What is the feminist criticism of the novel The Comedians by Graham Greene?
Feminist criticism concerns the representation of women, especially in a patriarchal system such as existed in the 1960s. Haiti in the 1960s was governed by the tyrannical "Papa Doc" Duvalier and The Comedians is set to this backdrop. It is not, however, a historical novel and the story line, although it centers on terror activities, secret police and arrests and cover-ups, is more a story of relationships, inner conflict, religion and misunderstandings. The characters are surrounded by corruption and terrible events but they are motivated more by their own concerns and personal circumstances. Only Major Jones attempts, but is thwarted, to make any real difference, and for wholly selfish reasons, transforming him into an unlikely hero, after his attention-seeking and lies. He endangers the lives of his men who put their utmost trust in him thinking that he has the leadership skill to make their coup successful.
Graham Greene creates characters that are conflicted and at odds with themselves. Both men and women struggle to accept their circumstances and so are unable to see their contribution to the whole. There is a predictability in Martha's character, a woman who has had to accompany her husband to his post, who is having an affair but unable, from a sense of duty to leave her husband and a woman devoted to her son, a fairly regular type-cast character in literature but with a difference because she does act selfishly by having an affair which her husband tolerates. This allows for a more feminist approach as she is, at least able to explore her own options, even though, ultimately, she will stay with her husband.
Brown, however, is tortured, suspicious and feels unworthy of Martha's love, but, at the same time, he does not try to understand her or really appreciate her: "I knew not why I loved her." All Greene's characters in The Comedians, therefore, and not just Martha, lack real depth and self-awareness. As Brown says "I had forgotten how to be involved in anything." It is more of an attempt by Greene to reveal how his characters are victims of their own circumstances and their own weaknesses and not governed by any belief that it is supposed to be this way; that a woman will find herself unrequited and destined for a life of unfulfilled desires.