Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The primary purpose of this novel is to reveal, within the larger picture of modern life, the small portraits of several of life’s rejects. The reader is told that Mr. Bird was a collector of people, and that is what he has carefully done: collect a group of lost and lonely souls into the world of the boardinghouse, souls who must contend with the larger and less safe world outside. The contrast between the haven inside and the dangerous world outside provides the story’s central tension.

In addition, Trevor has fashioned a carefully wrought satiric metaphor for modern British society by comically depicting the various types in that society within the microcosm of the boarding-house world. The Major, a symbol of lost British rule, blustering and bogus, is fascinated by and terrified of the black world which has reached to the very domain of Number 2 Jubilee Road. Mr. Obd complicates this notion by representing not only failed British rule but also collapsed hopes for the more noble aspirations of the empire, such as education, law, and culture. Modern England is depicted as a doddering old edifice filled with the lost and the incompetent and the criminal. It is interesting to note that it is by spurning his desires that Tome Obd is finally driven into an act of violence which causes the whole edifice to collapse around the rest of the white world in which he has been suffering. The impulse toward empire finally comes full circle to haunt those...

(The entire section is 413 words.)