Study Guide

Brighton Rock

by Graham Greene

Brighton Rock Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In his introduction, Graham Greene notes that Brighton Rock “began as a detective novel,” but readers and critics of the work soon realize that in the development of the central character, Pinkie Brown, and in the reversal of the hunt for the victim, Fred Hale, Greene has provided yet another of his studies of evil, sin, and the “appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”

Against the lively backdrop of a Bank Holiday, which brings happy tourists to the seaside resort, Greene presents the frightened Fred Hale. The first words establish the terror: “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.” Hale, known as Kolly Kibber in a popular newspaper, has been hired to leave cards at various places so that readers who recognize him can claim a prize. Instead, he is recognized by Pinkie, who seeks revenge for Hale’s betrayal of Pinkie’s mentor (and father figure), Kite. The first hunt is under way.

Although Hale seeks refuge in Ida Arnold’s Earth Mother arms, Pinkie and his gang find him as he waits for Ida to come out of the lavatory. Seeking to establish an alibi, Pinkie has Spicer, one of his gang, leave a Kolly Kibber card in the restaurant where he was to have appeared, but the new waitress, Rose, notices that he does not look like the person in the newspaper picture. Pinkie, knowing that he cannot permit this loose end, plans to control her, either with the threat of...

(The entire section is 570 words.)

Brighton Rock Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At the Brighton pier on a sunny Whitsun bank holiday, a terrified Fred Hale distributes his cards. Under the pseudonym Kolly Kibber, Hale places his cards along the route as part of his job as a newspaper promoter. Pinkie, the new leader of Kite’s gang, begins to haunt Hale for being complicit in Kite’s murder.

In a frantic search for comfort and protection, Hale links up with the affable London barmaid Ida Arnold, who is enjoying a relaxing holiday. Fearing for his life, Hale begs Ida to accompany him for the rest of the day, and she willingly accepts his invitation. Ida makes a quick trip to the ladies room; when she reappears, Hale is gone. He has been kidnapped. He is then murdered by Pinkie’s gang.

To establish an alibi after Hale’s murder, Pinkie’s men continue to distribute Hale’s cards along the pier. Gang member Spicer leaves a card at Snow’s restaurant, and a waitress there, Rose, notices that a stranger is distributing Kibber’s cards. Pinkie, in turn, sees Rose’s concern. He then realizes that Rose could be an important witness against the gang in any future trial against them, and so he decides to befriend her.

Back in London after her brief holiday, Ida learns of Hale’s death. She sees Hale’s photograph in the newspaper and learns that the authorities have attributed his death to natural causes. Ida, who has “instincts,” smells something “fishy” about the coroner’s report and decides to do some investigating of her own. After interviewing a potential witness and attending Hale’s cremation, Ida is still dissatisfied, and she vows to find justice for Hale.

In the meantime, Pinkie continues to curry favor with Rose. On a date at a local dance hall, Pinkie and Rose discuss religion and find they are both “Romans” (Catholics), albeit with different perspectives; Pinkie’s mind is on Hell and Rose’s is on Heaven.

Intent on unmasking the details of Hale’s death, Ida takes a temporary room in Brighton. Following a racetrack tip that Hale had...

(The entire section is 838 words.)

Brighton Rock Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brighton Rock is the story of a seventeen-year-old brutal criminal named Pinkie Brown, who has recently assumed the leadership of a gang of racetrack hoodlums working out of Brighton, an English seaside resort. A man named Hale, an advertising agent who is in Brighton to promote his newspaper, has betrayed Kite, the former leader of the gang now run by Pinkie. Hale knows that Pinkie has recognized him and is planning revenge. The pursuit and murder of Hale are set against a background of fun-seeking holiday crowds, band music, flower gardens in bloom, and a warm summer sun.

While seeking refuge from his would-be killers, Hale takes up with a vulgar, sensual woman named Ida Arnold. After Hale is murdered, Ida takes it upon herself to seek revenge. In the meantime, Pinkie befriends a young waitress named Rose, whose knowledge of his gang’s involvement in Hale’s murder makes her a threat to his safety. He then marries her because he knows that a wife cannot testify against her husband in court. Ida, delighting in her role as detective and avenger, begins to focus more clearly on her suspects, harasses Rose, and begins to frighten Pinkie with her constant inquiries about Hale.

Pinkie panics and kills one of his fellow gang members whom he feels he can no longer trust. Then, in a desperate attempt to rid himself of Rose, who in his mind has come to represent the horrors of sexuality and entrapment, he lures her into a suicide pact with him. His plan is to let Rose take her own life, which, out of reckless love for Pinkie, she is willing to do, and then escape. After they drive to the coast to consummate the pact, Dallow, a member of Pinkie’s gang,...

(The entire section is 687 words.)

Brighton Rock Bibliography (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Hynes, S., ed. Graham Greene: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1973.

Pryce-Jones, David. Graham Greene, 1967, 1973.

Sharrock, Roger. Saints, Sinners, and Comedians, 1984.

Spurling, John. Graham Greene, 1983.