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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 629

Caught is largely based on Henry Green’s experiences, from 1939 through Christmas, 1940, as a member of London’s Auxiliary Fire Service. One of the novel’s two co-protagonists, Richard Roe, resembles the author in his mid-thirties age, moneyed circumstances, fatherhood of a son who was born in 1934, and exposure, during the first year of World War II, to members of the laboring class serving as fellow amateur firemen.

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The novel’s chronology falls into three blocks. The first (chapters 1-4) concentrates on half a dozen days during December, 1939, and January, 1940; the second (chapters 5-14) focuses on a nine-month period from September, 1939, to the evacuation of Dunkirk in May, 1940; the third (chapter 15) reviews, through retrospective narration by Roe, the beginning of the Blitz in August, 1940.

The first four chapters of the novel dramatize Roe’s private life: his sorrow at his wife’s recent death (“his ever present loss”), his self-conscious loneliness, and his muffled pain over his son Christopher’s temporary abduction in 1938 by the sister of the man who is to become his fire instructor at the substation. Christopher lives with Roe’s sister-in-law, Dy, in Roe’s father’s country house, and Richard has difficulty finding time to visit his son, with only one day off between duty days and slow wartime trains. When father and son do meet, their communication is clumsy, stunted, uneasy.

The dominant, middle section of the novel narrates Roe’s gradual emergence from insularity and snobbism, and his acclimatization to a new and different subculture at the substation. Green places Roe in relationships with such proletarians as Arthur Piper and Shiner Wright and immerses him in an affair with a gossipy dispatch driver, Hilly. Hilly’s boss, Albert Pye, becomes the novel’s most vividly drawn character.

Pye, also in his mid-thirties, is a well-intentioned but rather stupid, suspicious, and confused working-class fellow who finds himself unable to manage the responsibility and authority he acquires when, at the start of the war, he is promoted to officer in charge of the fire station. He is resented by his old buddies, whom he now outranks, and despised by his condescending commanders, particularly his immediate superior, district officer Trant, an obsessive martinet. Feeling at sea as a leader, Pye wavers between indulgence and despotism, conviviality and officiousness.

Much of the action centers on Pye’s disintegration. He is mortified to be in charge of Roe, whose son his disturbed sister stole from a London toy shop, resulting in her confinement to an asylum. He resents having to pay for the costs of his sister’s commitment but is even more agonizingly haunted by the possibility that, on a dark night many years ago, he may have sexually forced his sister in a country lane, recalling afterward “her tears still on the back of his hand.” He leads his firefighting crew to the wrong house in his first test of authority. He finds himself rejected, after a brief fling, by a woman who is quickly bored with him. Arthur Piper bears malicious tales about him to Trant. Old Mary Howells takes unauthorized leaves of absence; when Piper finally reports her truancy, his conformity to regulations, in a sardonic plot twist, incenses Trant. Beset by waves of self-doubt, remorse, guilt, and dread, finally charged with misconduct by his commander, Pye takes his own life.

The novel’s last section consists of a single long chapter. Roe, having been dazed in a German raid, is sent for convalescence in October, 1940, to his parental country home. There, he describes to his sister-in-law the dreadful nightly visitations of the Blitz, showing himself matured and enlightened by this experience. Through enforced sharing of hardships and dangers, he has been educated into an appreciation of solidarity with his community of firefighters.

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