Graham Greene

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Gary P. Storhoff (essay date Spring 1984)

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SOURCE: "To Choose a Different Loyalty: Greene's Politics in The Human Factor," in Essays in Literature, Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring, 1984, pp. 59-66.

[In the following essay, Storhoff examines Greene's portrayal of the conflicting interests of political action, personal morality, and institutional order in The Human Factor. "For Greene," writes Storhoff, "religion should not take one out of the political world; instead, it should provide one with a coherent moral vision and profound scope that the secular world cannot offer."]

In Graham Greene's story "Under the Garden" (1963), the ancient Javitt, instructing the young protagonist on how to succeed in the world, says, "If you have to earn a living, boy, and the price they make you pay is loyalty, be a double agent—and never let either of the two sides know your real name." Javitt's wisdom is adopted by Maurice Castle, the double agent in The Human Factor, which Greene also wrote in the 1960s but put aside because of the defection of his friend, Kim Philby. The figure of the double agent wreaking confusion in the State places The Human Factor well within the orbit of Greene's preceding political novels—The Quiet American, The Comedians, The Honorary Consul—for like these other books, he sets in motion the interactions between political ideology, social commitment, personal morality, and the moral qualities of the State.

Greene's use of the spy thriller to communicate political themes reveals his indebtedness to Joseph Conrad, whose The Secret Agent, like The Human Factor, accentuates the vast discrepancy between our romanticized conception of the secret agent and his dull reality. Indeed, Greene makes his debt explicit by the allusion to Conrad's mad Professor—"A man in love walks through the world like an anarchist, carrying a time bomb"—and by the implicit comparison between Conrad's Winnie and his character Sarah, who "had learned not to probe too far." Beyond narrative similarities, however, Greene dramatizes the Conradian vision that human beings are divided in their fundamental needs. On the one hand, they would like to make their world routine and predictable, stable and orderly. Thus, each character loves his placid bourgeois existence: Hargreaves, his estate; Daintry, his apartment and cheese and tin of sardines; Castle, his comfortable domestic life with Sarah. Yet counterpoised against this fundamental need for order is the craving for the mysterious, transcendent, and enigmatic—a more expansive and majestic universe where justice is finally meted out. Thus Hargreaves laments the loss of nineteenth-century Africa, with its "chiefs and witch doctors and bush schools and devils and rain queens"; Castle nostalgically remembers his childhood fairy land, where loyalty to imaginary dragons was possible; and Davis apes the romantic James Bond. Greene's characters, then, are caught up in irreconcilable conflict, for commitment to one world means loss of the other.

The double agent, because he is at once committed and independent and therefore ambivalent toward the political order, best incarnates this paradoxical condition. As a double agent, Castle's role is to "right the balance," to ensure justice will be done in spite of the manifest failures of politics. In his famous essay "The Lost Childhood," Greene attributes to Marjorie Bowen's The Viper of Milan the philosophical vision that was to inform his career: "Anyway she had given me my pattern—religion might later explain it to me in other terms, but the pattern was already there—perfect evil walking the world where perfect good can never walk again, and only the pendulum ensures that after all in the end justice is done." This oft-quoted passage reflects Greene's preoccupation with sin, evil,...

(This entire section contains 3357 words.)

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and loss; but critics have seldom emphasized the final, more optimistic clause of his sentence: "only the pendulum ensures that after all in the end justice is done" (emphasis mine). Like many of Greene's protagonists, Castle is unwilling to wait for the pendulum's final swing, and the central problem of the novel is how to translate his humanitarian concern into action, given the failure of institutional politics.

The British Secret Intelligence Service symbolizes the individual's involvement in the impersonal political world. Microcosmic, the SIS is a vast network of connections and communications, where messages nevertheless become "mutilated" and incomprehensible; where men appear to trust each other but do not hesitate to betray one another to serve personal ends. Although ostensibly dedicated to a single purpose of maintaining British order and comfort, the SIS actually mirrors the private obsessions of the characters. In it, Hargreaves sees the salvation of English Liberalism; Percival, the ascendency of the technocratic state; Daintry, a safe job with a pension. The fact that none of these characters is entirely wrong only compounds Greene's irony. For Greene, the "State" is no independent abstraction, but rather the sum total of all people's actions, evolving without malice or beneficence or a single motivating force. The political world operates chaotically, with no concern for justice, its trellised actions originating in individual quests for meaning.

In Davis's murder—one of the few purely political acts in the novel—Greene dramatizes the delusion that the State, with its clearly defined hierarchy and rational organization, can never bring about a just world. "C" knows that the SIS harbors a "mole," an informer who has leaked insignificant information on Africa to the Soviet Union. The information does not endanger national security except that it would embarrass the SIS; the management recognize that their own fragile order is threatened, for they would appear foolish and incompetent to the Americans, who are themselves concerned about their image. In identifying the mole, they overlook Castle because he has a wife and a cousin in the government, and they kill Davis, whose flashy life is belied by a desire for a quiet, monogamous life with Cynthia, a secretary. The novel begins, then, with a breach of justice, arising out of a quest for personal, not national, order.

Davis's murder measures the chaos of political mismanagement. No one really gives the order to kill him; his death "just happens." Hargreaves is later troubled that Davis is killed, for he is unwilling to acknowledge his complicity in the affair. Percival, wrongly assuming Hargreave's authorization, plots the murder and carries it out, but will not acknowledge Davis's humanity—he prefers to compared Davis to "an enormous trout." Castle knew that transmitting more information to the Russians might mean Davis's death, but he transmits it anyway. Even Cynthia, as she realizes later, could have been kinder to Davis. All are in some way implicated, but no one is responsible. Throughout the book, Greene emphasizes how people, institutions, and nations constantly work at cross-purposes; thus, every event—like Davis's murder or Castle's escape—is composed of acrimonious divisions rather than unified, coherent effort. Greene's meaning is clear; to except justice from the State is to be tragically deluded.

Into this highly politicized world Greene places his protagonist, Maurice Castle, who resolutely proclaims, "I have no politics." Wishing to remain untroubled by the ambiguities of political commitment to either England or the Soviet Union, he prefers his tranquil, domestic life with Sarah, who says, "We have our own country. You and I and Sam. You've never betrayed that country, Maurice." Castle tacitly confirms her naive sense of divisibility between home and nation, a division he has taken great pains to secure. Yet his retreat into bourgeois security is balanced by his own sense of responsibility and his idealized vision of an orderly, just world—he "could seldom resist a call of distress"—that his own action might bring about. His lost childhood, characterized by a dragon and the mysterious forest, recalls a world of moral absolutes where defense of the weak is imperative and justice is certain.

Castle believes he is actuated by "gratitude" to Carson for helping Sarah escape South Africa. His mother ascribes his gratitude to his deep insecurity: "You always had an exaggerated sense of gratitude for the least kindness. It was a sort of insecurity…." Certainly Castle, like the other characters, wants the stability that middle-class existence should ensure: he assiduously invests even his simplest habits with great meaning, not merely to deflect the suspicion of his superiors but to protect himself from the absurd. His name implies that he is his own bastion; also, the name suggests "castling," a protective chess move. Undoubtedly Castle's insecurity is a partial explanation of his motives. However, insecurity does not fully explain his willingness to risk himself for others. His "exaggerated sense of gratitude" is really congruent with his need for affirming human bonds. He responds with gratitude because he needs to believe that people, unlike institutions, do not act haphazardly or without good cause. His gratitude, then, affirms a world of significance, where an individual's actions have genuine meaning. His function in the SIS, to receive and decode messages, is appropriate for someone who takes human connections so seriously. Ironically, it is Castle's "gratitude," his need for human connections, that severs him from his community.

Greene clarifies Castle's political dilemma by introducing two foils, Mr. Halliday and Daintry. The first is an ideologue whose devotion to Communist principles is not linked to a passion for individual justice; the second understands personal suffering but lacks the courage to choose another's welfare above his own. Shrugging off Stalinist brutalizations as "little things," Halliday has lost his own humanity, for he is afraid to examine his own "silence of pain and doubt." He is like Castle because he attributes his idealism to a troubled childhood, but his commitment to abstract political ideals has robbed him of his humanity. Greene neatly dramatizes the incongruity of his noble idealism and his sordid actions with his expedient decision to kill Buller, whose faithfulness parodies Percival's confidence in Castle, and Castle's in the KGB. Halliday's high-minded goals are made even more unreachable by his disregard for individuals.

In contrast to Halliday, Daintry is sensitive to the needs of others, but his pathetic life is wholly circumscribed by his function in an office that proscribes significant communication. He is just another alienated State employee, and his misery emphatically conveys the illusory comfort a "secure" world provides. Daintry has the opportunity to defy his superiors politically when he discovers that Castle is the mole, yet Judas-like he betrays Castle to Percival. Like so many other characters in the novel, Daintry suffers deeply from wounds inflicted in childhood. And in adulthood, regularity has taken precedence over his humanity, so that even though he remembers his friendship with Castle, he is unable to act upon it. In Halliday and Daintry, then, Greene defines the dangers, yet the necessity, of political commitment.

"Where freedom is absent," writes Irving Howe in a different context, "politics is fate." Castle, thinking he had fulfilled obligations to the Communists, stumbles on Operation Remus, a plan whereby the West would equip South Africa with nuclear weapons to deploy against a Black revolt. Suddenly he is propelled into a world of choice, and Greene makes Castle's choice necessary and sympathetic: Castle chooses "a different loyalty," as Percival puts it. But Percival misunderstands Castle's true loyalty. Moved by the remembered image in Africa of a "dying child and the vulture." Castle commits himself not to the Soviets but to his own wider, far more inclusive sense of humanity that knows neither nationalistic nor racial boundaries. Although he cannot believe in Christ, his Christ-like mission to "right the balance" is inspired by Carson, the "secular priest" who represents the moral and political ideal. Carson, Castle says, "survived Stalin like Roman Catholics survived the Borgias," an analogy that confers on Carson the stature of spiritual and secular hero. The selfless commitment of both Carson and Castle points to the Christian cast of Greene's politics: dedicated effort to relieve individuals, coupled with a sense of human community, reflects God's love for man. Through politics, man can give witness to Christian faith.

On the novel's surface, we have a sense of Castle's inevitable failure, and after his escape the settings shift rapidly to enhance our sense of political disappointment. Castle is first brought to a hotel that reveals the Westernization of all the grandeur Africa used to represent. A bizarre duplication of the tropics, the "Starflight Hotel" with its "artificial sky" and "innumerable pinpoint stars" is, appropriately, the place Castle acquires his fake identity. A make-up man who himself is nameless and faceless deprives Castle of his identity in a few minutes, dismissing his uniqueness as a person with ideological dogma: "The human visage is infinitely adaptable. That is a good argument against the importance of heredity." Significantly, the new identity Castle acquires is that of a blind man, a symbolic culmination of the theme of political blindness running throughout the novel. There is only one character who sincerely appreciates the meretricious elegance of the Starflight Hotel: Blit, an American whose name suggests his spiritual vacancy. In Blit, Greene repeats his motif of comfort and simple desires in a purely comic mode: "Smart idea, this joint," says Blit. "Just like the Virgin Islands. I'd put on my Bermuda shorts if I had them."

Castle's final alienation occurs in Moscow. Here, from the barren isolation of his room, Castle gazes out at the red star on Christmas night: "There was a certain beauty in the view as there is in all cities at night. Only the daylight was drab." The passage implies that Moscow is like any other city of man: well-lit, superficially gay, meretriciously beautiful; but, in the daylight of truth, empty of meaning. Russia is depicted as a frozen land where entombed, spiritless bodies—like the statues of Lenin, Marx, and Engels at the University Library (which itself parodies a decayed church)—appear and disappear, leaving no impression except for footprints in the "merciless, interminable, annihilating snow, a snow in which one could except the world to end."

Ironically, Castle moves from his own country where he was free to talk but couldn't to a nation where not only is he not at liberty to say what he wishes but where he does not even know the language. When he does have an opportunity to talk—with Ivan, Boris, or the defector Bellamy—the topic is usually what previously was closest to his heart, his own personal comfort, secured for him by a seemingly solicitous State. But like his adopted son Sam, Castle is, so to speak, "a Ward in Chancery," a prisoner of a nation. Greene makes this point emotionally powerful with the concluding scene of the book, in which Sarah speaks for the last time with Maurice: "She said, 'Maurice, Maurice, please go on hoping,' but in the long unbroken silence which followed she realized that the line to Moscow was dead."

Castle, like Fowler at the conclusion of The Quiet American, needs "someone" to talk to—"someone" who can understand the seriousness of Castle's political gesture and therefore give it meaning. The implication at the end of the book is that God—and God alone—endows human action with meaning; to be human necessarily involves commitment, but men must choose God before any other choice is meaningful. At first reading, the novel seems to stress the failure of individual politics, and Greene seems to share Joseph Conrad's skepticism of political action. Yet the world of The Human Factor is somewhat better because of Castle's action: Operation Remus is exposed, and in Greene's fictive world this act is significant because, presumably, other humanitarian individuals will share Castle's repulsion. Merely because justice is only partly done, we cannot therefore dismiss private action as meaningless: although the ultimate consequences of Castle's choice are unrevealed, Greene rejects a world made of neatly labeled boxes, the metaphor that Percival finds so fetching, in favor of a more complex, integrated world, where Castle's private decision has consequences at an international level. Political engagement is not absurd; presumptively it has some redemptive power.

Even on a more personal level, Castle's sacrifice is redeemed from the absurd. Though he consciously associates his own mission with Christ's, he denies Christ as "that legendary figure whom he would have liked to believe in." There is, however, the strong suggestion that Castle will recover his lost faith. In Moscow he finds his own situation reflected in Robinson Crusoe, whose protagonist desires personal comforts but also understands the nature of desolation. Crusoe, though, undergoes a conversion in his loneliness and discovers the consoling power of God: "That he could fully make up to me, the Deficiencies of my Solitary State, and the want of Humane Society by his Presence, and the Communications of his Grace to my Soul, supporting, comforting, and encouraging me to depend upon his Providence here, and hope for his Eternal Presence hereafter." Greene's allusion to Robinson Crusoe makes the book open-ended, mitigating the seemingly despairing conclusion with the suggestion that Castle's sacrifice—purposeless though it may initially seem in the chaotic world of international politics—has meaning in a transcendent moral sphere. On his island, Crusoe attempts to synthesize his actions with his religious convictions; he tries to accept his place in the world with equanimity, having faith that the universe is ultimately just. Castle has sacrificed himself for his moral principles, but to make his own action meaningful, he must envision his life within a religious context. For Greene, religion should not take one out of the political world; instead, it should provide one with a coherent moral vision and profound scope that the secular world cannot offer. Without faith in God, Greene implies, man cannot properly value his fellow man.

