Interpret the second dream on pg. 207 in the book The Comedians by Graham Greene and consider the dream in terms of the novel's overarching theme of commitment and failure of commitment. What is...

Interpret the second dream on pg. 207 in the book The Comedians by Graham Greene and consider the dream in terms of the novel's overarching theme of commitment and failure of commitment. What is the meaning of the parrots?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In The Comedians, Graham Greene creates characters who struggle with their internal fears and anxieties which, in the case of Brown,  results in an apathetic and, admittedly, "rootless" character who is capable of "dissembling" himself to ensure that he never has to commit himself wholly to anything. As a boy, it seems that he may go into the priesthood but his religious leanings become nothing more than the source of his nightmares and his preoccupation. Even though he is haunted by visions of constantly being overlooked, or not even being noticed, he never capitalizes on opportunities, only making excuses : “Once I might have taken a different direction, but it was too late now.” Brown does eventually come to realize that even a commitment to a "lack of faith" is better than nothing. 

When he dreams, he recognizes his own disassociation with his religion and it creates an almost irrational fear in him. He finds himself (dressed as an altar-boy) walking "on dry pebbles" because even the water retreats from him. Whilst this image should provide some sense of relief for Brown, as the nightmare does not end in him being surrounded by 'a small tidal wave," it actually creates its own nightmare- detachment. 

In the dream referred to in the question, Brown is again transported to his youth. He is in church and, waiting to receive communion but is unnoticed by the priest who passes him by without placing a "bourbon biscuit" in his mouth. The young Brown waits expectantly and resolutely but is passed over again when others come to the altar and indeed receive their communion and again he does not. Brown, who thinks that he relishes his detachment, reveals, through this dream, that it actually disturbs him. He has become invisible which, he will reveal later, is far worse than simply failing to commit to something. Brown feels that he is not worthy and, in terms of Greene's message regarding how a lack of commitment breeds only disillusionment and dissatisfaction, knows that even if, "Catholics and Communists have committed great crimes, ...at least they have not stood aside,... and been indifferent.” 

For a Catholic to be denied Holy Communion is devastating. It is as if Brown has no place anywhere; neither on earth nor in heaven or hell. He is therefore undeserving and cannot find peace in his detachment. The parrots intensify his fears. Many Catholics "flock" to church en-masse and often without any real dedication but, at least, they go and they treat it as a social occasion, very often. Church becomes a habit for them,a duty, a responsibility; not a passion but, nonetheless, they have this unity.  There are many different types of Catholics but Holy Communion unites them all and gives them a common purpose. Thus the parrots reveal the community, the relationship that these people have as they go to church consistently and conscientiously and get to share in something he feels removed from. They have something that Brown lacks - they belong. Using parrots reinforces Brown's seeming lack of interest in these faceless people - they are a multitude but they are not like him. He is jealous of their community even though he would prefer to dismiss it.    

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