Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Nevill, like many of Alan Sillitoe’s heroes, is an outsider, but his alienation is in large part self-imposed. Although he comes from the lower classes (in a society where “lower class” means no class), social problems are only incidental to this story. Nevill’s crime, the quintessential antisocial act, does not flow from the class struggle, nor from feelings of rage against economic exploitation or political oppression, nor is it conditioned by any societal code of honor. Even among the lower classes in England in 1914, it was not considered particularly good form for a husband to punish a sexual transgression with death. Unless intended as an act of independence against a sort of sexual exploitation, the deed might be considered part of a desire to preserve one’s territory against a poacher. Nevill fully realizes what he is doing: “Now that he knew for certain, there seemed no point in pursuing them, for he could call the tune any time he liked.” However, he believes that he is compelled to bring the affair to an end, as if by coming this far retreat would be unconscionable, “the deliberate putting forward on the grass of one foot after another was as if he advanced on a magnetised track impossible to sidestep.”

In the army, he is directed by no such emotion. He becomes a cold, methodical hit man, accepting his sniper job as a normal part of a day’s work. He is proud of his professionalism, each of his kills being proof of his...

(The entire section is 500 words.)