Crow Lake – College
“Guilt is the hilt of the knife that we use on ourselves, and love is often the blade; but it’s worry that keeps the knife sharp, and worry that gets most of us, in the end” (G. Roberts). Guilt is the strongest and most corrosive of feelings. Like acid, it can eat away at your insides and render you numb, just like it did to Kate. In the novel Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, the theme of guilt has a persistent presence and impact on Kate, Luke and Matt. To begin with, Kate Morrison is plagued by the guilt of her bother, Matt’s broken dreams.
As a consequence, the guilt causes many emotional problems in her life. For instance, the constant mental pressures of guilt causes Kate’s “crisis” during one of her zoology lectures. “Because if things had turned out differently, it would have been Matt standing in front of them” (Lawson, pg. 200). During a lecture, Kate has a flashback about a childhood visit to the ponds with Matt. It is clear that Kate feels guilty for leaving Matt, who was her idol as well as her brother, behind.
He taught her not only to see nature but to observe and understand it; and Kate feels that it is injustice that she should be teaching others when Matt taught her “everything” she knows. Furthermore, Katie is always in an emotional battle with her own mind due to the guilt she felt for Matt’s situation. “I had betrayed him, that was how I felt” (Lawson, pg. 201). Even though she knows Matt had caused his own demise, deep inside her mind, she feels that it was her own fault. This feeling causes her to fight with herself.
Her situation shows that Kate could never come to terms with what had happened to her family and what had become of the Morrison dream. Finally, Kate’s guilt causes her to lose communication with Matt, which hurts their relationship. “What are you actually researching Kate? I don’t think you’ve ever said” (Lawson, pg. 274). It is plainly obvious that Matt is interested in learning about Kate’s job and her experiences, even though Kate never sees that. She feels that telling Matt of an opportunity he missed and one he could never get again is not the right thing to do.
Her guilt towards Matt’s situation, although falsely placed, makes their relationship very distant. Besides Kate, Matt is another one of the Morrison children who is plagued by the feeling of guilt. His guilt causes him to make life changing decisions and affect his relationships. First of all, guilt causes disagreements between him and Luke over family decisions. “Years before I realized how desperately he wanted what Luke was offering… and how sick and enraged he was because he felt he had to turn it down.”
Luke offers Matt and his siblings salvation by quitting college, but Matt knows that he cannot accept his offer; for then he will feel guilty for the rest of his life. In the end, Luke goes through with his plan and quits college to take care of his family. This undoubtedly causes feelings of guilt for Matt, since his brother had to give up so much for them. Due to this guilt, Matt tries to mimic what Luke did by trying to quit college, which causes a big fight between the two brothers. Moreover, Matt gives up his dreams of going to university due to the guilt of getting Marie pregnant.
“Oh God, I’m sorry. Oh God Marie, I’m sorry” (Lawson, pg. 252). After Matt learns that Marie is pregnant, he decides to marry her; not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because if he does not marry her, he would feel guilty about it during his life. This one decision leads to the main conflict of the entire novel; which is the fact that Kate cannot believe how she left him behind. Lastly, Matt’s guilt towards betraying Kate troubles him his whole life and causes their relationship to deteriorate.
With regards to this, Marie says the following to Kate “But your disappointment… that’s so hard for him to bear” (Lawson, pg. 279). Matt and Kate had “a glorious plan. ” They were supposed to go to university and follow the teaching of their great grandmother; and through his own fault, Matt had ruined it. That and Kate’s disappointment never ceases to trouble him, leading to a gap between Kate and Matt. At last, Luke feels guilt towards his parent’s death, which results in some decisions that change the Morrison family’s life. Initially, he most likely quits teachers college due to guilt.
“To the bay, they have suitcases. We can go tomorrow” (Lawson, pg. 13). Luke’s parents died when they were going to buy a suitcase for him to take to college. With this in mind, it is understandable that he decides that he’d rather help his family through hardships than become a teacher. Additionally, guilt causes Luke to isolate himself from many perks of life. For instance, Daniel says “Maybe it’s become a habit…resisting temptation” (Lawson, pg. 246). After sacrificing so much due to his guilt for his parent’s death, it almost becomes a habit for him to sacrifice.
He lives with Bo and helps her through life by doing things such as teaching her how to drive; but he never does anything for his own sake. Lastly, Luke’s guilt was another reason for the conflict between him and Matt. “Winning a scholarship’s your problem. Looking after the girls is mine” (Lawson, pg. 179). Luke feels that the whole family is his responsibility because he thinks their parents died because of him; and that the burden is his to carry alone. So, when Matt suggests another way, Luke does not welcome the suggestion. This causes both of their feelings to erupt in a fight.
Crow Lake is a novel that uses the feeling of guilt as a major plot device. It affects three of the four Morrison siblings; Kate, Matt and Luke during their lives. Kate feels the guilt of leaving her idol and her brother behind in life. On the other hand, Matt feels the guilt of betraying Kate’s trust. Luke feels guilty for his parent’s death, since they died when they went to buy a suitcase for him. As a final thought, you cannot control emotions such as guilt, but what you can do is not let them control you. Guilt is a natural feeling, but it should not be allowed to control your decisions and relationships.