The End of the Affair

by Graham Greene
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What is an epiphany that Bendrix comes to in The End of the Affair?

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In spite of his caustic manner for much of the novel, Bendrix does have a great capacity for sentimentality. One of his major epiphanies is that he cannot write the ending he wishes for his story, somewhat ironically because he is a novelist. Upon seeing Sarah for the first time...

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In spite of his caustic manner for much of the novel, Bendrix does have a great capacity for sentimentality. One of his major epiphanies is that he cannot write the ending he wishes for his story, somewhat ironically because he is a novelist. Upon seeing Sarah for the first time since she ended their affair, he muses:

If I were writing a novel I would end it here: a novel, I used to think, has to end somewhere, but I'm beginning to believe my realism has been at fault all these years, for nothing in life now ever seems to end. [. . .] [W]hat an optimist I would be if I thought that this story ended here.

This epiphany serves two purposes. The first is a commentary on our lack of control over how life turns out. A theme that runs throughout the novel is one of a struggle against a god that Bendrix does not even believe in. Even if Bendrix—or the reader—is an atheist, much of life is beyond our control. Few get a happy ending, particularly during wartime.

The second purpose of this epiphany is Bendrix's foreknowledge of how the story will actually end. Bendrix narrates in the past-tense; therefore, he knows how Sarah will die, and he blames himself for his part in her end. (In particular, telling her he is going to come to her, which forces her out into the rain, causing her to contract pneumonia.) As he remembers looking at Sarah in this moment, walking with her husband, he knows that the worst is yet to come for all of them. He wishes he could put a full stop to all of their lives in this moment, when no more harm would come to them.

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Throughout the novel, Bendrix sees himself pitted against God as his rival for Sarah's affections. Bendrix is a character who is defined by his arrogance. Since he sees himself as engaged in this struggle with God, he has no doubt that the present love he can give Sarah will allow him to win compared with the promises of future salvation and redemption that God offers Sarah. However, he is forced to realise that God wins in this struggle, and that God takes Sarah away from him. Bendrix moves from being an atheist to reluctantly acknowledging the existence of God, and is profoundly humbled as a result, even if his hatred of God and religion remains. Note how this epiphany expresses itself in the final paragraph of this excellent novel:

I wrote at the start that this was a record of hate, and waling there beside Henry towards the evening glass of beer, I found the one prayer that seemed to serve the winter mood: O God, You've done enough, You've robbed me of enough, I'm too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever.

Even though this is a rather depressing and sombre end to this novel, at the same time note the advance that Bendrix has made in terms of his character development. He has reluctantly been forced to realise that God does exist and he has also had his own arrogance profoundly challenged. He has been forced to see that God's promises of love can actually be more compelling than any romantic love that can be enjoyed in the present. This epiphany, however, is something that does not bring him joy, but only makes him want to have nothing to do with God.

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