Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
The principal philosophical attitude of the novel seems to be the acceptance of inevitable suffering without the benefit of divine intervention. Camden’s coal-miner father defies God by trying to provide a different life for the boy. Camden fears for his father because of this defiance, not because of God but because of the inevitable laws of life: “I might have been able to do something about the sky but I knew I could not stop the ground.” The ground is the destructive mother, the coal-mined earth which engulfs those that emerge above it.
In a world in which God is dead, the primary drive is a search for meaning, often found temporarily in love; the primary threat, as Albert Camus perceived, is suicide. Thus, the novel is replete with attempted and successful suicides. That of Guppy is unsuccessful and comic: Guppy lacks a compliant female, so he lies on a pier at the edge of Italy’s Lake Como, hoping to drown as the tide gradually washes over him; after he is saved by the proffered address of a compliant local girl, she calls him a “poor fish.”
The fish, symbol of Christ, fertility, redemption (and here, also stupidity) ironically recurs throughout the novel. At the party, Brenda sees Huntley through her glass of gin as a golden fish that she is trying to grasp. After murdering her mother, she stands outside the Fishers’ window until dawn, which arrives colored salmon: “Dawn brings my last golden fish.” Her search for...
(The entire section is 364 words.)
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