Alec kills Jerry because of the deep love and friendship that gripped the two of them. However, to understand this deep and in the end heroic love we must examine this on the one hand simple but on the other hand complex and delirious comradeship which sees Alec kill his best and only friend. It was their separate classes that brought them together: one from the Anglo-Irish gentry; the other a peasant. If it were not for Alec’s snobbishness and Jerry’s pleasant and honest nature the two might never have met.
As soon as Alec gives in, goes swimming and fights with him we can see that the two will be inseparable for life. The fact that Alec has never seen a naked boy before seems to point to us that he has never met any other children before. This is probably the case when growing up in the countryside in his social position as his parents, especially his mother, would never have let him play with or be friends with peasants. This is probably not because he is in anyway antisocial but he knows no children of his own age.
An additional thing that brought the pair together and made them more inseparable was their passion for horses and horse riding: especially racing. Their dream of one day training horses, for Alec, and, for Jerry, riding them becomes even more realistic and clear when they name lots of famous race courses ‘Newmarket… Longchamp… Ascot’. Another was the fact that Alec taught Jerry to ride in return for fighting lessons after Jerry easily dominated Alec who was almost twice Jerry’s size at the bank of the river.
Fighting always seems to bring little boys together and as Alec could offer something in return for Jerry’s lessons each had a role to play in the relationship. Alec’s mother has a big part in making their friendship all the more real and true by trying to stop the pair from seeing each other. She is hard and unscrupulous and does not mind whom she steps on to get to her goal. This is particularly true when she tells Alec that he is not his father’s son to try and stop him from loving his father and therefore driving him to the war.
But his mother’s revelation leaves him feeling dispossessed, isolated and cut off from his roots. This only adds to the love that Alec has for his father and makes it stronger and the hatred of his mother the more so. If it were not for her I think that the two would not have become such close friends as they would have been allowed to see each other and may have soon become tired and weary of each other. But because Jerry was the ‘forbidden fruit’ for Alec it made him all the more ‘tasty and tempting’.
Johnston’s portrayal of their contrasting backgrounds and political views is one that really shows the hardships the boys had to go through with to see each other and it really is a miracle that the two become friends at all. Especially as Jerry is a Shinner (to which when accused by Alec Jerry shouts back ‘Keep your bloody mouth shut’) and Alec a home ruler there was destined to be conflict in their political views when the two grew up, which was sadly not to be the case.
Once the pair have gone off to war yet more boundaries are put in their way as Alec is automatically made a junior officer and Jerry a private in the Army. Their commanding officer Major Glendinning at first tells Alec to “mix” as he is keeping to himself in what the Major sees as just a huge display of class difference and that he sees himself above everyone. In fact this is not the case. He is just so horrified by the realities and hardships of war that he does not feel like talking to his fellow officers.
However when the Major learns that Alec and Jerry have been talking to each other (an officer talking surreptitiously to a private was completely out of the question and frowned upon in the army) says that in no way will he have his own men “cavorting” with the men. He also implies that he thinks that Alec and Jerry’s relationship is homosexual which is a very serious allegation and is illegal and a crime for which you could go to prison for. We also learn that Alec risks his life by offering Jerry his bed when he returns from looking for his father.
If Jerry had been caught by another man in Alec’s bed Alec could have gone to jail as well as Jerry facing the firing squad for desertion in face of enemy fire. Alec is normally very conservative towards rules and regulations. In general he does what he is told without asking any questions. The one exception to this is when he goes to the prison, takes out his gun and shoots Jerry to save him from the horrors of the firing squad. Also the awfulness facing Alec as it was he who had to command the very same firing squad which was going to kill his best friend.
But we can see even in this case that he is doing this for both of their sakes not just his own. Johnston uses imagery and recurring patterns very well. She especially uses well the image of the swans to give the story familiarity to remind us of Alec and Jerry’s homeland and the hills which always seem to give both of them a sense of security like the hills surrounding their homes back in Ireland. The point when Alec fires the shot which kills Jerry is a very moving and emotional part of the story. Alec goes and sees Jerry in prison, which he is forbidden to do, and starts talking about home.
He then gets Jerry to sing a song. Jerry chooses to sing the song that the fiddler was playing when they were talking about joining up to the army. This song is so maudlin for the both of them as it was being sung when they joined the army and is now being sung when Alec ends Jerry’s life. Jerry sings the words ‘Now father take me and let me go’ to show that the friendship is so great that they know what each one is thinking and that it was best for at least Jerry’s interests This shows that Alec was willing to face the firing squad in order to protect his best friend from the fate that is about to happen to him.