Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The major themes of The Green Man are death and religious belief. At the start of the novel, Allington has no belief at all in any kind of personal immortality a feeling made more painful by the death of his father. His slowly growing conviction that Underhill is still there, still affecting events from beyond the grave, however, forces him to think again; if he is wrong in believing that there is no life after death, perhaps he is wrong also in his connected belief that there is no God. The thematic center of The Green Man is, accordingly, Allington’s interview with the “young man” who appears to be God.

This interview takes place just before the novel’s narrative climax (when Underhill tries to kill Amy). It ought, in a way, to be a turning point: Before it, Allington has failed at virtually everything, from conducting his orgy with Joyce and Diana to persuading people of his sanity. After it, he possesses a crucifix-talisman which even checks Underhill for a moment, and he should have the satisfaction of knowing that he has been recruited by a higher power to carry out a specific task. Nevertheless, the incident is anything but reassuring. To begin with, the “young man” fits conventional notions of God rather badly. He is very powerful but not omnipotent; otherwise, he would be able to destroy Underhill himself. As it is, he is restrained by his own concept of “rules,” one of which is avoiding personal involvement....

(The entire section is 537 words.)