The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

J. W. Denham, for all of his voiced concerns over the lack of moral responsibility and commitment he sees in the world, is not a likable or sympathetic character. It is not what he does that makes him so unlikable; it is what he does not do. Given numerous chances to help others out of their dilemmas, however trivial or ridiculous those troubles might seem, Denham either delegates responsibility to someone else or gives people money, along with lectures on the right thing to do. While worrying about the moral mess England is in, railing against its social injustices, and lamenting its downfall, Denham himself takes little risk in becoming involved. A confirmed bachelor and professional expatriate, Denham criticizes and worries from afar, both physically and emotionally. He does not like what he sees in the people around him, yet he will not do anything to change things.

With each character Denham meets in the course of his short stay in England, the reader sees an example of what he loathes. His father, Bert, is a retired printer, who spends his days in front of a snowy television screen watching double images of other people living. At night, in ritualistic fashion, he drinks at the pub with his friends. Denham, wanting to offer some sort of relief from the dulling, hypnotic forces of both television and alcohol, offers to take his father to Tokyo with him. Yet the offer is merely perfunctory, because he knows that his father will not accept.


(The entire section is 562 words.)

The Right to an Answer Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

J. W. Denham

J. W. Denham, the central character and narrator, a forty-year-old, well-to-do, upper-level manager for a British trading company, currently posted to Tokyo. Returning to England on one of his biennial four-month vacations, he finds himself bemused by the social and moral decline characteristic of life in Britain. He considers the deterioration of standards to be brought about by postwar democratic leveling to the lowest common denominator. On this visit to his aging father, now retired in a suburb of a Midlands city, he becomes even more aware of this omnipresent venality. At the local pub, the Black Swan, he observes that casual wife-swapping has become almost acceptable, the fling to which everyone is entitled; the only other recreations are tasteless, imported American television and drinking to the point of senselessness. He much prefers the elite life still available to commercial agents overseas.

Mr. Raj

Mr. Raj, a student from Ceylon whom Denham meets after he puts in a period as emergency representative for his firm there. Raj is charming, effusive, and insistent, a descendant of the stock oriental sidekick of British colonial fiction now become the colonial beneficiary of imperial enlightenment. Insinuating himself into Denham’s friendship, he proves masterful in handling some embarrassing situations once they return to England, where he is supposed to be researching a graduate thesis on interracial relations. He assumes, as a student of the British patriarchal system—the tradition of sweet reasonableness—that in Britain interracial harmony should prevail. He determines in his own small ways to promote that cause. One way in which he follows this course is by falling in love with and pursuing Alice Winter. Another is by moving in with Denham’s father, Bert, when Denham has to return to Tokyo. Raj determines...

(The entire section is 771 words.)