We Are Bound for the Promised Land
Eilean Macleod’s traits are especially apparent in the very first paragraph where she is working in the barn. She is letting the chickens eat from her hand and when she falls because of this she simply states: “”Look what you made me do, chicky””. She is not even close to being mad or disgusted by having to touch the grimy floor, in fact she seems to rather enjoy it: “Eilean dug the heels of her hands into the floor and sat up. The floor was damp and smelt of the animals. Rich fumes made their way to her nostrils.”
It’s obvious that she is not a delicate young lady or your everyday fragile girl. She prefers getting her hand soaked in the cow’s mealy dribble and rubbing it into its side rather than knitting like her mother.
The fact that she is a tomboy is also evident by her choice of male friends and how she acts around them: “She stepped towards Angus and pushed him”. Definitely not an average girl’s actions.
However, a tomboy like Eilean does not cope well with her surroundings since the story takes place in an isolated peasant society in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland where religion is making the agenda. This implies traditional gender roles and a very patriarchal family structure. Evidence on how important religion is can be seen when Mary asks “Mother, can I peel off the skins of my potatoes, or is it a sin?”. Only in a society where religion has been integrated into every aspect of life would this question be asked.
In the Macleod family it is clear that the father has absolute monarchy. He decides what the daughters are doing and if they do not obey his words they will be punished.
Only Eilean seems to be rebelling against the father’s regime because her sisters and the mother are happily doing the chores of a traditional housewife.
In spite of all this, no one can stop Eilean from dreaming of a better place. In much the same way the ribbons can’t stay in her hair, this small town won’t be able to hold on to Eilean forever.
After her father has hit her and she is lying on the cold floor – just like in the barn, except this time there is not the smallest hint of joy – she gazes out the window towards the horizon where there might be place for a girl like her.
Later on in the story it is revealed that this utopia goes by the name of Glasgow where there “were streets and streets full of shops and people and cafés and cinemas. Some of the shops were even open on Sundays.”
This dream of a better place gives the title of the story a double meaning:
The first is what the father is preaching in the church; the Promised Land being eternal life in Heaven alongside Jesus and the almighty Creator but for Eilean it is something far more down to earth, quite literally. Her promised land is her right as a woman to do what she pleases and not be bound by society’s expectations of her. She wants to go to a place where no one can tell her that “It’s not good for a girl to be like that” like the father did when he found out she was hanging out with male friends.
So for the father this sentence is what he uses to captivate his audience at the church but for Eilean it is her anthem that is leading her away from those very pews.
The main theme in We Are Bound for the Promised Land is the action of breaking free from traditional gender roles set by religion.
Eilean is a prime example of a girl who is not satisfied by knitting, cooking, Sunday masses and, most of all, suppression by a dominant male.
These gender roles can seem ridiculous to modern society because we have (almost) achieved equality between men and women but in a place like the Hebrides it is an unquestionable fact that the man is the head of the house. This fact is determined by the incredibly religious mindset that everybody is indoctrinated with.
The text criticises the double standards of this very religion. The father preaches the word of God and how we should love one another but at home he hits his daughter. Not an action that corresponds very well with Christianity’s Golden Rule.
The irony is apparent when the father, after having beaten Eiliean, tucks away his Bible under his coat.
Whether Eiliean is religious or not does not play an important role, what matters is that she wants to rip off the etiquette that religion has stuck on her. She will not end up like her mother who does not dare to go against her own husband and simply sits around all day in their grandfather’s chair knitting.
 Watterson, A. E.: ”We are Bound for the Promised Land” 2007, l 11
 Ibid., l 23
 Ibid., l 39-42
 Ibid., l 88
 Ibid., 157
 Ibid., l 54
 Ibid., l 27-33
 Watterson, A. E.: ”We are Bound for the Promised Land” 2007, l 120-121
 Ibid., l 62
 Ibid., 145-149
 Ibid., l 48
 Watterson, A. E.: ”We are Bound for the Promised Land” 2007, l 57
 Ibid., l 60-61
 Ibid., l 30-31