The allusion to Robinson Crusoe and the character of Carson imply Greene's alternative to complacency and nihilism: what Greene calls "empirical Marxism." Empirical Marxism for Greene is a Marxist but nondogmatic commitment to revolution, a commitment that ensures justice for the individual as the highest political value. Revolutionary politics must be conjoined with Christianity's emphasis on individual salvation. In an interview with Fidel Castro in 1966 (presumably about the time The Human Factor was being written), Greene argues "… for the possibility, not of a mere chilly co-existence, but of cooperation between Catholicism and Communism." This same view is indirectly presented in The Human Factor, but indirection is Greene's aesthetic for political novels: "If anyone has anything direct to say about society or politics, let him say it as journalism," he said in an interview with Philip Toynbee. In Carson, whose commitment to an ideology is not an obstacle to his individual charity. Greene symbolizes the Marxist-Christian; and Castle, though he sees his life as nonpolitical, fashions his political identity when he takes Carson as his model. Both Carson and Castle, of course, have as their spiritual model the self-less love and charity of Christ.

As a writer, Greene sees himself playing a political role, the significance of which he communicates throughout the novel by means of his literary allusions. He posits literature as a possible means of realizing, if not a more humane State, at least a wider sense of fellowship. Trollope, Tolstoy, Browning, Balzac, Dickens, Defoe, Richardson, even Rider Haggard—all these writers mentioned in the novel performed in Greene's estimation a political service, for in some way they extended our emotional life to others, showing us we are not unique in our search for meaning and order. In his famous letter to V. S. Pritchett, Greene contends that the obligation of the writer is to be "grit" in the machinery of the State; the writer must resist the State's attempt to restrict our sympathy so we are easier to control: "… one of the major objects of his craft … is the awakening of sympathy. Now the State is invariably ready to confuse, like a schoolmaster, justice with retribution, and isn't it possibly the story-teller's task to elicit sympathy and a measure of understanding for those who live outside the boundaries of State sympathy?" In The Human Factor, Greene successfully accomplishes this task. In our sympathy for Castle, we are made to abolish easily acquired loyalties to envisage a more profound division of loyalties in the human spirit. In so doing, we extend our emotional world to accommodate what Greene celebrates: the fusion of the religious and the political.


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Graham Greene 1904–1991

English novelist, short story writer, essayist, dramatist, screenplay writer, travel writer, autobiographer, and critic.

The following entry presents an overview of Greene's career through 1994. See also, Graham Greene Criticism and volumes 1, 3, 6, 9, 14 and 18.

A prolific and widely popular literary figure, Graham Greene is recognized as one the finest English novelists of the twentieth century. Best known for his engaging thrillers, distinguished for their masterful plotting, moral complexity, and suspenseful themes of pursuit and detection, Greene attained rare prestige as a critical and commercial success. His literary reputation rests primarily on his "Catholic" novels—Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), and The End of the Affair (1951)—and his Cold War political novels, including The Quiet American (1955), A Burnt-Out Case (1961), The Comedians (1966), and The Honorary Consul (1973). A champion of the underdog, the irreverent, and the aggrieved, Greene portrays the human tendency toward corruption and the possibility of redemption. His preoccupation with religious and political topics, colored by his affinity for Catholicism and communism, is a prominent and controversial feature of his fiction. A consummate storyteller noted for his realistic style and idiosyncratic ethical perspective, Greene is considered among the most accomplished writers of his generation.

Biographical Information

Born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England, Greene was one of six children of Charles Henry Greene, headmaster of Berkhamsted School, and Marion R. Greene, a relative of Robert Louis Stevenson. A precocious introvert and sensitive soul, Greene endured a miserable childhood at the hands of his moralizing father and boarding school brutes. At age sixteen he suffered a nervous breakdown and briefly fled home, leading to a period of psychoanalytic treatment. Greene's unhappy adolescence, punctuated by intense boredom and flirtations with suicide, informed much of his early writing and iconoclastic sentiments. Upon graduating from Berkhamsted School, Greene attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied modern history and earned an undergraduate degree in 1925. While at Oxford, Greene briefly joined the Communist Party and met his future wife, Vivien Dayrell Browning, whom he married in 1927. Shortly before their marriage, he converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. Greene worked as a sub-editor for the Times of London from 1926 until the publication his first novel, The Man Within (1929), after which he became a full-time writer. Weak sales of his next two novels prompted him to write Stamboul Train (1932), the first of many popular thriller's subtitled "entertainments," including A Gun for Sale (1936), The Confidential Agent (1939), The Ministry of Fear (1943), and The Third Man (1950). His first volume of short stories appeared as The Basement Room and Other Stories (1936). During the 1930s, Greene wrote film criticism for Night and Day and Spectator, collected in The Pleasure-Dome (1972). He also travelled to Liberia and Mexico to gather experiences for his fiction, recorded in the travelogues Journey Without Maps (1936) and The Lawless Roads (1939). The novels It's a Battlefield (1934) and England Made Me (1935) illustrate his lifelong leftist sympathies, which later were distinguished by notorious associations with Soviet spy Kim Philby, Fidel Castro, and Ho Chi Minh. Greene produced the first of his "Catholic" novels with Brighton Rock (1938), followed by The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), and The End of the Affair (1951)—among his best-known works. After serving with the British Foreign Office in Sierre Leone during the Second World War, Greene witnessed political upheavals in Indochina, the Belgian Congo, Haiti, and Cuba as an freelance journalist. The post-war novels The Quiet American (1955), Our Man in Havana (1958), A Burnt-Out Case (1961), and The Comedians (1966) reflect his interest in international affairs during the Cold War. Greene adapted many of his novels and "entertainments" into screenplays. He also published additional volumes of short stories, including Nineteen Stories (1947) and A Sense of Reality (1963). Greene also wrote several plays, notably The Living Room (1953), The Potting Shed (1957), and The Complaisant Lover (1959). His other late novels such as The Honorary Consul (1973), The Human Factor (1978), and The Tenth Man (1985) were well received. Among his many distinctions and honorary degrees, Greene was named Companion of Honour in England (1966), Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in France (1967), Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature (1984), and received the British Order of Merit (1986). Greene died in Vevey, Switzerland, at age eighty-six. His personal experiences are documented in two autobiographies—A Sort of Life (1971) and the sequel Ways of Escape (1980).

Major Works

Greene's enormous popularity and critical recognition is based largely upon his "Catholic" and political novels. Though variously classified as "entertainments" and novels proper, each reflects his serious preoccupation with aspects of spiritual edification, moral turpitude, ideological commitment, and the potential for salvation in the modern world. Drawing upon the narrative conventions of crime and spy fiction, Greene's novels often involve exotic international settings and alluring depiction of murder, adultery, political intrigue, suicide, assassination, and pursuit. The protagonists are typically fallen or hapless characters whose moral failings, both innate and socially conditioned, reflect a broad range of corruption and suffering, especially as caused by extremes of disengagement and orthodoxy. Greene's four "Catholic" novels—Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, and The End of the Affair—offer insight into the theological concepts of mortal sin and atonement, drawing attention to the paradoxical virtues of vice itself. Set in the working-class neighborhood of a seaside resort town, Brighton Rock features Pinkie Brown, a teenage thug who exacts vengeance on a newspaperman for betraying his gang. Pinkie marries Rose, a naive waitress, to stonewall testimony against him. Ida Arnold, a local matron and unlikely investigator, eventually takes up the case and hounds Pinkie to his death. The Catholic theme comes to the forefront when Rose consults a priest about Pinkie's damnation. The Power and the Glory is set in Mexico during anticlerical persecutions of the 1930s. The protagonist is a renegade Catholic priest who continues to carry out his ecclesiastic duties despite official sanctions that have driven away all other priests. An unrepentant though self-loathing sinner—he is an alcoholic and father of an illegitimate child—the "whiskey priest" is tracked by a "mestizo," or half-caste, and eventually captured by the police. His martyrdom is complicated by the contradictory facts of his charity and unsaintly indulgence. The Heart of the Matter, which takes place in Sierra Leone, involves Major Scobie, a Catholic policeman and devout husband whose tragic vice—pity—leads him to betray his wife, religion, and profession in an extramarital affair and diamond smuggling scheme that drives him to suicide. Among his most overt religious novels, The End of the Affair involves an English woman whose passionate love for God is mistaken for an adulterous affair by her jealous husband and former lover. Greene's political novels—The Quiet American, A Burnt-Out Case, The Comedians, and The Honorary Consul—are set against the backdrop of contemporary Third World trouble spots in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Though drawing attention to the sociopolitical circumstances of each locale, the religious concerns of earlier novels persist in the overarching theme of moral ambiguity. The Quiet American is set in Vietnam during the turbulent 1950s. Noted for its anti-Americanism, Greene juxtaposes the practical hedonism of Thomas Fowler, a cynical English journalist, with the puritanical innocence of Alden Pyle, an idealistic American whose naive and self-righteous assumptions about Indochinese culture lead to his demise. A Burnt-Out Case involves a leprosarium in the Congo where Querry, a disillusioned doctor, grapples with his lack of compassion for human suffering by engaging in a futile battle with the mutilating disease, drawing parallels between the ravages of leprosy and a life without faith. The Comedians takes place in Haiti during the dictatorship of Francois Duvalier. The story revolves around the experiences of Brown, a lapsed Catholic and hotel owner engaged in a doomed affair with a diplomat's wife, the Smiths, an American couple committed to vegetarianism, and Jones, a con-man, as they are drawn into revolutionary activities. Brown's view of God as a "practical joker" underscores his indifference and the absurdity of the appalling violence and exploitation under Duvalier. Set in Paraguay, The Honorary Consul centers upon Eduardo Plarr, a doctor of English-Paraguayan descent who aids a Paraguayan guerrilla group. Among the rebels is Rivas, Plarr's former classmate and an ex-priest. Plarr becomes entangled in an ethical dilemma when the guerrillas kidnap an elderly ambassador, Charley Fortnum, whom Plarr is called upon to care for. Fortnum's young wife is also Plarr's mistress, further complicating his moral obligations. The Human Factor involves an international espionage scandal caused by Castle, a minor British intelligence officer who leaks information to the Soviets to aid black South Africans, among whom is his wife. When the security breach is discovered, another agent is mistakenly murdered before authorities close in on Castle and he flees for Moscow, leaving his wife and child behind.

Critical Reception

Greene is considered one of the most outstanding British novelists of the century. Widely praised for his superb narrative abilities, vivid cinematic descriptions, and compelling fusion of religious and political themes, he is regarded as a master craftsman and formidable moralist. Though critics discern the literary influence of Henry James and Joseph Conrad in his work, Greene confesses an equal debt to adventure writers such as H. Rider Haggard, John Buchan, and Stanley Weyman. Credited with redefining the modern suspense novel, most critics contend that Greene's melodramatic plots and sensational depiction of violence and sex belie a complex synthesis of theology, world politics, and existential psychology that elevate his popular thrillers to the level of high literature. Critics agree that Greene's "Catholic" and political novels are his masterpieces and constitute the central achievement of his large oeuvre, particularly Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, and The End of the Affair. Critical attention is frequently directed toward Greene's distinct religious perspective, controversial left-wing rhetoric, and recurring themes of pursuit and moral equivocation in his novels. While some of Greene's detractors find fault in his preoccupation with Catholicism, cited as a narrow obsession that confines his novels to sectarian eschatology and Manichean divisions, others assert the universal significance of such themes as they relate to problems of moral obligation and political commitment. As many critics note, Greene's sympathetic sinners, criminals, and double agents symbolize the degradation of the individual and necessity of moral compromise amid the hellish realities of violence, corruption, and poverty in the modern world. An international best-selling author, Greene's fiction is acclaimed for its entertainment value and provocative examination of sin, moral relativism, and problems associated with spiritual faith in the contemporary world.

Doreen D'Cruz (essay date Fall 1987)

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SOURCE: "Comedy and Moral Stasis in Greene's The Comedians," in Renascence: Essays on Value in Literature, Vol. 40, No. 1, Fall, 1987, pp. 53-63.

[In the following essay, D'Cruz identifies the "comedian" as a chameleon-like figure whose emotional disengagement represents an adaptive behavior to cope with reality in a tragic modern world.]

One of the major imperatives in the fiction of Graham Greene is the need to divulge the nightmarish and horrifying quality of reality. Greene depends on sensational and melodramatic detail to authenticate the terrifying excesses of the real world. In his subsequent fiction, having established his universe, Greene studies the screens men create to shelter themselves from reality. The abstract mind proved to be the greatest betrayer of reality. Those with a penchant for abstraction wear the guise of naive idealism, childishness, or an unthinking dogmatism. In The Comedians, as in the earlier novel Our Man in Havana, Greene finds a new disguise for the character so woefully disjoined from his world. He is the comedian, caught in a facile role, a mere cardboard figure on the world's stage. As melodramatic material defined reality for Greene, so comedy indicates the separation from that reality and the consequent emotional sterility.

In Greene's didactic framework the comedian stands in antithesis to the tragic figure. Greene identifies tragedy with reality, not simply because the world wears tragedy's dark colours, but also because the genuine extremities of nightmare, terror, grief, and pity, tragedy's emotions, disallow the masks the comedian can so easily assume. The force of extreme feelings does not allow the comedian's vacillation from one superficial role to another. Rather, such emotional depth demands and exacts unambiguous commitment, as with Fowler in The Quiet American. The comedian's trademark is an absence of dedication, a dislike for involvement.

In The Comedians Greene gives immediate focus to his comic theme, finding in the comedian an explicit exemplar of the disengaged man. The chameleon serves as an appropriate symbol for the comedian who, like the chameleon, demonstrates an astounding adaptability to his immediate environment. He is perennially Protean and flexible because of his limited capacity for emotional involvement. In a horrifying and calamitous universe he reveals a consistent equanimity. His disjunction from horror reflects an emotional blindness and in his equanimity we see an insuperable egoism. His misguided imagination conjures up a convenient world, obviating the need for commitment. Since flux depends on one's emotional vitality the comedian is always in stasis. The improbable names in the novel—Brown, Jones and Smith—suggest the assumption of the chameleon's camouflage; the man seeking anonymity would find in such common names convenient disguises. They are, therefore, not unexpectedly the appellations proliferating on life's stage.

Greene identifies in his comedians a tendency towards a Berkeleyan mode of idealism which emerges in the insistence upon a congruence between the self's vision and the world. The comedian as a result denies the validity of other vision and other realities. For instance, in the imagined world that Brown constructs out of his jealousy. Jones is assumed to have seduced Brown's complaint mistress. Martha, Brown assigns Martha a wanton temperament and an unquenchable libido, needing outlet in the arms of Jones, her husband Luis, and Brown himself. Each plays the part Brown's jealousy assigns; like a novelist, he creates a dependent and private world, refusing to acknowledge a reality beyond his private vision to Jones, Martha, or Luis. Thus he epitomizes in life an insuperable idealism, worthy of Berkeley, inviting Martha's vehement but astute comment:

You're Berkeleyan. My God, what a Berkeleyan. You've turned poor Jones into a seducer and me into a wanton mistress. You can't even believe in your mother's medal, can you? You've written her a different part. My dear, try to believe we exist when you aren't there. We're independent of you. None of us is like you fancy we are.

