Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 579
Eyeless in Gaza revolves around the lives of a small group of the English upper middle classes, during a period of more than thirty years. The narrative falls into five distinct time periods: 1902 to 1904, 1914, 1926 to 1928, August, 1933, to February, 1934, and April, 1934, to 1935....
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Eyeless in Gaza revolves around the lives of a small group of the English upper middle classes, during a period of more than thirty years. The narrative falls into five distinct time periods: 1902 to 1904, 1914, 1926 to 1928, August, 1933, to February, 1934, and April, 1934, to 1935. A few chapters take place in 1912 and 1931. The narrative does not proceed chronologically, however, but continually jumps backward and forward. Chapter 1 takes place in August, 1933, but the next chapter jumps to 1934. Chapter 3 returns to 1933, and the two subsequent chapters take place in 1902 and 1926, respectively. This pattern continues throughout the book.
In terms of the narrative rather than the chronological order of events, the novel starts and ends with the focus on Anthony Beavis and his lover Helen Ledwidge, formerly Helen Amberley. Their growth to a more mature, less irresponsible way of living is one of the key elements in the novel. Chronologically, however, the novel begins as the ten-year-old Anthony accompanies his father and his uncle to the funeral of his mother. It is here that he first meets Mary Amberley, nine years his senior, destined to become his first mistress and already pregnant with Helen, also destined to become Anthony’s lover. This section of the narrative also relates Anthony’s experiences at private school, in which he makes friends with two fellow pupils, Brian Foxe and Mark Staithes.
The same cast of characters reappears ten years later at Oxford. The ambitious Mark desperately wants to be president of the Fabian society; Anthony, whose talents are more intellectual, discusses the nature of freedom with the serious-minded Brian. Their friendship, however, is destined to end tragically. At the instigation of Mary, Anthony seduces Brian’s fiancee, Joan Thursley, and Brian commits suicide when he discovers the betrayal.
It is in the fourth time period, from August, 1933, to February, 1934, that many of the most crucial events in the novel come to fruition. Anthony and the spirited and headstrong Helen have become lovers (although Helen is married to another of Anthony’s old school friends, Hugh Ledwidge). They have just made love in the hot noon sunshine, when an extraordinary event takes place, an event which provides strong impetus for Anthony’s development. A dog falls from an airplane, lands next to them, and soaks their naked bodies in blood. Anthony, seeing Helen’s distress, feels a wave of tenderness for her, and a complex of emotions which he has before refused to admit to consciousness comes rushing to the surface. Later, he realizes that his dispassionate pursuit of knowledge is not enough; he can no longer pretend to be the detached observer; he must become more directly involved in life itself. He agrees to join Mark on a dangerous expedition to Mexico to help a friend of Mark organize a political revolution, but after they reach Mexico, Mark falls from his horse and severely injures his leg. Riding off to search for a doctor, Anthony miraculously encounters the Scotsman James Miller, whose Buddhist-inspired philosophy of life has a deep effect on him.
Much of the final chronological phase of the novel is told through the medium of Anthony’s diary. Under Miller’s influence, he has been converted to pacifism. He starts to advocate techniques of meditation and acknowledges the need for universal love. He commits himself to a lifetime of continual development and of active involvement in changing the human condition, both physical and mental, individual and social, in the direction he has decided is the right one.