It is why Sir Thomas Malory called his very long book the Death of Arthur. . . . It is the tragedy … of sin coming home to roost. . . . [W]e have to take note of the parentage of Arthur’s son Mordred, and to remember … that the king had slept with his own sister. He did not know he was doing so … but it seems, in tragedy, that innocence is not enough.
This passage, from Book II, Chapter 14, closes the second book of the novel and introduces a dark tone that carries over into Book III. Immediately before these lines, White presents Mordred’s family tree and reveals that Morgause, the woman Arthur has just slept with, is in fact his half-sister. White locates the downfall of Arthur’s reign in this one unwitting sin. White suggests that it is this evil deed that begins Arthur’s downfall and tragedy. Arthur’s sins come “home to roost” in the vengeful Mordred, who is the result of the incestuous union between Arthur and Morgause. This passage suggests the evil within Mordred’s character and foreshadows his role in precipitating the fall of Camelot and Arthur. This quote is important because it offers White’s personal analysis of the Arthur saga and exemplifies White’s frequent allusions to Malory as the definitive teller of the Arthurian legend.