Obviously Green, like Martha, seems to abjure the Berkeleyan assumptions of "eese est percipii" and other attendant forms of idealism. In this respect, Green's moral vision may be seen to have a profound impact on his fictional mode. His career as a novelist spans some fifty odd years. He is partly contemporary with such innovators of literary form as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. But Greene is curiously traditional in form and makes no bones about his antipathy for Woolf's mode of fiction, which dispenses with the social fabric of the world for the tortuous and winding reaches of consciousness. Greene shows scarcely concealed aversion for the Berkeleyan bent in Woolf. In his Collected Essays, Greene asserts with some vehemence:

The visible world for him [the novelist] ceased to exist as completely as the spiritual. Mrs. Dalloway walking down Regent Street was aware of the glitter of shop windows, the smooth passage of cars, the conversation of shoppers, but it was only a Regent Street seen by Mrs. Dalloway that was conveyed to the reader: a charming whimsical rather sentimental prose poem was what Regent Street had become: a current of air, a touch of scent, a sparkle of glass. But, we protest, Regent Street too has a right to exist: it is more real than Mrs. Dalloway, and we look back with nostalgia towards the chop houses, the mean courts, the still Sunday streets of Dickens.

Greene saw the characters of Woolf and Forster as wandering "Like cardboard symbols through a world that was paper-thin."

Notwithstanding his admiration for Henry James, in another essay in the same volume, Greene acknowledges Woolf as an heir of the Jamesian reach for the "pure" novel. But while James strove towards capturing the dizzying and tortuous patterns of the mind he did not totally lose sight of an objective visible world in his fiction. For instance, one could read the growth of Strether in The Ambassadors as an attempt by the subjective mind to understand and assimilate objective reality. Greene ascribes a visible world to James's fiction:

This, then was his visible universe: visible indeed if it faced him daily in his glass: the treachery of friends, the meanest kind of lies, 'the black and merciless things,' as he wrote in the scenario of The Ivory Tower, that are behind great possessions.

What Greene sees as James's visible world is akin to the objective reality of Greene's own fiction. Greene paints an undeviatingly gray world, replete with betrayal, treachery, moral commitment shorn of moral satisfaction, and unbounded egoism. In his later fiction, through his use of comedy and his distaste of Berkeley, we realize the philosophical basis for Greene's unremitting insistence on the authenticity of the physical world. The ability to grasp concrete physical reality serves as the best palliative to subjectivism and its attendant egoism.

Greene's distrust of comedy replete with its private vision may indeed be a conscious, not an accidental, rebuttal to Virginia Woolf. Mrs. Woolf in her famous essay conjures up three fictional characters, who rise up to entice the intending novelist: Brown, Smith, and Jones. These are the very names of Greene's comic characters in The Comedians. By eschewing the egoistic, subjective vision, with its capacity for denying an objective world whose horrors reach melodramatic proportions, Greene affirms the seriousness of life. Indeed, to his mind, life is death's anteroom, and there one cannot allow banalities. The comedian's role is grimly inappropriate.

The narrator of The Comedians, Brown, manages to justify his comic role by positing a divine comedian at the helm of the universe, who plays fast and loose with his creation. Once Brown had believed in the Christian God and life, he thought, was a serious affair. The divine tragedian dominated a world of genuine tears. In time, Brown lost faith and God became a comedian. The comic world had forfeited the intensity of tragedy. Even its tears were not genuine, but rather the result of laughter: "I laughed till the tears came." Comedy can never guarantee reality, as tragedy and nightmare can; the light-hearted mask can conceal horror and unabated violence. Given Greene's "seedy" universe, the insulation from tragedy and its accompanying emotions of terror and pity create a falsely gay picture of reality.

The three comedians on a Dutch ship, with its incongruous Greek name, Medea, steer towards reality as they approach Haiti. The real approximates melodrama and finds its clearest crystallization in Haiti's institutionalized violence. Greene's view of the universe has not deviated since the entertainments, when he enshrined its horror in melodrama. Haiti is not an exception to the human condition, but rather reveals in stark detail its calamitous flaw. Brown compares cruelty to a searchlight: "It sweeps from one spot to another. We only escape it for a time." The searchlight is on Haiti at the moment, but Greene's searing vision had already visited in succession the nightmares and tawdry realities of Mexico, Sierra Leone, and Vietnam.

Brown best exemplifies the comedian's invulnerability to the real world. Even when the rest drop their comic masks, Brown keeps his to the end. It almost seems as if destiny had intended him for the comedian's part. His birth in Monaco renders him "a citizen of nowhere." Fate had pre-disposed him to be totally uncommitted. Despite opposing influences and the combined lure of faith and vocation. Brown opts for the gambler's life. He would pick a living here and there, change his chameleon's color with the wind, and be ruled by roulette. Brown, unable to sink roots anywhere, accurately diagnoses that "transience [is] my pigmentation; my roots would never go deep enough anywhere to make me a home or make me secure with love."

Brown, endowed with the gambler's instinct and blessed with few scruples, is not above underhanded necessities. He graduates from a waiter in a Soho restaurant to the Trocadero, using forged references. Then he assumes an entirely new camouflage as an adviser to a firm dealing in educational publications. An accomplished comedian, he occupies a desk in the Intelligence Department during the war, supervising propaganda to Vichy territory. Finally, he pushes the comedian's luck to the extreme, peddling the works of an art student as the productions of imagined masters, as the gambler finds his victims among his kind. Brown's trick reflects a Berkeleyan mind in action. He foists on others an insubstantial world, located only in his imagination.

Brown, by some less than fortunate meshing of circumstances, assumes his mother's comic legacy. Genetic inheritance, or pure coincidence, contrives a repetition of the comic role into the second generation despite the contrary influence of the Jesuits. Brown sees in his mother a veteran of the comic craft. As if roulette were the secret symbol of comedians, in his mother's China pig-bank Brown finds a five franc roulette token, similar to the one which led to his expulsion from the Jesuits when he dropped it in a chapel collection. Her extravagant title, "Comtesse de Lascot-Villiers," and her shocking red hair seem to be the accoutrements of a consummate actress. She manifests the "tart's" facility for picking a living. Taking the short-cut to wealth she inherits the Hotel Trianon under dubious, though strictly legal, circumstances. Finally, this irrepressible woman makes even love comedy's prey. She implores her black lover, Marcel, "Pretend that I love you like a mistress. Pretend that you love me like a lover. Pretend that I would die for you and that you would die for me." Love is a game of pretence. But Marcel refuses to play the game when he kills himself for love. As Brown points out, "Death is a proof of sincerity."

The deepest and holiest connections disintegrate before the comedian's levity. Even between the mother and son only a chimera of what should be exists. At her death. Brown hopes that her likability had been passed to him, calculatingly observing its advantage to business. As for his father, Brown has no knowledge of him, not even whether his name be "Brown." Worse, he possesses no curiosity about his father: only a hollow resides in place of the curiosity. His parentage had thus equipped Brown for the comedian's part.

Nevertheless, commitment and the attraction of a vocation emerge on the horizon as dim temptations. Here, as in Brighton Rock, a struggle at the very periphery of consciousness receives focus and portrayal through symbols. Music is the dominant motif of conflict in Brighton Rock. In The Comedians the inaccessibility of water implies the comedian's distance from commitment. Water is an ambiguous symbol. It is at once Pilate's means of relinquishing responsibility and a symbol of faith through the drops of baptism. To Dr. Magiot, water represents the divesting of oneself from all commitment. He associates it with that long-ago act of the Roman Governor of Judea, carved into Christianity's memory. But the novel predominantly identifies water with belief and involvement. In The Comedians water commands the intensity, fervor, depth, and insight associated with the sea in Brighton Rock, where the sea serves as a portent of eternity.

The first of the water symbols in The Comedians is the seagull, which ushered in Brown's happy loss of virginity. Before the roulette had enchanted Brown's life along its uneven, unpredictable, and dissembling course, before he had donned the comedian's garb, in that vulnerable moment of first sex a seagull flew in. He found himself "as firm as a man" and he took the woman "with such ease and confidence." It was a triumphant moment. The affair lasted only a few minutes, but they crystallized a perfection he never reached afterwards. Before the jealous lover, the comedian's offspring, had overtaken him, this was the only affair he ever had containing no pain or regret.

Just before his mother dies, a death hastened by her unquenchable sexual appetite, Brown dreams of water. He awakens from the dream to the commotion of his mother's death. Madame la Comtesse had been a comedian to the end. She had taken her pretense of passion for Marcel to death's door, unashamed and unaware of the incongruity of mixing comedy with the tragic seriousness of death. As this consummate comedian plays her final role the dream reinforces her son's comic legacy. In the dream he is an altar-boy on the side of a lake, drawn by the water's magnetic force. But a wind rises above the lake and draws the water away from him until it becomes a thin line on the horizon's edge. In its wake only a desert of pebbles remains. The altar-boy's vestments symbolize vocation, faith, commitment. In the withdrawing water one sees the retreat of faith. The spoilt priest must now put on a comedian's costume.

In yet another dream Brown's spoilt priesthood takes the form of explicit liturgical symbols. His dream shows him as a boy at the communion rail in the chapel at Monte Carlo. The priest passes Brown by, refusing him the bourbon biscuits he places in the mouths of the other communicants. Brown stubbornly retains his place, but is refused a second time. He then leaves the rail walking down the aisle, which had become an aviary of parrots chained to their crosses. The exclusion from communion obviously ranks Brown among the undedicated and uncommitted. The transformation of the congregation into parrots perhaps serves as Brown's comment on the religious. He probably equates religiosity with ritualistic repetition. Being a comedian he is not privy to more than a superficial observation.

The comedian's sterile, desert existence invades his actual relationships too. For a short span of time in the Trianon, Martha and Brown find peace and the rare intimacy of conversation, which exceeds even the intimacy of caresses. The promised land of milk and honey seems to lie before Brown. He could imagine "the taste of milk on her breasts and the taste of honey between her thighs…." But the momentary hope evaporates. The promised land always stands at a tantalizing distance, leaving Brown in the barren desert where love cannot bloom.

Brown's affair with Martha is a banal indulgence in levity when juxtaposed against the seriousness life demands. Indeed Brown refers to his nightly rendezvous with Martha, by the statue of Columbus, as an act belonging to "the theatre of farce." An hotelier cuckolding a diplomat, in a cramped Peugeot amidst the tangle of limbs, is hardly a matter touching the sublime. Indeed, the overtones of immature, adolescent passion invite ridicule.

The tiresome relationship appears to function as a comic relief from the ongoing tragedy. The deaths of the minister, Dr. Philipot and Marcel interrupt the love affair and truncate the banality, lest the farcical obscure the weighty and serious. During their final meeting the gravity of Dr. Magiot's death casts ridicule on their frivolous affair. By careful juxtapositions, and through intimations of the dignity, intensity, and solemnity invested on our lives through death, Greene discredits the comedian's role. In death's anteroom, decorum not flippancy, intensity not frivolity should supervene.

Greene emphatically denies that jealousy enjoys any validity in love's domain. Rather, the comedian's egoism produces the jealous lover. He is intent not so much on loving, as on counting the ways in which he is loved. The true lover, on the other hand, squanders his love in abandonment. The comedian is incapable of reckless love inasmuch as he is incapable of commitment. He merely plays the lover's role. But he applies the wrong test of love, seeking proof in jealousy rather than in an abandoned generosity. Jealousy is the only intensity in Brown's world. A true son of his mother, he can only flit from role to role. He demonstrates his mother's frivolity in the face of death by keeping a paper weight bearing R.I.P. for non-urgent mail. Death invites neither seriousness nor urgency.

Jones, too, is a comedian. According to his own estimation, he is a "tart," having forfeited the "toff's" respectability and choosing instead to live by his wits. He acquires all the appurtenances of one on stage; his unmitigated role-playing does not reveal the man behind the performer, although it is evident that the performer is not the man. He speaks an out-of-date slang, as though he "had studied it in a dictionary of popular usage, but not in the latest edition." He introduces himself as Major Jones, but the military title sits uneasily on him, lacking authenticity. Even Brown, born in Monaco, citizen of nowhere, invites the black steward's conspiratorial whisper "I'm a British subject, sah." The steward makes no such claims to Jones. The comedian's alienation from country, belief, and principle is visible in Jones.

He regales Brown, and whoever else he has for audience, with his soldierly exploits, seeking to validate his role in their eyes. He talks of having fought in Burma during the war, carries a cocktail case from Asprey's which, he claims, dates from his Burmese days, and boasts of what he could do with an army of fifty Haitians. A gambler, Jones, too, in a symbolic sense, belongs to the clan whose sign is the roulette token. He plays for big stakes in Haiti, but loses eventually. He had at least once before gambled heavily in Stanleyville. Like Brown, he changes colour with the ease of a chameleon.

Jones, unlike Brown who had not learned "the trick of laughter," is an entertainer. He fits one's conventional notions of a stage comedian. Jones has enough tricks up his sleeve to make Tin-Tin, the prostitute he had slept with, laugh. She liked him for the hilarity he provided. His metaphorical identity as a comedian is brought to literal realization when he disguises himself as a woman to escape from the Medea. This is not the first time he had had to disguise himself. But now, the comedian manages to find an appreciative audience in Martha Pineda. She laughs delightedly and uncontrollably at Jones in his elaborate female attire. Despite his ambiguous background, and despite the fact that nobody trusts him. Jones has the gift of winning friends. Curiously, Jones the "tart" and habitué of saloon bars, brings into Martha's home an air of domesticity.

The novel seems to suggest that Jones, despite his considerable talents, is a reluctant comedian. He speaks enviously of the "toffs" who have "reason, intelligence, character" on their side. A flat foot had prevented Jones from pursuing his vocation as a soldier. He asks Brown, "You can feel a vocation, can't you, even if you can't practice it?" Brown has had his chance at vocation, faith and commitment, but he has turned his back on such a life. Jones never had the chance. He sees in the committed vegetarian, Mr. Smith, a father he would have liked to have.

Jones's dim yearning for commitment is subtly symbolized by water. He boasts of being able to sniff water a long way off. He seeks the baptismal waters, not Pilate's symbol. The comedian's domain appears inimical to the smell of water. Jones claims that grease paint drowns the smell of water. Under pouring rain, Jones is driven to his last assignment to join the rebels. In this final adventure he divests himself of the comedian's attire. His death as a soldier and leader attests to his sincerity. Among the surviving rebels, he was remembered as someone who could smell water a long way off. Indeed, Jones had followed his smell to the utmost limits, finding there both death and his vocation.

Jones does not attempt, like Brown or his mother, the incongruous mixing of death's seriousness with the comedian's levity. Hiding in the cemetery, with death as an imminent threat, Jones reveals to Brown the truth about himself. The game had turned serious. Obviously, comedy cannot prevail in the gray universe.

The last of the improbably named three, Smith, happens to be a "toff." He has faith and commitment, even though only in vegetarianism. The sincerity of his ambitions and motives precludes role playing. Smith is not an actor; but by virtue of an idealism little influenced by concrete reality he falls heir to the comedian's Berkeleyan vision. Smith had been a Presidential Candidate in 1948. His name had appeared on the ballot in Wisconsin where he ran on the vegetarian ticket. This gentle, simple idealist, however, uneasily plays the politician's role. Brown observes, "I could imagine him a homespun poet or perhaps the dean of an obscure college, but never a politician."

