The only character of any real complexity in Down from the Hill is Paul himself; most of the other characters are foils who reflect Paul’s development. The novel is narrated from two consecutive points of view: the first-person in part 1 and the third-person-limited in part 2. Through his interior monologues, Paul provides an ironic commentary on socialism and the nascent welfare state of 1945, and on Margaret Thatcher’s Great Britain in 1983. The social criticism, however, focuses less on politics than on the replacement of the culture of friendly tea shops and bicycle journeys by a bleaker England of concrete and television.
Reliving the past even as a boy, Paul remembers visiting Uncle Fred in the hospital on the day of his bizarre death, the day Paul makes his uncle laugh so hard that he dies of a heart attack. Paul is deeply disturbed, while his father, who hates his brother Fred, is happy to see him gone. Paul’s relationship with his father, whom he suspects is responsible for the disappearance of Alice’s promised letter, among other things, is strained, like that between Paul Morel and his father in D. H. Lawrence’s novel Sons and Lovers (1913). Sheffield also has difficulty with his father, who unjustly accuses him of causing his mother’s death: “I’ll bloody kill him, though, if he don’t stop needling me.”
The only real conflict that Paul experiences on his journey, however, is the frustration of not being able to consummate his love for Alice. On his first night in Stafford, he wonders, although with a bad conscience, if he might not have been better...
(The entire section is 656 words.)