Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although comic on the surface, the underlying messages in Anthony Burgess’ The Right to an Answer center on mankind’s lack of moral responsibility and commitment. Denham, the antiheroic narrator and protagonist, is both an observer and a reluctant participant in this “moral mess.” Yet as often as he claims to be searching for an answer to the social decay around him, he fails to take action. On the one hand, Everett tells him that no one “has a right to an answer.” On the other hand, Raj tells him the answer, but he fails to listen: “Love, yes, that is the answer. We not fear, ever, if only we have in our hearts, if only we give, and in reciprocity, receive, this greatest of all human treasures.” Denham is incapable of either giving or receiving.

Given every opportunity to find the answer, he is sadly content to live his life “not-wishing-to-be-involved,” whether the issue be social, moral, sexual, religious, or racial. The tragedy of Denham’s lack of vision shows itself most clearly in the comic, or almost absurd, situations in which he finds himself; his situation is even more poignant because he realizes his ineffectiveness: “Thank God I have never been committed, as a salesman in Africa or Asia, to any philosophy of ultimate identification through closer and closer and deeper and deeper contact, over which to grow, at length, grey with frustration.” Raj’s answer of love, brotherhood, and human contact comes too late. Like England, Denham has failed.