Smith's idealism bears an incongruous relationship to the nightmare of Haiti. He brings his gentle, peace-loving vegetarian philosophy to that spot where cruelty's searchlight is especially brilliant. What is damnable, however, is that he fails to discern Haiti's horror and the absurdity, perhaps even frivolity, of his ambitions there: he wants to build a vegetarian center with a restaurant, theatre, and cinema. Perhaps the center might eventually produce a school of vegetarian dramatists. Obviously, his subjective vision bears no relation to the objective reality.

Smith had been a freedom rider in the cause of black rights. His embracing of the black cause and his sincere love for blacks prevent him from accepting their necessary human flaws and proneness to evil. Confronted with Haiti's excesses, he feels it necessary to explain that colour is not accountable for the cruelty. After all, white-skinned Hitler had done worse. In Smith's need to absolve the blacks we see that he has not transcended his white world. Despite his best intentions the blacks are still a cause to be championed by the idealist, not individuals whose colour is immaterial and who demonstrate, like everyone else, the entire spectrum of moral obliquity. His extreme idealism recalls Greene's best known fictional American, Alden Pyle. Both are deeply immersed in their subjective world. Both think in large abstract categories. Smith's ideals speak of "Mankind, Justice, the Pursuit of Happiness." But Greene had stacked all his cards against Pyle. It seemed an accomplished fact that Pyle would never touch reality or feel compassion. Idealism had seduced and neutralized his sensitivities. Smith, however, still retains his sympathy and kindness. Perhaps foolishly, he intervenes in the senseless and cruel world of Haiti, imagining he can right its wrongs and grossly underestimating the relentless nightmare "Papa Doc" had inflicted on his domain.

Finally, in Duvalierville, Smith's eyes open. The death of Dr. Philipot, the obstruction of his funeral, and the blatant cruelty of the Tonton Macoutes had not penetrated Smith as the hopeless aspect of Duvalierville, Haiti's answer to Brazilia. Only then does he relinquish the comedian's role (since Greene evidently intends comedy of a kind in Smith's gross, incongruous disjunction from reality) to reach heroic proportions in his sincere, and now realistic, commitment. Brown attests to Smith's heroism.

The comedian's resilience and fidelity to his role meets its greatest threat from horror and nightmare. Haiti divests not a few of its comedians of their costumes. Dr. Philipot's nephew, the young Henri Philipot, gives up his decadent imitations of Baudelaire and his efforts at parading as a poet for the serious and sincere attempt at revolution. Martha disassociates herself from comedy. Her love for her child Angel is sincere and represents her best part. Even in the area of sexual love she writes like one who has known a generous abandoned love, not its chimera, crystallized in jealousy. In a letter to Brown, Martha says.

Perhaps the sexual life is the great test. If we can survive it with charity to those we love and with affection to those we have betrayed, we needn't worry so much about the good and the bad in us. But jealousy, distrust, cruelty, revenge, recrimination … then we fail. The wrong is in the failure even if we are the victims and not the executioners.

But Dr. Magiot best exemplifies the committed individual, the comedian's diametric opposite. He is the adherent of a faith, Communism, claiming for it a mystique and a politique as in Catholicism. He implores Brown not to lose all faith even if he has lost faith in Catholicism. The novel ends with an urgent emphasis on the need for faith. In the memorial service for the rebels the priest insists that even violence supersedes indifference. Violence, at least, can be an expression of love; indifference expresses nothing. The rebels, as Philipot assures Brown, never lacked water, the symbol of faith and commitment.

Eventually, Haiti enforces commitment. In the discovery of a vocation Jones and Philipot discover themselves, though Brown remains the notable exception. At the end, he musters a weak apologia for the uncommitted, claiming that the rootless and faithless in their inaction demonstrate the greatest commitment—a commitment to "the whole world of evil and of good, to the wise and to the foolish, to the indifferent and to the mistaken." They are "rolled round on Earth's diurnal course, with rocks and stones and trees." Brown's deep stasis is manifested in claiming oneness with the passive; he has in effect exchanged his humanity for the deathlike immobility of a rock, stone, or tree. His death-in-life finds expression in his new career as a mortician. The novel ends with Mr. Fernandez, his partner, summoning him to his first assignment.

The Comedians reiterates under the symbol of comedy Greene's concern with the rootless, faithless individual. In his late phase, after having written his Catholic novels, Greene defines rootlessness in religious language, that is, the spoilt priest, the failed vocation, the eroded faith. They are all ingredients of one who dons the comedian's attire in a tragic universe.

Principal Works

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The Man Within (novel) 1929
The Name of Action (novel) 1930
Rumour at Nightfall (novel) 1931
Stamboul Train [also published as Orient Express, 1933] (novel) 1932
It's a Battlefield (novel) 1934
England Made Me [also published as The Shipwrecked, 1953] (novel) 1935
The Basement Room and Other Stories (short stories) 1936
A Gun for Sale: An Entertainment [also published as This Gun for Hire, 1936] (novel) 1936
Journey Without Maps (travel writing) 1936
Brighton Rock (novel) 1938
The Confidential Agent: An Entertainment (novel) 1939
The Lawless Roads [also published as Another Mexico, 1939] (travel writing) 1939
The Power and the Glory [also published as The Labyrinthine Ways, 1940] (novel) 1940
The Ministry of Fear: An Entertainment (novel) 1943
Brighton Rock (screenplay) 1946
Nineteen Stories [enlarged edition published as Twenty-One Stories, 1955] (short stories) 1947
The Fallen Idol (screenplay) 1948
The Heart of the Matter (novel) 1948
The Third Man (screenplay) 1949
The Third Man: An Entertainment (novel) 1950
The End of the Affair (novel) 1951
The Living Room: A Play in Two Acts (drama) 1953
Loser Takes All (novel) 1955
The Quiet American (novel) 1955
The Potting Shed: A Play in Three Acts (drama) 1957
Our Man in Havana: An Entertainment (novel) 1958
The Complaisant Lover: A Comedy (drama) 1959
Our Man in Havana (screenplay) 1960
A Burnt-Out Case (novel) 1961
A Sense of Reality (short stories) 1963
Carving a Statue: A Play (drama) 1964
The Comedians (novel) 1966
The Comedians (screenplay) 1967
May We Borrow Your Husband? and Other Comedies of the Sexual Life (short stories) 1967
The Collected Essays (essays) 1969
Travels with My Aunt: A Novel (novel) 1969
A Sort of Life (autobiography) 1971
The Collected Stories of Graham Greene (short stories) 1972
The Pleasure-Dome: The Collected Film Criticism, 1935–40 (essays) 1972
The Honorary Consul (novel) 1973
The Human Factor (novel) 1978
Doctor Fischer of Geneva; or, The Bomb Party (novel) 1980
Ways of Escape (autobiography) 1980
Monsignor Quixote (novel) 1982
Getting to Know the General: The Story of an Involvement (memoir) 1984
The Tenth Man (novel) 1985
The Captain and the Enemy (novel) 1988
Yours etc.: Letters to the Press, 1945–1989 (letters) 1989
The Last Word and Other Stories (short stories) 1990

David Pryce-Jones (review date 23 January 1989)

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SOURCE: "Graham Cracker," in The New Republic, January 23, 1989, pp. 28-31.

[In the following review, Pryce-Jones criticizes Greene's political loyalties and offers unfavorable assessment of The Captain and the Enemy.]

Within living memory, broad-chested and vigorous John Bull has become the skulking and down-at-heel Englishman who feels sorry for himself. How was it possible to have engineered poverty and called it socialism? How was it possible to have turned one's back on millions of needy people abroad and called it decolonization? Graham Greene is not answerable for developments of this kind, but as the most prestigious and long-living writer of his generation, he did more than his fair share to generate the atmosphere that seemed to justify decay and doom. He has uniquely romanticized failure. A future Gibbon will quarry Greene's collected works for The Decline and Fall of Great Britain.

To feel sorry for oneself is perhaps a natural failing in whoever supposes that he is losing status and power. In Greene's best years, it is true, defeatism stalked the land. Still, it was never necessary to accept this as the one and only reality of the time, appeasing rather than resisting. Self-pity of Greene's variety is objectionable on account of the plea for privilege contained within it; the self-pitier begs for allowance to be made for his circumstances, to be excused the consequences of his actions, to be held unaccountable for any generalizations from his views, to be left to enjoy exemptions and double standards.

Greene's popularity arose from the skill and single-mindedness with which he made special pleas for those failures that are easy to identify with emotively: unhappy childhood, love that has soured, a sense of being hemmed in or hunted by a bully, a society in which the powers that be are indifferent or brutish. His characters fall into two narrow ranges. There are the tormented boys and persecuted underdogs, and the unscrupulous adults from a genuine or would-be upper crust. The latter are the agents and patients of a society that cannot help producing cruelty, and to which allegiance could not possibly be due. Of course, those who are comfortable and safe are enormously flattered to see themselves as victims. Evelyn Waugh, who preferred the hard road of reality that might end in a masterpiece, kept a close eye on Greene, and was the first to note the strategy of his rival: "His early books are full of self-pity at poverty and obscurity; now self-pity at his successes."

Poverty and obscurity were alike imaginary, without significance. Brewers since the 18th century, the Greene family was lodged securely at the top of British society. (In 1984, to celebrate Greene's 80th birthday, the family brewery marketed 100,000 bottles of a light ale bearing his name.) Greene's father was headmaster of Berkhamsted, an ancient public school, and close relations included senior and respected civil servants. His mother's first cousin was Robert Louis Stevenson. At Balliol, one of the most distinguished Oxford colleges, Greene's contemporaries included Cyril Connolly, Peter Quennell, and Harold Acton, destined all to take their place in the establishment.

In memoirs and diaries of the day, Greene crops up in the company of his peers, in Jamaica with Noel Coward, in Capri with Gracie Fields, at a lunch in the Greek Embassy in honor of Queen Frederika of Greece, staying in country houses with the rich and titled. Following the publication of his first novel in 1929, Ottoline Morrell wrote to congratulate him, and to take him up. Waugh proposed him for White's Club, a stronghold of the landed aristocracy, and Greene gladly accepted his election. For years he lived in Albany, the most famous and exclusive building of its kind in central London, and had a house in Italy. In 1966 Greene moved to France, to the fashionable Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris, and to Antibes.

These rewards and graces accord deservedly with Greene's standing and industry. The Captain and the Enemy is his 23rd novel, almost his 50th book, coming after travel books, plays and film scripts, children's books, short stories, a biography, critical essays, much and varied journalism spread over the past six decades. Here (and in huge sales worldwide in all major languages) is proof of what can be achieved by a professional who does his thousand words a day. He has received the Order of Merit and the Companion of Honour. Is it victimization to have been denied the Nobel Prize? A member of the Swedish jury is rumored to be particularly obstructive.

The interplay of underdogs and bullies provided "the usual Left-wing scenery," as George Orwell long ago summarized Greene's fiction. Greene's characteristic division between a "good" side and a "bad" side comes straight from the Age of Dictators. The cold war offered the ideal context in which to enlarge "the usual Left-wing scenery." Greene exploited it tirelessly to project a long series of admirable and stalwart underdogs, often (though not exclusively) Marxists, always wrongfully persecuted by an equally long series of American bullies, with here and there a chinless British wonder. Some of the American bullies are especially destructive because they do not have the wit to perceive what they are doing.

Throughout the years Greene has been one of the most voluble critics of the West, seizing upon what he takes to be evidence of folly and wickedness in the democracies and publicizing it in books and articles and interviews (or, faute de mieux, by means of a barrage of letters to the press). No writer outside the Communist Party has led such a campaign against the West, or found such justification for the Soviet Union. Greene is sincere. His projection of the cold war years is pure melodrama, but he has come to believe it absolutely. He supposes himself to be on the run, defending the good from the bad, an innocent who is right to feel sorry for himself.

At Oxford in 1922, under the influence of Claud Cockburn, Greene joined the Communist Party, only to leave it for the Catholic Church. Catholicism inhibited him from romancing either side in the Spanish Civil War. He began his political tourism, instead, in Mexico. First-hand experience of the persecution of the Catholic Church there led to The Lawless Roads in 1939. In that idiosyncratic book of reportage, he described local anti-clerical and Communist barbarities, and a day came when he hated the Mexicans. Changes of regime, he saw, would not mean changes of heart. A culture was at work in which a few fought to give orders, and everyone else obeyed: "In Mexico there were always other generals." The democratic alternative, as exemplified by passing American tourists or businessmen, might even be worse, "just the drugstore and the Coca-Cola, the hamburger, the sinless empty graceless chromium world."

Had that limited and melodramatic characterization in any way approximated the reality of democracy, the Second World War might have gone hard indeed. Was Nazism (or Communism) to be resisted for Coca-Cola? Once more, Greene's disparagement amounts to self-pitying regret that what he held to be unattractive was so visible before his fastidious eyes. Afterward, in London as the war was beginning, he published an essay to proclaim that life under German bombing was just and poetic. "The innocent will be given their peace, and the unhappy will know more happiness than they have ever dreamed about, and poor muddled people will be given an answer they have to accept. We needn't feel pity for any of the innocents." To be deprived of the empty chromium world was really a stroke of luck. This was another typical, patronizing measurement of reality by standards of artifice and romance.

For the rest of the war, Greene was away in Sierra Leone, as a member of MI6, the foreign branch of the Intelligence service. He rose in MI6 to become a friend and subordinate of Kim Philby, then not yet suspected of being a traitor. With the onset of the cold war, the British establishment had to rethink its position; the balance of power had shifted against it. Much influential opinion maintained that America was seeking a historic revenge by deliberately supplanting the British presence in the world. Some refined the proposition to argue that the British presence had become an anachronism, and ought to be brought to an end no matter what the consequences. Finally a few believed that exquisite British pink was best deepened on the map into progressive Soviet red. (Philby was a displaced power-hungry imperialist of that type.) No sort of thinker, Greene borrowed according to his mood from all these reactions to political flux.

British and French measures of defense against Communist or nationalist insurgents seemed foolish to Greene. Written with the added authority of someone once on the inside, Our Man in Havana and The Human Factor are novels celebrating the bankruptcy of British intelligence in its efforts at defense. Such efforts were a waste of energy, evidence only that the innocent were persecuted and the upper crust unscrupulous. In Malaya, Greene found himself feeling sometimes "a measure of compassion" for the Communist guerrillas, who apparently overcame their sexual passions in the jungle and wrote poetry. Colonialist planters, by contrast, drank and attended Scottish dinners with "A Wee Bit Haggis." In Kenya during the Mau Mau disturbances, Greene caricatured British attitudes toward the Kikuyu with the words, "It was as though Jeeves had taken to the jungle," while Dedan Kimathi, who bound his followers to him with ceremonies of blood-letting and bestiality with goats, was smoothed away with the observation that "over and over again one was moved by the simplicity of this savage enemy." In Vietnam, it was embarrassing to lunch with the French General de Lattre de Tassigny, who was a loser, and clownish enough, besides, to inquire whether Greene was still a spy. What a pleasure it was, therefore, to take tea not long afterward with Ho Chi Minh, who was a winner, and to congratulate himself on having in his pocket a small silver cocktail shaker from Asprey's.

