Published in Britain in 1955 as Judith Hearne and in North America under its current title, Brian Moore’s novel impressed early reviewers and readers with its gritty, unsparing portrayal of Judith Hearne’s breakdown in the drab confines of Belfast. Arguably, the novel’s core theme is the dehumanization sponsored by social conventions and how individuals sometimes use these conventions to aggrandize themselves at the expense of others. In the end, almost all of the primary characters reveal themselves as capable of self-delusion or a mean-spiritedness that can be justified by referencing social or religious conventions. Moore reinforces these ideas throughout the novel with his subtle and often ironic use of images and narrative technique.
A notion often explored by critics is the connection between Judith’s disintegration and the city’s brutalizing urban environment. As well as providing protection from the constant rain, which further magnifies the city’s dreariness, Judith’s ubiquitous red raincoat becomes a symbol of her view of herself as vital and voluptuous, a self-perception continually compromised by her plainness and provincialism. In addition, Judith is perpetually cold and drawn to heat, especially to open fires, suggesting that her loneliness is physically palpable and that whatever comfort relieves her is at best intense, temporary, and almost impossible to find in the gray, maze-like streets of Belfast.
Moore uses his narrative to elaborate the ironic dissonance between the title character’s viewpoint and others’ perceptions of her by fluidly transitioning between Judith’s outward speech and behavior and her internal thoughts and feelings. This technique...
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