Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

What gives the violent conflict in Bonecrack its meaning is the theme of the relationship between fathers and sons. The fathers in the story, Enso Rivera and Neville Griffon, have mismanaged their sons. Both fathers suffer the moral disease of pride. Neither man—especially Neville Griffon—can bear the idea of letting his son act on his own. Their sons’ personal maturity represents a threat to them. This spiritual illness is highlighted by a physical one. Neville Griffon has a broken leg, which forces him to remain in the hospital. Moreover, his death there helps to point out his spiritual death in not allowing Neil’s success with the stable to affect his hard attitude toward him. Enso Rivera has syphilis, and the progress of the disease has made him not only incapable of fathering healthy children after Enso but also obsessively tyrannical over Enso, intensifying his normal violence to the point that it brings about his own death.

Neil Griffon represents how a son may take charge of his life without hating or blaming his father for hurting him when he was growing up. He also provides an image for what a father should be. As Alessandro’s employer, he sets the proper limits on the youth’s conduct, teaches him what he needs to know, encourages him, and praises him when he succeeds. In short, he supports rather than obstructs what is best in him. The usefulness of this strategy is shown when the boy begins to stand up to his father and learns to scrutinize his own outlook and motives. He matures, taking responsibility for his own actions and taking charge of his own life. If Neil shows what a son can do without his father’s help, Alessandro shows what a son can do with the help of a paternal guide.