The fellow traveler must be selective in what he reports and admits. If the Soviets have actually done anything that can be criticized, he must maintain that the West has done the same to an even more harmful degree, and therefore that the Soviet fault is excusable. Greene is a master of these false equations. What he likes to call "British tortures" in Ulster, for example, seem to him on a footing with Stalinist show trials, "which we had been so quick to condemn." In 1968, in a preface to Philby's memoirs, Greene likened him to a Catholic in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. as if the Tudor religious wars somehow resembled Stalinism. In the Soviet Union in 1986, Greene thanked his hosts in the Literaturnaya Gazeta of September 10 for "the warm welcome I have received in the U.S.S.R." and went on to enthuse over his old friend Philby. "I personally feel a great admiration for him, for the consistency with which he came to his new convictions and defended them in the struggle against fascism." Struggling against fascism, yes, in the years when the Soviet Union was fighting Hitler; but in fact Philby was betraying his own democratic, anti-fascist country.

In Prague early in 1948, Greene depicted the Soviet coup as a farce, during the course of which he was obliged to sleep on a sofa and to scrounge food with diplomats in a hotel basement. He asks now, "Who could have foretold on that fantastic night the Slansky trial, all the Stalin horrors, the brief spring, and then Dubcek and Smrkovsky dragged as prisoners to Moscow?" The answer is, anybody sober and unromantic enough to have taken the trouble to look at Soviet reality. Nor was it any bother to visit Poland as the guest of Pax, the front organization erected by the Communist Party to try to control the Catholic Church; or to state in public that East Berlin was preferable to West Berlin. He summed it all up in a letter to the London Times in September 1967; "If I had to choose between life in the Soviet Union and life in the United States, I would certainly choose the Soviet Union."

Freedom, tolerance, pluralism, wealth are things Greene takes for granted for himself; the airplane ticket in his pocket permits him to turn his back safely on totalitarianism. Analysis consists, for Greene, in outburst. He has no understanding of the political or historical processes that have led the United States to occupy its position in the world. His criticism of America is, at bottom, aesthetic. It expresses a superior distaste, a revulsion at people who do not know the correct forms of behavior.

Americans, as Greene put it in The Quiet American, are "big, noisy, boyish and middle-aged." One of this type proved "an emblematic statue of all I thought I hated in America." That particular novel helped to cast over American action in Vietnam a taint, an air of superciliousness, which became widespread. (The character of certain American actions helped, too.) The Communist victory led to persecution, and eventually to the boat people, which was as predictable as the events in Czechoslovakia. In 1971 Greene could write, "South Vietnam has suffered under the Japanese and the French, it has suffered under President Diem and his successors. It has suffered under the Americans, but when has it 'once' suffered under communism?" Reproved by a critic, he replied that the Communists had merely been fighting a civil war, adding defensively, and with the fellow traveler's usual glibness, "Why do supporters of the Pentagon always write of men, women, and children being 'butchered' in a communist offensive, and yet the poor victims of an American offensive become merely 'casualties'?"

For some years now, events in Latin America have dominated his writings. The perception that in this culture "there were always other generals" has been put out of mind. Greene takes particular pride in "my friend Fidel Castro," giving accounts of meals and audiences with him in Havana, pointing out to admiring interviewers which pictures in the Antibes apartment were gifts from Fidel. "I'd still fight for Cuba," he was declaring in 1969. Cuban intervention in Angola, he asserted, was not Soviet-sponsored, but an independent and justified initiative of Castro's.

His advocacy of the Sandinistas, in particular, is passionate and unqualified. As with the Czechs in 1948, then with the Vietnamese, so now he doubts whether the Sandinistas are Marxist-Leninists. Once again he finds no reason to foresee (at this late date, no reason even to speculate) that the future might bring horrors. In 1986 he wrote that "the key positions of foreign affairs, health and education and culture are all held by Catholic priests." The Archbishop is opposed to the Sandinistas, to be sure, but "the church does not belong to the Archbishop, it belongs to the Catholic people…. There are Marxists in the Government, yes, but Marxism is an economic theory not a heresy."

One pronouncement after another reveals his distance from reality. "I would have thought that Nicaragua was the first Latin American country under authoritarian rule (Somoza supported by the United States), to have reverted by revolution in the direction of democracy." And there is no persecution of churchgoers in Nicaragua because "I have attended Mass in Managua and I have seen religious celebrations in the streets of León and Catholic posters along the main roads." Speaking little or no Spanish, Greene nonetheless knows that the Miskito Indians were removed by the Sandinistas for their own good: a Maryknoll nun told him so. She may have been the only American whose word was good enough for Greene.

The lengths to which Greene goes to quarrel with American representatives are childish, provoking the authorities, for example, to refuse him entry visas, resigning from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and so on. Under the Freedom of Information Act, he obtained his file of 45 pages, of which 16 had been inked out. This the great dissenter sold at public auction. Once again masking the truth about recurrent and very tangible royalties, he wrote to the London Times to wonder "whether it might be worth my while to obtain a second installment and later a third one, a good means of earning a livelihood in old age."

"To be praised was agony … the excitement, was overshadowed by the knowledge of failure…. I belong on the side of the victims." Culled at random from his autobiographical writings, phrases like these fly by the score in the face of truth. On the side of the victims, in Antibes? Knowledge of failure, with royalties paid from all over the world in a country with tax concessions for writers, in White's Club?

Greene's self-serving fantasies were evident in J'Accuse, a pamphlet he published in 1982 about a private family matter. Greene's long-standing companion had a daughter married to a young man now accused of being a small-time local crook. Greene claimed that in the divorce proceedings of this couple, and then in custodial arrangements for their children, the authorities had conspired at a miscarriage of justice. Once he had supposed that the CIA might murder him in Central America; now he intimated that he might be gunned down on the Riviera. For this, Zola's title! (Later Greene inveighed in the press against the purchase by an American publishing house of his publishers in London, whose chairman was his nephew. On the side of the victims, browbeating his own relative in the correspondence columns?)

Greene's recent novels have been built upon fantasies too large and too improbable to sustain a narrative: the wrong man appointed a monsignor; a bank manager caught up in the travels of his aunt with a war criminal in Latin America; a man who pays another to go in his stead before a firing squad; a millionaire who tests his dinner guests by placing on their plates crackers with expensive gifts inside, with the exception of one containing an explosive device. The Captain and the Enemy also has no contact with observable life.

The new book is, not surprisingly, a document of self-pity. A 12-year-old boy is at the mercy of unscrupulous adults. At his English public school, this boy is confronted by a stranger, the Captain, who is an aging and inept confidence trickster. The Captain explains that he and the boy's father have played backgammon, and that the boy is the reward for the winner. Listening without demur, the boy leaves school to settle for years in a dim basement with the Captain and his mistress. The book's detail—currency, architecture, conduct—derives from pre-1914 England. The Captain and the Enemy evokes not another nightmare from childhood, but anachronism. As though by means of a time machine, the scene switches to contemporary Panama, where the Captain is now flying guns to the Sandinistas. "The Enemy" are the Americans and their stooges, who have a hand in the Captain's death as he crashes his aircraft onto Somoza's bunker in Managua. The boy, ostensibly aged 22 at this point, is left to conclude, "I'm on my own now."

Unfortunately, local changes have caught Greene on the hop. Where it was once right for the Panama of Torrijos to resist America, it is wrong for the Panama of Noriega to do the same. (The writer Lee Langley has noticed Greene's attempt to reverse out of another bind of a similar sort. In Brighton Rock, published in 1938, when anti-Semitism was all the rage, the criminal character was "a small dark Jew with a neat round belly" and had "Semitic features." In post-war editions of the novel, however, this has been amended to "a small dark man" whose features have become "Italianate.") The Captain says of himself that he had been a prisoner of war of the Germans. Apparently he had nothing more than a dictionary to read at the time, as a result of which words like "fuliginous" and "glabrous" feature in his vocabulary. This heavy-handed joke is all there is to humanize the character, to support the complete reversal of role whereby this rather miserable liar and cheat somehow acquires an aircraft, as well as the skill and the determination to fly it to a heroic death. Nor can the Enemy be considered particularly outrageous in wanting to keep tabs on this weird figure in their midst.

Panama and its politics, in short, have been grafted onto a fiction of an antique England in the attempt yet again to match "bad" bullies against "good" underdogs. Melodrama, again, is the result of this willful ordering of the world. It seems that even the slightest evocation of an English boyhood leads Greene's imagination directly to the wicked wilds of the CIA. By now America has been distorted to serve as a superior force, or more to the point, as a horrid father figure, in whose light he can justifiably feel sorry for himself.

If Graham Greene had lived in the heyday of British power, he might have had confidence in his gift for story-telling. As things were, he claimed the privileges customary to wealth and freedom while feeling free to ignore the customary responsibilities. In this respect, he spoke for many in Britain and elsewhere who believed that they should be allowed to continue enjoying their ease and safety without paying the price for them. A view of himself and of the world emerges in Greene's work which finds virtue in surrender. Nobody expressed with more literary force the longing to escape painlessly from the totalitarian realities of the '30s and the cold war. Greene's appeasing instincts provided the melodrama upon which his reputation has been built, but those same instincts also ensured that even in his lifetime his work would become a period curiosity.

Further Reading

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Bawer, Bruce. "'Baseless Dreaming': The Novels of Graham Greene." The New Criterion 8, No. 1 (September 1989): 17-33.

Provides an overview of Greene's fiction, literary career, and recent critical studies of his life and work.

Chatman, Seymour. "Who Is the Best Narrator? The Case of The Third Man." Style 23, No. 2 (Summer 1989): 189-96.

Examines the role of the narrator in The Third Man and the significance of Greene's choice to use different narrators in the film and book versions.

Craig, Randall. "Good Places and Promised Lands in The Comedians." Renascence: Essays on Value in Literature 39, No. 1 (Fall 1986): 312-24.

Explores the significance of public and private environments and elements of theatricality in The Comedians.

Diemert, Brian. "The Pursuit of Justice: Graham Greene's Refiguring of the Detective Story in It's a Battlefield." Papers on Language and Literature 30, No. 3 (Summer 1994): 285-308.

Examines Greene's reformulation of popular detective fiction and thriller conventions in It's a Battlefield.

Dogan, James. "Memory and Automythography in Graham Greene's Under the Garden." Literature and Psychology 40, Nos. 1-2 (Spring-Summer 1994): 81-107.

Discusses autobiographic allusions to Greene's adolescent breakdown, psychoanalysis, and recovery in the short story "Under the Garden."

Macleod, Norman. "'This Strange, Rather Sad Story': The Reflexive Design of Graham Greene's The Third Man." Dalhousie Review 63, No. 2 (Summer 1983): 216-41.

Examines Greene's self-referential authorial presence in The Third Man as evident in elements of parody and duality.

Schafer, Elizabeth. "Shakespeare in Greenland: A Note on The Heart of the Matter." Journal of Modern Literature XVII, No. 4 (Spring 1991): 588-91.

Examines the significance of literary quotes and intertextual references to Shakespeare in The Heart of the Matter.

Smyer, Richard I. "The Tenth Man: Graham Greene's French Connection." Essays in Literature 15, No. 2 (Fall 1988): 193-206.

Explores the influence of French literature and culture reflected in Greene's moral, political, and religious perspective in The Tenth Man.

Stannard, Martin. "In Search of Himselves: The Autobiographical Writings of Graham Greene." Prose Studies 8, No. 2 (September 1985): 139-55.

Examines Greene's self-conception as revealed in A Sort of Life, Ways of Escape, and other autobiographic writings.

Walker, Ronald G. "World Without End: An Approach to Narrative Structure in Greene's The End of the Affair," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 26, No. 2 (Summer 1984): 218-41.

Examines the narrative progression, formal divisions, and spatio-temporal presentation of The End of the Affair.


MacArthur, John R. "Last Words from Graham Greene." The Progressive 55, No. 6 (June 1991): 25-8.

Greene comments on his writings, literary career, and current political affairs in Latin America and the Middle East.

Bruce Bawer (essay date October 1989)

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SOURCE: "Graham Greene: The Catholic Novels," in The New Criterion, Vol. 8, No. 2, October, 1989, pp. 24-32.

[In the following essay, Bawer examines Greene's Catholic conversion, his personal faith, and the significance of Catholicism in The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, and A Burnt-Out Case.]

In his long and celebrated literary career—which I began to examine in the last issue of The New Criterion—Graham Greene has written some three dozen novels, "entertainments," plays, essays, memoirs, short story collections, and travel books. But it is those books which, for want of a better term, we may call his Catholic novels (The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, and A Burnt-Out Case) and his later political novels (The Quiet American, The Comedians, The Honorary Consul, and The Human Factor) that are generally acknowledged, for better or worse, to comprise the nucleus of his oeuvre. Though there are other works by Greene that have scattered and enthusiastic support, critics who speak of Greene's literary mastery tend almost exclusively to cite some or all of the books on this list as evidence of that mastery; and it is the Catholic novels that are mentioned most frequently of all. This being the case, it seems necessary to devote special attention to those books, and to ask certain questions in connection with them, namely: How did Greene come to Catholicism? In what form did Catholicism, in turn, come to enter his work? What does religious faith mean to him, and what role does it play in his fiction?

Considering that Graham Greene is one of the world's most respected Catholic writers, the story of his introduction to the Roman Catholic faith is somewhat less than inspiring. In 1925 Greene met and fell in love with a Catholic girl named Vivien Dayrell-Browning, who declared that she would not marry him unless he converted to her faith. He did so within the year, although Norman Sherry's account, in his recent biography of Greene, shows no evidence of a real conversion, and Greene (in his memoir A Sort of Life) is oddly vague and noncommittal: "I can only remember that in January 1926 I became convinced of the probable existence of something we call God, though I now dislike the word with all its anthropomorphic associations and prefer Chardin's 'Omega Point.'" Greene's references to Catholicism in his letters of the period are flippant, as is his reminiscence of his Catholic instruction: "Now it occurred to me, during the long empty mornings, that if I were to marry a Catholic I ought at least to learn the nature and limits of the beliefs she held. It was only fair, since she knew what I believed—in nothing supernatural. Besides, I thought, it would kill the time." (To "kill the time" has, of course, always been an important end for Greene.) For the most part, then, Greene seems to have looked upon his conversion to Catholicism in the same way that he looked upon his youthful association with the German embassy and his entry into the Communist Party—namely, as a means to other ends, in this case marriage to Vivien.

Though the time came when Greene found it useful to place Catholic doctrines and characters at the center of his work, true Catholic piety and reflectiveness have continued to seem alien to him. He has often described himself, paradoxically, as a "Catholic agnostic." Certainly he has never made any bones about his distrust of orthodox Catholic theology, his utter lack of curiosity about the intellectual underpinnings of the Church. One cannot help but connect him, in this regard, with Henry Pulling's dotty, lawless Aunt Augusta in Travels with My Aunt, who, upon being asked if she is really a Roman Catholic, replies, "Yes, my dear, only I just don't believe in all the things they believe in." For Greene, intellectual assent to a set of doctrines prescribed by somebody else has little or nothing to do with being a Catholic; he has always felt free to accept or discard various elements of Roman dogma as he sees fit, and to contort Catholic precepts beyond recognition in order to suit his own psychological needs.

