Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The overriding theme of the novel is freedom. It is revealed through the growth of Anthony’s mind as he searches for a meaningful way of living, a way which will not only prevent him from getting buffeted by the turbulent life of the emotions but also allow him to enter into the responsibility and commitment to others that he comes to realize is essential for a satisfying and useful life.

After he meets Miller, he gradually thinks and feels his way toward a solution. His decision to take a stand for pacifism indicates his readiness to abandon the “indifference” of his former attitude toward social action, but his pacifism rests on a sophisticated set of metaphysical beliefs: Because every part of life is organically connected with every other part, violence to any part damages the whole, including the violator.

This awareness of the essential unity of all things leads to a new perception of the nature of individuality. Anthony finds that individual freedom and responsible social behavior rest ultimately on the awareness that the whole person is far larger than “one’s own ridiculous self-important little personality,” in Miller’s words. Indeed, Anthony now finds it “impossible to think of the world in terms of personality,” an intuition which has long been growing within him. As a young man he guessed cryptically at the same truth, “I am not my body, I am not my sensations, I am not even my mind; I am that I am.” Puzzling...

(The entire section is 426 words.)