Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

When the unknown corpse is reburied, Bob Russell, the undertaker, insists that it be given a proper funeral, complete with six pallbearers, and Hezekiah Lavender tolls the church bell because, “We got to ring her for every Christian soul dyin’ in the parish.” These funeral rites for an unknown person reveal one of the themes of the novel: the importance of community. Henry Gotobed, the sexton, naively observes that all the village’s troubles, including World War I, began with the Thorpes bringing Geoffrey Deacon into the community from the outside. Russell agrees, though he excludes Deacon’s culpability for the war. Gotobed is right in the sense that once the community loses its coherence, problems arise. In the final section of the book, which describes a flood in the village, all work together to surmount their difficulties. The flood itself occurs, though, because no one accepted responsibility for the nearby sluice gates, so they were not repaired.

Change ringing provides a good metaphor for Sayers’ ideal society. Each bell is distinct: Each has a name, and several of the ringers think that the bells actually have personalities. In a peal, every bell plays its own part, and some have specific tasks. Tailor Paul, for example, announces deaths. Yet for a peal of Stedman’s Triples or Kent Treble Bob Major, all the bells must ring together to create harmony. So, too, Sayers says in the novel, everyone plays his particular part in a...

(The entire section is 486 words.)