At times, indeed, Greene seems to have disposed of so much of Catholicism that there would appear to be no particular reason to call it Catholicism and not something else. Like Maurice, his protagonist in The End of the Affair, he "find[s] it hard to conceive of any God who is not as simple as a perfect equation, as clear as air." Greene much prefers a primitive religion to a doctrinaire, over intellectualized one; he obviously shares the feeling of Dr. Colin, the African-based leprosy specialist in A Burnt-Out Case, when he comments that "it's a strange Christianity we have here, but I wonder whether the Apostles would find it as difficult to recognize as the collected works of Thomas Aquinas. If Peter could have understood those, it would have been an even greater miracle than Pentecost, don't you think? Even the Nicaean Creed—it has the flavour of higher mathematics to me." At one point Querry, the book's protagonist, goes so far as to say that "it would be a good thing for all of us if we were even more superficial."

In this connection, it should be observed that Catholicism served Greene for many years as the locus—the essentially arbitrary locus—of something that he called "faith." A remark that Greene made in a 1986 interview with the Literaturnaya Gazeta is of interest. In the interview, he nonchalantly politicized the story of his conversion for the Soviet editors: "The nearer fascism came to us, and the more it spread all over the world, the more necessary it was to oppose it by building moral obstacles to it in the consciousness of the masses. It is here that I opted for faith…. I felt it necessary to make faith the symbol of resistance." Patently dishonest though this anti-fascist version of Greene's conversion may be, there is a truth at its center: namely, that Catholicism has generally functioned, in Greene's personal metaphysics, as a sort of escape hatch from the cold-eyed realism of which he is so proud; despite his professed loathing of romanticism, and his much-vaunted "realistic" attitude toward the Western world, the capitalistic system, and the United States, Greene's "faith" has provided him with a means of holding what are basically romantic views of certain aspects of life—in particular of Marxist ideas, exploits, and leaders. As the narrator remarks in The Heart of the Matter, "[I]f romance is what one lives by, one must never be cured of it. The world has too many spoilt priests of this faith or that: better surely to pretend a belief than wander in that vicious vacuum of cruelty and despair."

In its emphasis on faith, on the individual's personal relationship with God, and on a vigorous suspicion of prescribed doctrine, Greene's personal version of Christianity might seem to some observers more Protestant (if anything) than Catholic. Yet time and again Greene has gone out of his way to belittle Protestantism in general and the Anglicanism of his birth in particular. At times, indeed, he writes as if it were agreed by the whole world that Catholicism were the only real religion—the only one, that is to say, which can truly inhabit a soul and bring a communicant closer to God—and Anglicanism nothing more than a social club, a collection of pompous, empty rituals whose participants give no thought to virtue or sin or the deity. "You are an Englishman," a Portuguese captain says to Scobie, a colonial policeman, in The Heart of the Matter. "You wouldn't believe in prayer." Scobie counters, "I'm a Catholic, too." Later in the novel, Scobie reflects that his mistress, Helen, has it good: since she's not a Catholic, "[s]he's lucky. She's free." The implication here—and elsewhere in Greene's oeuvre—is that non-Catholics are innocents of a sort, bound by no moral code and free of the dark and difficult knowledge that Catholics share. Catholicism, in short, is serious; Anglicanism is vain and frivolous. And yet Greene's easy dismissal of orthodox Catholic thought, his audacious distortion of its precepts to suit his own purposes, and his facile fictional use of such concepts as eternal damnation may well strike some readers—Catholic, Anglican, or otherwise—as the very height of vanity and frivolity.

How did a young man who had been brought up in the Church of England end up such a fervent—if iconoclastic—Catholic? The question brings us back, I think, to Greene's childhood at the Berkhamsted School and to his headmaster father's stern sexual precepts; for the more closely one examines Greene's attitude toward religion, the more strongly one feels that conversion to Catholicism must have seemed, to the young Greene, a perfect way of rejecting his Anglican father, even while, in a sense, he was (consciously or not) perpetuating the old man's moral domination over him. For however much of Catholic doctrine Greene chose to leave out of his personal version of the religion, he certainly retained—and, it might be argued, blew out of all proportion—Catholicism's strict views on sex and marriage. In the process he managed to make of the Catholic Church (at least in terms of its sexual teachings) a veritable replica of the Berkhamsted of his youth. The Catholic protagonists in several of his novels, after all, agonize over the sin of fornication in a way that would have been far more familiar to a tormented Victorian (or, in Greene's case, Georgian) public school boy than it would be to even an unusually devout modern-day Catholic. And so many of his autobiographical protagonists prove to have been educated at seminaries or Jesuit schools that one gets the impression Greene regards such institutions as rough equivalents of Berkhamsted—at least, that is, when it comes to the attitudes toward sex and sin that these schools have inculcated into the souls of their alumni. It is almost as if the young Greene, feeling irrationally guilty as he broke his childhood ties to family and school, found it necessary to replace Berkhamsted with the Catholic Church, and his father with God—and, in the process, also found it necessary to make certain adjustments in Catholicism so that it might more nearly approximate, in temper and teachings, the institution in which he had been raised.

There are other likely reasons for his attraction to Catholicism. Given the fact that Greene, even in his early youth, was a master of suicidal boredom and misanthropic despair, he must surely have seen Roman Catholicism, with its reverence for suffering, as a way of legitimizing his veritable fetishization of misery. Time and again, his Catholic novels equate suffering with life, seriousness, wisdom. "As long as one suffers," he writes in The End of the Affair, "one lives." And in The Heart of the Matter "Despair is the price one pays for setting oneself an impossible aim. It is, one is told, the unforgivable sin, but it is a sin the corrupt or evil man never practices. He always have hope. He never reaches the freezing point of knowing absolute failure. Only the man of good will carries always in his heart this capacity for damnation." The epigraph to The End of the Affair is from Léon Bloy: "Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering in order that they may have existence." Too often, alas, Greene's fixation on suffering seems masochistic, morbid; certainly the notion that religion should be nothing but suffering is as distasteful as the notion that it should be nothing but sweetness and light.

There is one additional factor in Greene's attraction to Catholicism whose importance cannot be underestimated. Norman Sherry's biography mentions only one aspect of Catholicism that genuinely appealed to Greene at the time of his conversion: the belief in hell. As Greene said at the time, "It gives something hard, non-sentimental and exciting." Hard, non-sentimental, and exciting: he might, one cannot but notice, be describing one of his own entertainments. And indeed it seems to have been not so much hell itself but the melodrama of hell, and of Catholicism in general, that captivated the young man. To the thoroughly English Greene, Catholicism must have seemed exotic and Latin, must have appealed not only to his personal sense of alienation but to the thrillermeister's love of the sensational. His Catholic novels, in any event, make it clear that Greene cherishes the drama of sin and eternal damnation: one thinks, for example, of the scene in The Heart of the Matter in which Scobie, taking communion in a state of mortal sin, is "aware of the pale papery taste of his eternal sentence on the tongue." What other religion could provide higher drama?

Traces of Greene's distinctive view of Catholicism—or of its development—appear in virtually all of Greene's novels. But it reaches its apotheosis in four of them: The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, and A Burnt-Out Case. Taken together, these books almost seem to have been designed as a set of Greenian Articles of Faith. The chief tenets of this faith—among them the notion of experience as the road to metaphysical knowledge, of prodigious sin as the path to saintliness—are explored tirelessly in these books; if various other Greene novels convey the idea that it is important to have some kind of faith or to take a stand on one side or the other of a given contest, these four novels spell out Greene's specific brand of faith with considerable precision. Each of them contains a major character who is a sinner, whose central conflict is his struggle with faith, and whose struggle ends in death; invariably, the assumptions upon which the conflict takes place, the terms in which it is presented, and the conclusions which are drawn from its outcome derive entirely from Greene's own iconoclastic version of Catholicism.

For instance, The Power and the Glory (1940), set in socialist Mexico in the 1930s, takes as its protagonist a cowardly alcoholic priest who has married one woman and fathered a child by another. This "whiskey priest" (whose name we never learn) is the last Roman Catholic cleric remaining in a province where it's been declared a crime to say Mass; like many a Greene hero, he spends much of the book on the lam from the authorities. This simply structured novel is dense with evocations of rural poverty and with pronouncements about various spiritual topics—good and evil, love and lust, experience and innocence—from which Greene typically doesn't distance himself at all. "[O]ur sins have so much beauty," the whiskey priest declares at one point. "I'm a bad priest, you see. I know—from experience—how much beauty Satan carried down with him when he fell. Nobody ever said the fallen angels were the ugly ones." It is his corruption, the priest says, that has brought him close to God: as a "comparatively innocent" young man, he was "unbearable." (In Greene's novels, of course, innocent men are invariably unbearable.) And indeed we are meant to understand, at the book's conclusion, that for all his sin the priest may well be something of a saint.

Though Greene does not depart radically here from the brisk, lucid manner of his early novels and entertainments, he does—rather like Hemingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls—attempt to modify his characteristic precision and simplicity in the direction of a certain austere stateliness, and thereby to give his "whiskey priest" a magnitude, and even a kind of coarse nobility, that his previous heroes didn't have. As in Hemingway's novel, however, the results of this stylistic modification are questionable. For one thing, the frequent appearance of colons between strings of independent clauses ("The squad of police made their way back to the station: they walked raggedly with rifles slung anyhow: ends of cotton where buttons should have been: a puttee slipping down over the ankle: small men with black secret Indian eyes") seems to have no raison d'être other than the author's affectation; for another, the novel's plainness of style ("He hustled them out: one by one they picked their way across the clearing towards the hut: and the old man set off down the path toward the river to take the place of the boy who watched the ford for soldiers") feels strained and phony in the way of the most self-parodic Hemingway.

Patently, Greene seeks to convey in this novel a solemn, intense vision of the human condition—a vision in which there would appear to be little room for the humor that helps (occasionally, at least) to relieve the darkness of his earlier books. But it's less a vision, really, than a contrivance, a repetitive and deliberate hammering away at the irony of the priest's position as "a damned man putting God into the mouths of men." The priest constantly flagellates himself, and we're plainly meant to be moved by his distress; but because that supposed distress is, for the most part, simply reiterated, rather than being reflected in a serious effort to change his ways, it's hard to take it very seriously. It's hard, for that matter, to believe that Greene takes it seriously: for the novel shows every sign of having been built less upon a passionate devotion to the idea of God than upon a view—at once glib, sentimental, patronizing, and upper-crust-Protestant—of swarthy, dirt-poor, Romance-language-speaking Catholics as close to the earth and, ipso facto, close to the Almighty.

The sinner at the heart of The Heart of the Matter (1948), which takes place during World War II, is Major Scobie, the middle-aged assistant police commissioner in a British colonial town on the West African coast. Described by his superior as "Scobie the Just," by a Syrian trader as "a just man," by a local MI5 agent named Wilson as "too damned honest to live," and by his wife, Louise, as "the typical second man … [t]he one who always does the work," Scobie has been stationed in this town for fifteen years—"too long to go," as he puts it—and he has a rare understanding of and compassion for the natives. He also is a Catholic (he married into the faith) and a loyal husband, and has the sort of less-than-rosy outlook of which Greene approves: "It seemed to Scobie that life was immeasurably long. Couldn't the test of man have been carried out in fewer years? Couldn't we have committed our first major sin at seven, have ruined ourselves for love or hate at ten, have clutched at redemption on a fifteen-year-old death bed?"

Love, sin, and redemption are, as it happens, the principal concerns here; and the first intimation of peril comes when Wilson becomes infatuated with Louise. But Scobie's true downfall begins when he encounters a boatful of shipwreck survivors, falls swiftly in love with one of them—a young widow named Helen Rolt—and commences to break his marital vows while Louise is away: "God can wait, he thought: how can one love God at the expense of one of his creatures?" During his affair with Helen, Scobie is insufferable—although Greene doesn't seem to intend for him to be insufferable—about the threat of perdition hanging over his head. "If you believe in hell," Helen asks him, "why are you with me now?" Good question. And after Louise's return, Scobie finds himself in a spiritual bind: if he doesn't take communion with Louise, she'll know he committed a mortal sin; if he does take it with the taint of his adultery on his soul, he will (he believes) be irredeemably damned. In the end, he chooses the latter; and, after taking communion ("O God, I offer up my damnation to you"), whining to Helen about it ("I'm damned for all eternity … What I've done is far worse than murder"), and wallowing for a while in self-pity ("This was what human love had done to him—it had robbed him of love for eternity"), he commits suicide—which, we've been told, "puts a man outside mercy." For those who haven't caught the irony here, Greene has already spelled it out: "Only the man of good will carries always in his heart this capacity for damnation."

With its solemn (if often highly dubious) aphorisms about love, damnation, and eternity, its consistently elevated tone, its sweltering and exotic African setting (whose purpose is perhaps to suggest at once the intensity of Scobie's passions, the extremity of his spiritual crisis, and the torment of hell), and its unyielding focus upon a man's relentless march toward his own everlasting doom, this novel seems to insist, with every sentence, on its own greatness. And many readers, over the years, have agreed that it is great. But is it? For a man who believes that adultery is a path to hell, Scobie certainly doesn't seem to put up much of a struggle against temptation—which makes it hard to take all the rhetoric about God and sin and damnation very seriously. Nor does he try very hard to escape his doom after sleeping with Helen; he presents himself in the confessional, to be sure, but since he can't promise to avoid seeing Helen, the priest can't guarantee a valid absolution. It's absurd: if Scobie truly believes his soul is on the line, why doesn't he do everything in his power to avoid Helen? Or at least, for heaven's sake, skip communion till the romance blows over? His behavior is so irrational, so preposterously gentlemanly, so English; to read about his fate is to feel that a real Catholic could never have invented such a character, a man who would sacrifice his eternal soul to avoid creating a scene.

What Greene has manufactured here is a public school heroic fantasy which has no relevance whatsoever to the real world, Catholic or otherwise; in the person of Scobie, Greene brings together a rigid Catholic faith (which might be found in a certain kind of man) with a readiness to commit adultery (which might be characteristic of another, very different sort of man); combining the two traits, however, results not in a portrait of a complex, full-blooded individual but in an unbelievable concoction that reflects only its creator's obsessions. It may be that the only way one can easily understand Scobie, in real-world terms, is as a man who has for years been waiting for a good reason to kill himself. Certainly his thoughts are full of the subject: he ponders the fact that "[d]eath never comes when one desires it most"; he reflects of his long-deceased daughter that she "was safe now, for ever" (like many Greene characters, he considers death a sanctuary). If The Heart of the Matter is effective, it is largely as a demonstration of the ability of emotionally disturbed individuals to twist religion into a tool of self-destruction.

