Themes and Meanings
Graham Greene dislikes being labeled a Catholic writer and prefers to be thought of as a writer who happens to be a Catholic. Nevertheless, six of his novels deal specifically with Catholic theology. Among them, Brighton Rock (1938) and The Heart of the Matter (1948) are about damnation, though it is possible that Scobie in the latter is not damned but in purgatory. The Power and the Glory (1940) and The End of the Affair are about flawed protagonists who achieve salvation and possible sainthood. Much of The End of the Affair consists of a kind of inverse Christian apologetics; through their disbelief and then hatred of God, Sarah and Bendrix and perhaps Smythe and Henry are drawn toward reluctant belief in and then love of God. Such faith is not easy; Greene’s is no superficial, sentimental Christianity but that of a rigorous intellectual. For him, one way to God is through pain. Bendrix observes that “As long as one suffers one lives,” and Sarah says that God has mercy, “Only it’s such an odd sort of mercy, it sometimes looks like punishment.” As for hatred of God, Sarah realizes that one cannot hate a fable, such as Hansel and Gretel and the sugar house, and she wonders why Smythe should hate the good fairy tale rather than the wicked one.
For Greene, Christianity is not simply a good fairy tale: It is a fact and requires a commitment. As Bendrix thinks, after Sarah seems to have performed several miracles, if these things were true, then he would have to believe in and love her God. If that were the case, “I’ve got to do something about it.... One can’t love and do nothing.” Yet he resists, while conceding of Sarah, “if you are a saint, it’s not so difficult to be a saint. It’s something He can demand of any of us-leap! But I won’t leap.” Yet the reader is left with the feeling that he may and that like Sarah, he too has been in purgatory rather than in hell.