Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The overt theme of the novel is Jeremy’s attempt to find himself, to discover a way of life which suits him, but underlying this is a deeper implication: The conflict between father and son, between the old world and the new is inevitable, a part of the natural order of things. Jeremy does not realize that he is following a pattern which has been laid out for him; his father was also a rebel against the expectations of his own father, an insular, strong-minded Victorian clergyman, who expected his son to follow him into the ministry. Alfred, however, like most of his generation, could not believe in the God of his father and pursued his own course. He believes that his vocation was in fact rather like his father’s, but he could never persuade him that Plato’s Symposium (c. 384 B.C.) was as important as the Gospel of Saint John. Jeremy might well ask a similar question: Why could Alfred not see that jazz was as important as classics? At the end of the novel, however, there is a significant indication of what might be to come, in the scorn and intolerance with which Jeremy views the new rock and roll. The young, as always, are creating something new, but as Jeremy sees a teenage couple dancing, he realizes that he “simply didn’t understand them. [He] had no clue whatsoever to their feelings or motives.” The wheel has turned full circle.

Many of the events in Jeremy’s life, as he pursues his quest for identity, have a symbolic...

(The entire section is 505 words.)