The End of the Affair (1951), like The Heart of the Matter, depicts a fatal romantic triangle. Set in London and its environs, the novel is described by its narrator and protagonist, a writer named Maurice Bendrix, as "a record of hate far more than of love." As the novel opens in January of 1946, Bendrix learns from his friend Henry Miles, a high ranking member of the government, that Henry's wife, Sarah, may be having an affair; Bendrix is hurt, for unbeknownst to Henry, he had enjoyed a three-year liaison with Sarah himself until, a year and a half earlier, she broke it off inexplicably and Bendrix "began quite seriously to think of suicide." Now, desperate to know the truth, Bendrix engages a detective; the man pinches Sarah's diary, and it is from this document that Bendrix learns why she separated from him. One day, thinking him dead in an air raid, she had prayed to God: "Let him be alive, and I will believe…. I'll give him up for ever, only let him be alive." When Bendrix indeed proved to be alive, Sarah kept her word to God, and ever since has been engaged in a struggle with the idea of God, resenting Him, seeking advice from a financial anti-religionist, and pouring her heart into her diary: "I want Maurice. I want ordinary corrupt human love. Dear God, you know I want to want Your pain, but I don't want it now." Bendrix refuses to take God seriously as a rival, and seeks to revive their affair. But he succeeds only (though an unfortunate happenstance) in bringing about Sarah's death—and learns afterward that she had been taking instruction in Catholicism, a faith into which (though she never knew it) she had been baptized as a child.

In many ways The End of the Affair is one of Greene's best books. It is exquisitely shaped and paced, the people and their relationships seem real, and both the passion and the bitterness ring true; though plenty of abstractions are brought into play, one does not constantly have the feeling that the characters serve merely as symbolic tokens. Yet, reading Sarah's diary account of her discovery of faith, one does want to ask the question: why Catholicism and not Anglicanism? Why must belief in a Creator necessarily lead, in the world according to Greene, to belief—as Sarah puts it—in "the whole bag of tricks" of the Catholic Church? The revelation of Sarah's childhood Catholicism suggests that Greene wants us to see her recent enthusiasm for the faith as some sort of mystical event, a reclaiming of Sarah, as it were, God; but this reading, it seems to me, cheapens the book, turns it into a kind of religious thriller. (Do even pious Catholics believe that God plays such games?) One prefers to think that Sarah chooses Catholicism because it is the one Christian faith that would flatly forbid her to divorce Henry and marry Maurice—an act against which her sense of guilt about the affair rebels. To posit such a reading is not to deny the sublimity of religious faith, but merely to acknowledge the importance—to life, to literature, and even perhaps to God—of human character and psychology; what makes The End of the Affair more successful than The Power and the Glory and The Heart of the Matter is its greater appreciation of that importance.

A Burnt-Out Case (1961), the last of Greene's explicitly Catholic books, is in some ways a departure from its predecessors. It begins, with the mysterious arrival of Querry, a world-famous church architect, at a small Central African leper hospital on a remote tributary of the Congo. Querry has come to the hospital—which is run by Catholic priests and by one Dr. Colin, and which is crowded with "burntout cases" (patients, many of them disfigured and impaired, from whose systems the leprosy infection has totally disappeared)—to finish out his life away from civilization. Why? Because in his own way Querry is a burnt-out case, too: or so, at least, he tells everyone who's ready to listen. Yes, he's perfectly scrupulous, well-functioning: "You are a whole man as far as one can see," says Parkinson, a sleazy reporter who tracks him down to the hospital. But Querry knows better: he's lost his faith. In contrast to his parents' simple, instinctive religion, he had constructed an edifice of logical proofs of the existence of God: but his realization that he didn't truly accept those proofs has caused an emotional crisis. He realizes he's been deceiving himself: he's never really loved ("Perhaps it's true that you can't believe in a god without loving a human being or love a human being without believing in a god"), never built a church for love of anything but himself ("To build a church when you don't believe in a god seems a little indecent, doesn't it?"). He'd always thought himself dedicated to God, but knows now that "anything he had ever done must have been done for love of himself." If Sarah, in The End of the Affair, longs for the suffering that will mark her as a true Christian, Querry is past all that: "I suffer from nothing. I no longer know what suffering is. I have come to an end of all that…." (One of the novel's epigraphs comes from Dante: "I did not die, yet nothing of life remained.")

Over the next few months, Querry assists the priests and helps them plan a new hospital. Ironically, when he saves a man's life he is celebrated as a saint by the ignoble Parkinson, the innocent Father Thomas, and the intellectual M. Rycker (a local factory manager and former seminarian); yet when he is falsely accused of having an affair with Mme. Rycker, those who declared him a saint are the first to condemn him. Interestingly—in what seems to be something of a move away from Greene's earlier concentration on faith, and toward a doctrine of good works—Querry's staunchest ally (and the most sympathetic and level-headed character in the book) is Dr. Colin, who "had long ago … lost faith in any god that a priest would have recognized," but who, despite his atheism, we are manifestly supposed to admire for his tireless dedication to the sick. Likewise, we're supposed to admire the priests (except for Father Thomas), who "would much prefer to talk about turbines" than about canon law, and who are "too busy to bother themselves with what the Church considered sin (moral theology was the subject they were least concerned with)."

And we do admire them. But it's hard to admire Querry. Though he's a decent enough chap, his enthusiasm for his own suffering is wearisome in the extreme; it comes across as the manifestation not of a crisis of faith (as Greene would have us believe) but of severe neurosis. Querry keeps insisting upon his inability to love and to believe, but it's all just words, words, words: his torment is never dramatized, just endlessly proclaimed. And to a large extent, it's simply too weird and too abstract to identify with: he can't make love anymore, he says, because sex should be an enacting of God's love for his people and he can no longer believe in God. We're apparently meant to see all this soul-searching as part of a sacred struggle, but for the most part it seems merely solipsistic, selfish; and it seems especially so because at the léproserie he is surrounded by people—among them many small children—who have a much more visible reason than he does to bewail their fates. Yet not even the sight of armless babies can take Querry out of himself for very long, and Greene doesn't seem to intend the irony: to him, as to Querry, the leprosy patients are basically set decoration, their physical disfigurement a metaphor for Querry's spiritual mutilation. Likewise, when Querry compares his own late, lamented intellectual Catholicism with his parents' "simple and uncomplex heart[s]," Greene doesn't seem to want us to find him arrogant—but of course we do. Even Dr. Colin regards Querry as a privileged character; when a priest suggests that publicity for the hospital might attract funds that could help hundreds of lepers, Dr. Colin rejects the idea because it wouldn't be good for Querry. "Limelight," he says, "is not very good for the mutilated."

There are logical problems with the book, too. The idea of a church architect as celebrity is a bit difficult to buy. And then there are certain questions of motivation: Querry claims to have come to the léproserie in order to escape the world, the Church, labéte humanine; yet, if this is the case, how did he happen to end up as a veritable social worker in a part of Central Africa that seems to contain more Catholics than the Vatican? And why, if he didn't want reporters to track him down, did he give everyone along the way his real name? Greene shows no sign of doubting Querry's motives. Then, as in The Heart of the Matter, there's the suicide angle. "A man can't live with nothing but himself," Dr. Colin says; "[s]ooner or later he would kill himself." Yes, Querry replies, "[i]f he had enough interest." Like Scobie, he seems essentially to be a suicide in search of a catalyst.

For the most part, indeed, all of Greene's so-called Catholic novels seem ultimately to have less to do with religion, per se, than with psychopathology—and, one might add, with melodramatic artifice: as I've suggested in connection with The End of the Affair, it might even he more nearly correct to call them religious thrillers. To be sure, they have been treated very respectfully by critics and readers, and it is true that their deeply afflicted protagonists, their solemn metaphysical utterances, their grand abstraction, their richly symbolic settings, and their tragic endings tend to enforce the impression that Greene is a serious—perhaps even a profound—laborer in the fields of spiritual allegory. Yet to read these books in sequence is to become increasingly aware of the overly manipulated characters, the windy rhetoric, the author's glib misreading of the human heart. There are so many immense abstractions planted so closely together here that few of them have room to grow into life; but then it would be virtually impossible for any story to bear the weight of meaning that Greene seeks to impose on these tales. All four books, furthermore, are informed not only by the extreme notion—as expressed in the Charles Péguy quotation that Greene used as an epigraph to The Heart of the Matter—that "[t]he sinner is at the heart of Christianity," but also by Greene's even more extreme corollary that the greater one's sins are, the closer one is to God, and the more likely one is to be a saint. While this may sound like clever theology, in practice it's simply offensive: if we are to believe such things, then how are we to feel about Hitler? In this and other such pronouncements by Greene, one hears the voice not of a serious moral philosopher but of the melodramatist, the author of thrillers out for sheer effect.

Elliott Malamet (essay date Winter 1991)

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SOURCE: "Graham Greene and the Hounds of Brighton Rock," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 37, No. 4, Winter, 1991, pp. 689-703.

[In the following essay, Malamet discusses elements of detection, pursuit, and evasion in Brighton Rock. Contrary to critical interpretations that emphasis the conflict between Ida and Pinkie, Malamet contends that "the metaphysical hunt is the more fundamental tension for Pinkie, and it is centered around his connection to the past, and his relationship with Rose Wilson and the invisible hand of God."]

The narrative of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock gains force through the presentation of two conflicting impulses continually at war with one another. The text describes not only the literal pursuit of Hale, and then the hunt for Pinkie, but also abounds with the metaphoric terminology of detection, containment, and capture, from Rose's yearning to seal Pinkie's words on a recording to the snapshot of an unaware Spicer that hangs outside a photographer's kiosk for all the world to peruse. Yet concurrent with these attempts by characters to "pin down" one another, are the dark pockets of incomprehensibility that stubbornly thwart and even mock human perception. Pinkie best exemplifies this enigma: "You couldn't tell if he was scared; his young ancient poker-face told nothing." Determined to foil any surveillance of his inner being, he has "an air of removing his thoughts, like heavy bales and stacking them inside, turning the key on all the world." He utterly rejects any attempt to categorize or define him; when he is criticized by a former member of his gang, he aligns himself with Christ as the paradigm of the misunderstood figure prone to the subjective fancies of others: "The picture Cubitt drew had got nothing to do with him: it was like the pictures men drew of Christ, the image of their own sentimentality. Cubitt couldn't know." Although the limited accessibility of Pinkie's inner self to outsiders may be attributable to the notion formulated by Terry Eagleton that he and Rose "belong to a metaphysical elite," it is also true that Ida Arnold, whom no one might accuse of an alienating religious philosophy, is as hard to pierce as the darkest Jansenist: "Her large clear eyes … told nothing, gave away no secrets. Camaraderie, good nature, cheeriness fell like shutters before a plate-glass window. You could only guess at the goods behind…."

The tension in the novel between detection and evasion, the vast emotional spaces separating the characters and the fiercely dogged pursuit intended to annihilate that gap, centers around Pinkie. Perhaps because of his very reticence, he does not lack for pursuers; he is the magnet for various kinds of detection, and nearly everyone and everything in the novel eventually comes to hunt him. Critical studies of the novel have long focused on the philosophical opposition between Ida and Pinkie, but in the following I argue that Ida is but one in a series of "hounds"—Colleoni, the police, his childhood, Rose, God—each representing a different threat to Pinkie. Yet for all of his pursuers, and despite the novel's constant emphasis on the use of messages, photographs, recordings, signs, witnesses—all forms of tracing an individual—Pinkie emerges as profoundly indecipherable.

One of the central ironies in Brighton Rock is that although Pinkie is constantly watched or hunted by these antagonists, Greene seldom places him in a position of physical danger or of needing to escape an actual threat. Despite a few instances of actual pursuit—Colleoni's men tracking Pinkie after the racetrack incident or the race at the end of the novel to stop the killing of Rose—much of the action, from a strictly conventional point of view, is rather static. The characters all know where they can find one another; in fact. Pinkie is adamant that he will never leave Brighton:

He stared straight out towards France, an unknown land. At his back beyond the Cosmopolitan, Old Steyne, the Lewes Road, stood the downs, villages, cattle round the dewponds, another unknown land. This was his territory, the populous foreshore, a few thousand acres of houses…. It had been Kite's territory, it had been good enough for Kite, and when Kite had died in the waiting-room at St Pancras, it had been as if a father had died, leaving him an inheritance it was his duty never to leave for strange acres.

The repeated mention of such locales as The Cosmopolitan. Snow's, and Frank's Place enhances the presence of gang rivalry in Brighton Rock, as if this were a story of conflict over "turf."

The rigidity of boundary division pertains to various levels of meaning and is an obstacle to sophisticated detection. If Pinkie is ill at ease in the posh interiors of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Ida is presented as being still more out of place with Catholic ideology. Intent on obliterating the notion of limited access that territorial division implies, she lies to gain entry into Rose's new home at Frank's Place, which she soon dominates: "She said, 'Come in, dear, and shut the door behind you,' as if it were her room." But her inability to persuade Rose to "cross over" to the world of Right and Wrong bespeaks frontiers that cannot be penetrated simply through willfulness. Their dispute is rife with the rhetoric of territory and space, both in a logistical and a metaphysical sense:

"You ought to go home" [said Ida].

Rose clenched her hands in defence of the brass bed, the ewer of dusty water:

"This is home."

"I know one thing you don't" [said Ida]. "I know the difference between Right and Wrong. They didn't teach you that at school."

Rose didn't answer; the woman was quite right: the two words meant nothing to her. Their taste was extinguished by stronger foods—Good and Evil.

For Ida, the dynamic of Right and Wrong and the sanctity of Life in its most reductive form is the guiding philosophy of detection: "She didn't believe in heaven or hell, only in ghosts, ouija boards, tables which rapped and little inept voices speaking plaintively of flowers. Let Papists treat death with flippancy: life wasn't so important perhaps to them as what came after; but to her death was the end of everything…." "The end of everything" means that Ida's pursuit is entirely contained within this side of the boundary between heaven and earth. Greene therefore uses Ida's penchant for questioning only as a superficial means of framing the issues of detection in Brighton Rock. Ida's quest for satisfaction extends to other areas besides death or justice; her determination is also unwavering when it comes to sexual desire and, as with the ouija board, her outlook is predetermined by what she wants: "She was shaken by a Bacchic and a bawdy mood. In every word either of them uttered she detected the one meaning." Given this singlemindedness, it is not surprising after Ida's terrifyingly casual references to an "eye for an eye," "fair play," and the thrill of the hunt, that she eventually loses sight of the point of origin of pursuit: "Poor old Fred—the name no longer conveyed any sense of grief or pathos. She couldn't remember anything much about him now … The hunt was what mattered."

Ida's loss of perspective regarding her first motives for detection is paralleled by Pinkie's bewilderment over the uncharted and unexpected domain towards which his crimes have led him: "It was as if he were being driven too far down a road he only wanted to travel a certain distance." The proliferation of crimes is such that the initial act turns out to be not the central deed of the novel but a preliminary to an ever spreading wave of events—this is an intrinsic element in the modern thriller. Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep is the scene of no less than six murders, each one as it were overlapping with and diverting attention from the last; the sense of growing evil colors the overall tone of the narrative. Every movement forward—that is, each successive criminal act—leads the narrative further away from its original impetus. Hence the structure of this kind of story almost guarantees the loss of origins that Pinkie feels; as Brighton Rock progresses, Greene concentrates on Pinkie's recognition of that loss and his unspoken awareness that the way of return is closed:

He felt that if he could concentrate enough, it would be possible to eliminate every sign of her … everything would be just the same as before … before he entered Snow's and felt under that cloth for a ticket which wasn't there and began the deception and shame. The whole origin of the thing was lost; he could hardly remember Hale as a person or his murder as a crime—it was all now him and her.

