Sillitoe, Alan (Vol. 10)
Sillitoe, Alan 1928–
Sillitoe is an English novelist, short story writer, poet, translator, travel writer, playwright, screenwriter, and author of children's books. He explores in his fiction the violence born of futility among the working class. Society and its strictures are seen as a deadening force in Sillitoe's world, a theme that some critics have found to be handled in an overtly polemical and simplistic fashion in recent work. He has collaborated with his wife, Ruth Fainlight, on an adaptation of a play by Lope de Vega. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
Lawrence R. Ries
Alan Sillitoe sees the violence of our present environment deriving from sociological conditions. His characters belong to the low classes and are in danger of losing what little identity they possess. Their lust for life throws them into open battle with the traditional elements of society—government, authority, middle and upper class people—and violence is a means of holding onto a world that is being destroyed. The individual feels himself the victim of technological production, impersonal war, governmental suppression. Violence, under these conditions, is a way for a person to demonstrate that he is still alive. (p. 30)
Sillitoe, more than any other contemporary novelist, sees violence as a valid and necessary expression in modern culture…. Because Sillitoe's heroes are trying to survive in a violent world, they react violently. The origin of their actions lies in sociological sources. (pp. 30-1)
Lawrence R. Ries, in his Wolf Masks: Violence in Contemporary Poetry (copyright © 1977 by Kennikat Press Corp.; reprinted by permission of Kennikat Press Corp.), Kennikat, 1977.
[In The Widower's Son] Sillitoe sets up a metaphor which serves him throughout to tie together his story. It is the metaphor of life as battle, a man up against the world around him like a soldier facing an enemy. (p. 607)
[When William meets a woman at a party, he] drops all his tactics and makes a straight line for her, directly falling in love, proceeding to marry her soon afterwards. Getting the measure of that woman, Georgina, proves harder than charting any actual battlefield; the master gunner fails to keep his distance in the uncharted field of love, where secret forces he was unprepared to meet, assembled in a dead ground deadlier than he knew, wind up nearly destroying him. Strictly a male view, some will complain I suppose, this military metaphor with the woman cast as the enemy; but I found it a welcome change to have the break-up of a marriage, a subject mainly women write about these days, presented from the man's side. Sillitoe handles the point of view very nicely, staying with William most of the time but telling us just a little bit more about Georgina than William would know, so as to give us a sense of that ground hidden from him without dispelling its mystery…. It is not only the marriage which is seen as combat, but William's whole life, his upbringing by his soldier father, his actual fighting in the war, his civilian job running an entertainment center with a retired colonel's military efficiency, his facing in the end, as he loses the last battle against Georgina, the secret forces within himself. (p. 608)
Gilberto Perez, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1977 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXX, No. 4, Winter, 1977–78.
The Widower's Son is … a novel about two generations of one family, and much of its main narrative covers … the period just after the war, which seems, for a great many English writers writing today, in its paradox of victory and decline, its upset hierarchies and devaluation of sacred trusts, to be a recognizable parallel for the aging and disillusionment of the individual. Certainly that is true of Sillitoe's novel, which traces the rise of William Scorton, grandson of a miner and son of an army sergeant, to the rank of Colonel, cuckold and madman on the easy path of the age.
Sillitoe … often writes about the isolation of the individual from society, and in a way The Widower's Son is about traveling too far and too fast from one's own origins…. The army, for Sillitoe, is the emblem of everything which tears men away from the earth, from nature, and from family…. [The] army divides [William] both from his historical place as a miner's grandson, earthy, lower-class, simple in his habits, and from his acquired position among the upper classes, educated into finer tastes, obsessed by his wife, Georgina. Though he loves his father and is in love with his wife, he understands neither.
In one scene, furious with Georgia, William punches her around "like a collier," in short, as his grandfather might have done. Throughout the novel there are references to historical cycles; to the past rising up to...
(The entire section is 416 words.)