Study Guide

The Green Man

by Kingsley Amis

The Green Man Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Green Man is the story of a haunting and an exorcism. Its action takes place in The Green Man, an English pub not far from Cambridge, which harbors at least three apparitions: the harmless and ineffective ghost of Mrs. Underhill, allegedly murdered by her husband by supernatural means some time in the 1680’s; Dr. Thomas Underhill himself, a malignant ghost still trying to cause harm from beyond the grave; and the Green Man, a spirit (or force) which can take physical form from trees and bushes and so carry out the murderous wishes of its director. Yet although all these “facts” have been made clear and accepted by the end of the story, they are at the beginning naturally no more than allegations, faced by the deep skepticism of characters and at least a majority of readers. The main difficulty of the novelist writing a ghost story in the late twentieth century is to persuade his audience that superstitions from the past can coexist with a well-imagined and realistic present.

Kingsley Amis achieves this in several skillful and unexpected ways. To begin with, the “real world” is always strongly present in the novel. While Maurice Allington grapples with ghosts and visions, he is always simultaneously coping with a demanding job (taking bookings, pacifying staff, checking and collecting deliveries) and with a sequence of personal crises (mainly the death and burial of his father, but also a withdrawn teenage daughter and a second wife who is reluctant to act as a business partner and stepmother). Weird events, then, are firmly embedded in prosaic context.

Allington, the narrator, furthermore reacts to the hauntings in much the same...

(The entire section is 686 words.)

The Green Man Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Green Man is a medieval coaching inn at Fareham, Hertfordshire, and fifty-three-year-old Maurice Allington is its landlord. Plagued by anxiety, fears, depression, discontent, and an inner emptiness, Maurice seeks peace of mind under conditions that militate against it. His principal reaction to this unhappiness is to immerse himself in the mundane activities of life. There, the reader meets Maurice as a man on the run—from himself. Drink, women, and the tedious minutiae of the innkeeping business offer more satisfying—if only temporary—escapes. Add to this disquiet and revulsion the ever-growing urge toward self-destruction, and there begins to be felt in this novel a truly contemporary pulsebeat. Like the typical protagonist in the works of Albert Camus, Maurice emerges most convincingly as a complicated, self-divided, haunted man in a world that does not make sense.

Unlike Jim Dixon, Allington is given the unique opportunity to make sense of the world through supernatural intervention. The Green Man has its own special ghost, the wicked Dr. Thomas Underhill, who used his knowledge of the black arts for various evil deeds, including the conjuring of a powerful monster, the novel’s other “green man,” a creature of branches and twigs and leaves capable of rending an ordinary man. Underhill’s final triumph is to reveal his power beyond the grave in pursuit of Maurice and his daughter.

While other characters cannot believe in the ghost, the intensity of Maurice’s belief invites the reader to suspend that disbelief. Amis eases his readers into an acceptance of the supernatural by means of a variety of elements: the common sense and worldly character of the narrator, the characterization of the guests, the skillful use of incidental details...

(The entire section is 727 words.)