Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The action is presented by an omniscient narrator as he presents the events that inhibit the boy from fulfilling himself in the sixty years he lives following the traumatizing experience that constitutes the story’s main action. The narrative shifts from an acute and psychologically perceptive account of the boy’s refusal to accept Baines’s appeal to keep yet another secret, to a view of the dying man who has managed, at best, a life of dilettantism. The contracting and expanding focus allows the reader to appreciate the traumatizing incident and to realize its results on the character of the man that the boy becomes.

The story can also be read as an exercise in meaningful symbolism. The house in Jungian terms can loosely be seen as the integrated personality. The green baize door through which the boy passes to the basement room serves as a Freudian device to distinguish between the conscious and the subconscious, while the sweet cake and the Meccano set with which he never plays function as comments on the nature of existence. The experience of betrayal denies Philip both the sweetness of life and the ability to create. The city beyond the house can be interpreted as the region outside the self, where good and evil exist in mutual tolerance of each other. Outside the house, Philip agrees to keep Baines’s secret. Mrs. Baines, however, invades his psyche and catalyzes in the boy a fear of life. Insofar as Philip becomes Mrs. Baines’s accomplice by failing to tell Baines that he has inadvertently betrayed their secret, he is in complicity with evil; later, he suffers the death of the heart when he refuses the responsibilities and consequences of an adulthood that he is unprepared to accept. Dream and nightmare, furthermore, afford a coherent imagery that emphasizes the power of evil. As such, the story serves as an epitome of favorite themes and preoccupations that characterize Graham Greene’s fictional universe.

Perhaps the story’s greatest accomplishment is the immediacy with which the traumatizing episodes are presented. The reader is convinced of the tale’s psychological validity as he appreciates and acknowledges the nature of a betrayal that destroys innocence and dooms the individual to a life of waste and loss.