Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In the introduction to this novel, Greene declares that he wants to be known not as a Catholic writer “but as a writer who happens to be a Catholic.” Catholics and non-Catholics alike who read his works become aware of his persistent attempts to clarify moral issues, to raise questions, but to withhold easy judgments or answers. Yet, in his “entertainments,” as he termed certain of his works, including this one, and in his novels, Greene combines elements of the thriller and cinematic treatment to highlight his thematic concerns.

Certainly with this novel, the reader is lured by the mystery established at the outset: Who is Hale and why is he to be killed? The second hunt sets again that type of simple narrative pleasure: How is Ida going to uncover Pinkie, and how will he be stopped before Rose, too, dies?

Those two hunts establish Greene’s fascination with the chain of circumstances and consequences which surround his characters. The sociologically inclined may try to explain Pinkie’s violence by reference to his barren childhood in Nelson Place and his desire to live like Colleoni at the Cosmopolitan amid comfort and warmth, without the damp of a sponged-off suit upon him. The psychologically inclined may also try to explain his “virginity” and his seeming asexuality by reference to his Saturday viewing of the “two-backed beasts” heaving upon the marital bed. Greene wants the reader to go beyond the merely causal, however, to a sense of Pinkie as one aware of the Hound of Heaven, the God who at one time made him want to be a priest, the God who gives him a sense of freedom when he hears music “like a vision of release to an imprisoned man. He felt constriction and saw—hopelessly out of reach—a limitless freedom: no fear, no hatred, no envy.”

The ambiguity one feels toward Pinkie as the villain and Pinkie as the sinner to be saved and pitied extends to the interpretation of Greene’s thematic concerns. He sets a paradoxical expression of the sinner’s relation to Catholicism leading to a...

(The entire section is 840 words.)