Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Typical of Graham Greene’s fiction, “Across the Bridge” examines human motives and desires under a surface political intrigue. Like many of his works, Greene infuses this story with a deep sense of religion and morality. In Greene’s world, the worst kind of person one can be is the kind that Calloway is: neither truly good nor truly evil but merely petty. Throughout the story, a reader can have little sympathy for Calloway’s life or even his death. Although he is a criminal, he does not strike one as evil. His crime is a white-collar crime—merely a manipulation on paper done by a mild-mannered man behind a desk. Calloway is far from being good and generous either. His feelings for his loyal dog can scarcely be called love, as his habit of daily kicking the animal reveals. His ambiguous gesture at the end of the story symbolizes the essence of his character. The detectives like to believe that his thrust of his arm is a loving gesture toward his pet, but the narrator sees it as a hard, spiteful blow. Very likely, the gesture is neither; it is Calloway’s very lack of good or evil conviction that makes him so pathetic. His story is laughable when it should be tragic.

The story consistently depicts Calloway as a hapless old man who is easily taken advantage of by a Mexican boy, who cleans his shoes several times a day for money. The fact that everyone in the town but Calloway knows what is going on is another example of his pathetic quality. He appears at his worst, however, when he kicks his dog, “not in anger,” the narrator points out, but as if he “were getting even for some trick it had played him a long while ago.” Calloway’s pettiness gives the story a comic quality. Several times the narrator comments on Calloway’s oddly comic nature; he even goes so far as to say that Calloway’s death would not make the story less comic.

Many Greene characters are motivated purely by evil, but their stories involve a fall and salvation. Although he often depicts them as evil incarnate, he also makes them sympathetic, preferring the fervor that they embody to the weak-willed and self-deceiving manner of a character such as Calloway. For Calloway, there is no salvation in his death, not even dignity.