from Jamie’s vengeance. (I’m not considering deaths in war or battle, self-defense, or heat of passion killings—just those that can legitimately be considered acts of revenge because of a previous wrongdoing.)
- Black Jack Randall – In ch. 31 of OL, Jamie says to Claire:
“I’ll tell ye this, mo duinne. One day Jack Randall will die at my hands. And when he is dead, I shall send back that book to the mother of Alex MacGregor, with word that her son is avenged.”
At this point, Randall has viciously whipped Jamie, but the events at Wentworth have not yet occurred. Still, Jamie’s anger is more on behalf of the hapless Alex MacGregor and on behalf of Jenny and Lallybroch. Later, at their near-fatal encounter in France (the duel), Jamie attempts to kill Randall not for the torture and rape he suffered in Wentworth, but for Randall’s abuse of Fergus. Jamie eventually (probably) kills Randall at Culloden, but since we book readers don’t know yet exactly how that transpired, we’ll have to leave it on the table as to whether that was revenge for his own torture or simply a battlefield killing. Yes, I know what they showed on Starz. Doesn’t count.
- Danton, the Duke of Sandringham’s servant – Jamie kills him (again, book, not TV show) in revenge for the rape of Mary Hawkins and the attack on Claire.
- Murchison, the guard at Ardsmuir prison – Jamie, perhaps with the help of one or two other prisoners, drowns Murchison because of his constant cruelty. It’s my opinion that this was an incident of opportunity, and that Jamie did this in his role as de facto chief for his men at Ardsmuir. Would he have done this if Murchison’s cruelty was reserved for Jamie alone? Hard to say. Jamie does occasionally occupy some morally ambiguous territory.
- Richard Brown’s gang – In ABOSAA, Jamie utters perhaps the three most chilling words in all the Outlander books: “Kill them all.” The raiders—except for a few who we’ll visit in a moment—die because of their offenses against Claire.
- Claire’s nameless rapist – This is the feckless fellow that Claire sees at the end of MOBY, three years after her abduction. She realizes not only that he escaped the killings (see above), but that he is the one man who actually succeeded in raping her. Jamie cheerfully toddles off to take care of him, and though it happens off-page, it was certainly the epitome of revenge killing—because of wrongs done to Claire.
Similarly, when Wendigo Donner is discovered to have also survived the kill them all raid, his life was forfeit—but when Jamie kills him, it’s in defense of his home and all who are present there.
- Stephen Bonnet – Of course, it isn’t Jamie who kills Bonnet, although he has the chance to do so on Okracoke, at the end of Echo. Instead of killing him on Brianna’s behalf (which would have been consistent with the poor dudes above), he offers that honor to Brianna, whose sufferings at Bonnet’s hands were even greater than Jamie’s. What’s the difference? In the other cases, the wronged ones were not capable of carrying out their own vengeance. Too young, too frightened, not present, too dead, bound by an oath not to kill. But Brianna is more than capable; the choice is hers. She chooses mercy—of a sort.
So. Some excerpts from the Highlander’s Big Book of Justice:
Honor your oaths.
Forgive when you can. It might take a while, but it’ll keep your soul pure.
Keep forgiving. Sometimes it wears out.
Forgiveness doesn’t erase justice. If an opportunity for justice presents itself, take it.
If you are responsible for people who can’t avenge their own wrongs, you must do it for them.
Defend those who need defending. Be prepared to defend with your life.
Surround yourself with those who will stay by your side in the cause of justice. Family, clan, true friends. Defend them, too.
[Got any ideas for future blog posts? I prefer to write about the books: themes, characters, events. I welcome your input!]
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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