Pack My Bag Essay - Critical Context

Joanne Greenberg

Critical Context

Autobiographies of fiction writers regularly seem to inherit a secondary role of supplying background material helpful in appreciation of the fiction; yet Green’s book can stand on its own merits. It does so not so much because it is a fascinating look at English school life early in the twentieth century, but more because it is such an objective and impressionistic look at that life. Green indulges in self-defense so rarely and stands back from himself so often that the book has many of the narrative appeals of a good first-person novel, in which the author and the narrator must be seen as two separate persons.

At the same time, it does provide insights into the nature and sources of Green’s pessimism and his resigned, wry sense of humor, which also dominate his novels. This book reveals some of the sources of two closely related subjects that occur frequently in the novels: the class system and feelings of being an outsider. Green’s experiences in his own home with many officers of different social classes came at an impressionable age and helped give him his dubious attitude toward strict social separations. Certainly his own experiences as a leper, what he also called an “albino,” in his not being acceptable within school circles, particularly the dominant athletic one, had a bearing on his many fictional depictions of persons unable to make meaningful contact with others.

Green’s autobiography should be read alongside other literary memoirs by his contemporaries. In particular, the reader will gain added insight into Pack My Bag from Anthony Powell’s four-volume memoir To Keep the Ball Rolling (1976-1982). Powell and Green were schoolmates at Eton, and the first volume of To Keep the Ball Rolling, Infants of the Spring, includes Powell’s recollections of Green both as a youth and as a fellow writer, with an assessment of Green’s achievements as a novelist.