Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 584
Green’s treatment of Roe’s and Pye’s relationship anticipates Robert Penn Warren’s dramatization of the symbolic relationship between Jack Burden and Willie Stark in All the King’s Men (1946). Like Stark, Pye is the more spectacular character who dies violently; like Burden, Roe is the book’s more reflective protagonist, who ponders...
(The entire section contains 1043 words.)
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Caught study guide. You'll get access to all of the Caught content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
- Critical Essays
Green’s treatment of Roe’s and Pye’s relationship anticipates Robert Penn Warren’s dramatization of the symbolic relationship between Jack Burden and Willie Stark in All the King’s Men (1946). Like Stark, Pye is the more spectacular character who dies violently; like Burden, Roe is the book’s more reflective protagonist, who ponders the meaning of the other’s life and derives vital lessons from it. Pye can be considered Roe’s double, the id to his ego or shadow to his persona: his negative potential.
The men are linked by significant interlacings of their lives: Not only has Pye’s sister abducted Roe’s son, not only is Roe assigned to Pye’s station, but also Roe has once had the suicidal urge to which Pye eventually succumbs. Early in his Fire Service career, Roe encounters two young women who are sexually promiscuous with men in uniform. Instead of seizing this opportunity for himself, he panders it to Pye, “with the idea that, by putting them [the women] Pye’s way he might do himself a bit of good with the Skipper.” Roe thereby sets in motion a train of events that will doom Pye, since he loses his head and neglects his duties over one of the two women, Prudence, thereby forfeiting much of his authority over his men while infuriating his commander with his absences from the station.
One critic of Green’s fiction, A. Kingsley Weatherhead, has pointed out that Pye’s and Roe’s names “put together phonically, produce pyro, the Greek root for terms describing fire.” Pye’s Prudence is associated with a sexuality turned greedy and loveless, exchanging one man’s carnal favors for another’s in the heated excitement of war’s urgency; her simple premise is “War is sex.” Green contrasts Prudence to Roe’s dead wife, whom the widower associates ecstatically with “the hot, lazy luxuriance of a rose. . . open for him to pierce inside.” No wonder Roe rejects Prudence, finding her “knife sharp compared to the opulence his darling had carried about in her skin.” In place of Prudence’s emotionally detached siren, Roe turns to the far more nourishing Hilly, whom he can befriend in the routine world of the station and whom Green describes in garden imagery which parallels that used previously to describe Roe’s deceased wife: “Her lips’ answer, he felt, was of opened figs, wet at dead of night in a hothouse.”
Green uses several minor characters evocatively to demonstrate his view that the tensions of war accelerate either people’s maturation or their deterioration. Thus, Trant, in charge of Fire Station Fifteen, becomes a paranoid and petty autocrat, deceitful, cruel, malevolent. Arthur Piper, a troublemaking, talebearing former soldier, loves to ingratiate himself with superior officers by backbiting and bad-mouthing his peers. The headstrong substitute cook, Mary Howells, takes an unauthorized leave to confront her daughter’s wayward husband in Scotland. Her violation of regulations, when unpunished by a sympathetic superintendent, arouses Trant’s worst suspicions about Pye’s capacity for keeping order: “The fact that she had been let off put Pye in the wrong.” Yet there is Shiner Wright, an earthy former seaman, who excels in bravery during the Blitz and saves Roe’s life by warning him away from a distributor box. For the most part, the author indicates, people are even more selfish, vulgar, sensual, spiteful, and mean in war than in peace, yet occasionally they are capable of splendidly courageous conduct.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 459
Richard Roe, a widower in his mid-thirties who volunteers for duty in the London Auxiliary Fire Service. He was badly hurt by the death of his wife. Roe, a product of an affluent, cultured home, learns what life holds in store for members of the working class when he signs on as a fireman and lives among them. In his detached way, he loves his son, Christopher, but their relationship grows distant after Roe’s sister Dy takes over his duty as parent. In Roe’s absence, Christopher is abducted for a short time by the sister of his superior officer, Albert Pye.
Albert Pye, a sub-officer of the London Auxiliary Fire Service station and Roe’s superior officer. Pye, a rough man from humble origins, is tormented by memories and represses the fact that when young, he made love to his own sister, an act that propelled her into madness and eventually leads to his suicide in a gas oven.
Dy, Roe’s sister-in-law, who cares for his young son, Christopher, when his fire duties call him away from home. Sharp-tempered and snobbish, she detests the fire service personnel and their mean surroundings.
Christopher Roe, Richard’s son, who falls under the care and tutelage of Dy. A five-year-old at the novel’s outset, Christopher gradually loses interest in his father as a result of his prolonged separation from him. He increasingly adopts the upper-class attitudes of Dy at the same time his father is shedding his preconceived notions about people of “lower station in life.”
Hilly, a fire service driver for Pye who becomes romantically involved with Roe. Hilly’s love helps Roe move away from the pain of his wife’s death, and he admires her frank, commonsense approach to life.
Prudence, the upper-class lover of Pye who eventually tires of him and dismisses him from her thoughts. She is Hilly’s opposite in many ways: She is rich and cultivated, though narrow and bigoted. Her interest in the British working class extends only to brief romantic adventures with firemen.
Arthur Piper, the oldest fireman with London’s fire service. He saw duty in World War I. He constantly plays up to his superior officers in an absurd, wheedling fashion.
Shiner Wright, a heroic, rugged fire service veteran who is killed fighting a huge conflagration in the area around London’s docks, a blaze set by Nazi bombs.
Trant, Roe and Pye’s commanding officer, a stern, rule-bound man with little interest in the men and women in his command.
Mary Howells, a menial worker at the fire service station known for her interest in passing along information about others.