The irony of Hale, the man whose livelihood as Kolley Kibber is contingent on his leaving "signs" of himself that will allow for his identification—"It was his duty to-day to be spotted"—is that his end is traceless; he literally drops out of sight and is promptly cremated, his ashes becoming "part of the smoke nuisance over London." As later in The Power and the Glory and The Heart of the Matter, Greene unveils the action through the eyes of a peripheral character. Hale is but the outer edge of a thread that keeps unraveling until we reach the darkest core of the novel, and perhaps does not end even then, as Rose walks off to the "worst horror of all."

Any discussion of detection in Brighton Rock cannot be limited to the conflict between Ida and Pinkie. In some respects she is Pinkie's least worrisome foe, for she represents only one facet of pursuit, the detective who maintains the criterion of the conventional morality of "justice." She is echoed in this by the mobster, Colleoni; his desire to squeeze Pinkie out of business is grounded upon material considerations and the universe of the tangible. Greene's portrait of the racketeer associates him with Ida: "he looked as a man might look who owned the whole world, the whole visible world that is, the cash registers and policeman and prostitutes, Parliament and the laws which say 'this is Right and this is Wrong.'" The world view embodied by Ida and Colleoni harries Pinkie in the area of his physical well-being and challenges his twisted criminal pride. But the notion of Hale as a "beginning" that becomes lost, a vanished starting place, has implications for Pinkie that are far graver than Ida's doctrine of vengeance. As Brighton Rock develops, Greene draws on other levels of Pinkie's experience to construct a series of pursuers that hound him in a way that Ida cannot. This metaphysical hunt is the more fundamental tension for Pinkie, and it is centered around his connection to the past, and his relationship with Rose Wilson and the invisible hand of God.

Pinkie's recollections of childhood are terse and frightening:

The Boy crossed over towards Old Steyne walking slowly … Every step was a retreat. He thought he had escaped for ever by the whole length of the parade, and now extreme poverty took him back … The Salvation Army Citadel marked with its battlements the very border of his home. He began to fear recognition and feel an obscure shame as if it were his native streets which had the right to forgive and not he to reproach them with the dreary and dingy past … His home was gone: a flat place among the rubble may have marked its hearth; the room at the bend of the stairs where the Saturday night exercise had taken place was now just air. He wondered with horror whether it all had to be built again for him; it looked better as air.

His old neighborhood, like Hale, is a destroyed point of origin. The past is a dark hole; to detect innocence one must "go back a long way further … innocence was the ugly cry of birth." His childhood neighborhood duplicates that of Rose's, and the oppressive atmosphere of her parents' home in Nelson Place reminds Pinkie of the awful grip of the past that he has endeavored to outrun: "He looked with horror round the room: nobody could say he hadn't done right to get away from this, to commit any crime." The depiction of the ramshackle house metaphorically reinforces the diminished avenues open to him in his own life: "there wasn't really much choice of direction: there was only one door…." The gutted remains of their roots leaves Pinkie and Rose with a "common geography" both physically and spiritually, and while Ida is most often put forward as Pinkie's chief nemesis, it is Rose who unwittingly bears down on him with the dread of the past: "He thought he had made his escape, and here his home was: back beside him, making claims." Pinkie's musings that she is "something which completed him" cannot remove the fact of his anxiety over her knowledge and his deeper fear of being possessed by her. Ida forces Pinkie to deal with the law, but Rose's pursuit of him drives Pinkie into confronting hideous corners of his self.

Rose's role as a saint or a "holy fool" has been well documented, but her function as a kind of detective is also consistently marked by Greene from early on in the novel. "'I always look at you close,'" she tells Pinkie, and then adds almost apologetically, "'the customer, I mean.'" Her acute and artless focus is as relentless as Ida's; she immediately suspects that it is Spicer, and not Hale, who has left one of the Kolley Kibber cards, a recognition for which Pinkie could hang:

"Who was your friend?" she asked, peering into the darkness.

"He don't matter," the Boy said.

"I thought somehow—I couldn't see properly"

"He don't matter," the Boy repeated….

"I've got a memory for faces."

Although Pinkie contemptuously taunts her—"you don't know anything"—he learns that underestimating her is his biggest mistake when she assures him that it was Spicer "'who left the card.'" Only her love for Pinkie compromises her detective skills; her sudden and infrequent displays of self-assertion are easily converted into "a blind willingness to be deceived." The intimidating spectre of Pinkie's life feels, at times, like a foreign country: "she stumbled hopelessly in an attempt to convey the sense she had of the territory in which he moved: a place of accidents and unexplained events, the stranger with a card, the fight on the course, the headlong fall." But although she will follow him anywhere. Rose is intuitive to at least some part of his emotional life; her "detection" of his virginity enrages him: "'You're my first,' she said. 'I'm glad.' When she said that, he began again to hate her." Gradually, Pinkie becomes keenly aware of her as an adversary: "He'd got to close her mouth one way or another."

When contrasted with Ida's "experienced eyes," Rose's innocence would seem a welcome respite for Pinkie, and their initial date is filled with his confident scorn: "'You're innocent…. You're green….'" But the same qualities that are meant to illustrate Rose's goodness become for Pinkie akin to the closing door of a trap. He grimly interprets her love and devotion as but another mask covering possessiveness, and her naïveté puts him on guard more than any policeman can: "Could one ever be safe with someone who realized so little how she had got mixed up in things?" His life is defined by "a series of complicated tactical exercises," and he employs a multifaceted plan to stave off Rose's particular threat of curiosity, stifling domesticity, and seemingly unwitting ingenuousness. He delicately oscillates between a strategy of steely confrontation, intended to defuse pre-emptively any memories or questions that still linger in her mind about the fact that she saw Spicer leave Hale's card on the day of the murder, and an alternate path of appeasement should the former tactic fail. Their conversations can suddenly veer into a zone of dangerous insecurity for Pinkie, as when Rose unexpectedly decides to strike back at him:

He said, "Talk, can't you? Say something."

"You wanted to be quiet," she retorted with a sudden anger which took him by surprise. He hadn't thought her capable of that. "If I don't suit you," she said, "you can leave me alone. I didn't ask to come out … If I'm not grand enough—your car and all—"

"Who said—"

"Oh," she said, "I'm not that dumb. I've seen you looking at me. My hat—" It occurred to him suddenly that she might even get up and leave him, go back to Snow's with her secret for the first comer who questioned her kindly he had to conciliate her, they were walking out, he'd got to do the things expected of him.

Rose, despite her ostensible simplicity, tenaciously clings to "the secret, the memory still lodged securely in her skull." Greene implies that the raw material of Rose's detective skills—her natural tendency to store past information—is actually caused by her very lack of worldliness; a paucity of social experience leads her to seek excitement and life from the dreams inside her head: "She had an immense store of trivial memories and when she wasn't living in the future she was living in the past"

The mixture in Rose of understanding and ignorance, self-deceiving innocence and shrewd perceptiveness, reflects a character who thinks and operates on different levels of awareness at different moments, and provides a difficult problem for Pinkie. His assessments of Rose contradict one another when they are added up and examined; it is as if he would like to think that she can be easily managed but finds himself stung into a grudging re-evaluation of her character because of something she will do or say, as when she urges him to make a recording of his voice and he rebukes her: "For the second time he came up against her sudden irresponsible resentment. She was soft, she was dumb, she was sentimental—and then suddenly she was dangerous. About a hat, about a gramophone record. 'All right,' she said, 'go away. You've never given me a thing.'" Pinkie feels assured of her simplicity and lack of imagination, but is astounded later on when he finds that not only has she figured out his link to the murder of Hale, but that she is a willing, if passive, accomplice to his acts:

For a moment he was amazed. Then he laughed softly with infinite contempt and superiority at a world which used words like innocence. "Why," he said, "that's rich. You knew all along. You guessed. And I thought you were so green you hadn't lost the eggshell. And there you were"—he built her up in the mind's eye that day at Peacchaven, among the harvest wines at Snow's—"there you were, knowing."

She didn't deny it: sitting there with her hands locked between her knees she accepted everything. "It's rich," he said. "Why, when you come to think of it—you're as bad as me."

Her undetectability is stressed by Greene just as strongly as is Pinkie's; the sense of her own enigmatic core is deeply expressed even in the midst of an apology for her outburst over the record: "'Something came over me,' she said, avoiding his eyes with an expression he couldn't read, obscure and despairing."

Thus Robert O. Evans's assertion that Rose is "far too innocent, doubtless that is why she is called Rose," does not account for enough complexity in her; Greene displays her "knowledge" in her rejection of Ida: "[Ida] could tell her nothing she didn't know about these [Good and Evil]—she knew by tests as clear as mathematics that Pinkie was evil—what did it matter in that case whether he was right or wrong?" At first, living in Frank's Place and adjusting to her married status is bewildering for her:

… in the hall a ball of paper scuffled under her feet. She smoothed it out and read a pencilled message: "Lock your door. Have a good time." She didn't understand it: it might as well have been in code—she assumed it must have something to do with this foreign world where you sinned on a bed and people lost their lives suddenly and strange men hacked at your door and cursed you in the night.

But the significance of this new environment is that it entails a change in Rose; she is now privy to the adulterous secrets of Frank's wife—"'You won't tell anyone you saw us, dear, will you?'"—and she has begun to share, if only on a trivial scale, Pinkie's world of crime: "With her fingers on the lid of the soap-dish she warted—somebody was coming down the passage: it wasn't Judy and it wasn't Dallow—perhaps it was the man they called Frank. The footsteps passed; she lifted the lid and unwrapped the half-crown. She had stolen biscuits, she had never stolen money before. She expected to feel shame, but it didn't come—only again the odd swell of pride." Like one of Greene's secret agents Rose has "joined the other side now for ever. The half-crown was like a medal for services rendered. People coming back from seven-thirty Mass, people on the way to eight-thirty Matins—she watched them in their dark clothes like a spy." This is comic in the same way as Raven—the embittered young criminal of A Gun for Sale whom Greene calls "a first sketch for Pinkie" (Ways of Escape)—peeks at a shop window Jesus and interprets the crucifixion as a kind of gang war. The analogies in both cases seem humorously disproportionate, but one senses that Greene is only half joking, and that through her relationship with Pinkie, Rose has become a kind of outsider spying on "ordinary" lives: "And she stood now where Pinkie had stood—outside, looking in."

Pinkie decides that his only recourse to secure her absolute loyalty lies in his ability to "sidetrack her mind." Although he consistently returns to his position that Rose accepts "deception with such hopeless ease that he could feel a sort of tenderness for her stupidity," Greene reveals the underside of the dynamic with an image of finality at the moment when Pinkie realizes that he will have to marry her: "Some day he would be free again. He put out his hands towards her as if she were the detective with the cuffs…." The handcuffs are a symbol in his mind of what he sees as Rose's unrelenting pressure to detect and possess him, a feeling which heightens just after they are married: "They walked a foot apart along the pavement. Her words scratched tentatively at the barrier like a bird's claws on a window-pane. He could feel her all the time trying to get at him: even her humility seemed to him a trap. The crude quick ceremony was a claim on him." His "furious disgust at the made bed," an unhappy symbol of the domestication of their relationship, turns to total fear at the unexpected thought that their alliance could produce a child: "He watched her with terror and disgust as if he were watching the ugly birth itself, the rivet of another life already pinning him down…."

The sequence that charts Pinkie's hesitant and evasive path towards the wedding bed—interrupted by scenes of being refused accommodations at The Cosmopolitan, the recording of his horrifying message, buying sticks of Brighton rock under the pier, a trip to the movies—not only illustrates his dread of sexuality but prefigures the last third of the novel, which concentrates on how Pinkie's world closes around him in a tightening web. At the same time that Greene stresses the self-contained, hidden, and often undetectable nature of characters such as Pinkie, Rose, and Ida, and the distances and boundary divisions which separate them, he also integrates the reverse impulse into the plot and language of the novel by utilizing images of aggression that connote an enormous desire to catch and clamp down upon one's quarry. Seemingly random references to an owl, described as "swooping low … on furry and predatory wings," or the sight of "a mousetrap by a hole … [where] the bait had been stolen and the trap had snapped on nothing at all," are part of a deliberate imagistic pattern meant to convey the desperate sense of detection and pursuit that imbues the novel. Pinkie's surprised conclusion that he and Rose are somehow spiritual twins, that "there's not a pin to choose between us," is interestingly reflected in the careful matching of his feeling of being handcuffed with his own persistent and aggressive attack on her wrists, beginning with their first night out together:

"You don't know anything," he said, with contempt in his nails.

"Oh no," she protested. "I know a lot."

The Boy grinned at her, "Not a thing," pinching the skin of her wrist until his nails nearly met. "You'd like me for your boy, eh? We'll keep company?"

"Oh," she said, "I'd love it." Tears of pride and pain pricked behind her lids. "If you like doing that," she said, "go on."

Rose's uncomplaining submission to her pain and her enduring love for Pinkie allow for the plausibility of the piercing of her wrists as a mock crucifixion. Pinkie's efforts to exert his will over her reach a bizarre climax when Rose nearly commits suicide: "She put the gun up to her ear and put it down again with a feeling of sickness—it was a poor love that was afraid to die … She felt his will moving her hand—she could trust him."

Pinkie's relationship with her is but a small part of his overall desire for control: "His breast ached with the effort to enclose the whole world." But his ambitions to encircle the world are ironically countered by Ida, experienced by Pinkie as a clinging animal: "The Boy looked across the tea-room and the empty tables to where the woman sat. How she hung on. Like a ferret he'd seen on the Down, among the chalky holes, fastened to a hare's throat." Even a light-hearted citation by Prewitt, upon being disturbed by a noisy neighbor, to Polonius' spying and subsequent murder in Hamlet, is transformed by Greene into an allusive backdrop for Pinkie's anxiety about Ida's intrusion into his affairs:

"How now? A rat?" Mr Prewitt quoted. The house shook as a heavy engine pulled out. "Polonius," Mr Prewitt explained.

"Polony? What polony?"

"No, No," Mr Prewitt said. "The rank intruding fool, I mean. In Hamlet."

"Listen," the Boy said impatiently, "has a woman been round here asking questions?"

The most powerful example of the kind of claustrophobic pressure that Pinkie feels is brought out at the conclusion of Brighton Rock; as he drives in a rainstorm with the hope that soon he will be rid of Rose, the image of predatory wings is repeated, this time to haunt him with the active, almost nightmarish intervention of God's presence:

An enormous emotion beat on him; it was like something trying to get in; the presence of gigantic wings against the glass. Dona nobis pacem. He withstood it…. If the glass broke, if the beast—whatever it was—got in, God knows what it would do. He had a sense of huge havoc—the confession, the penance and the sacrament—and awful distraction, and he drove blind into the rain.

This is but one of many places in Greene's work where a tension is articulated between two forces separated by some form of wall of division. At times this divider acts like a funhouse mirror, creating a grotesquely altered perspective that causes one side to view the other improperly, as Greene notes about the novelist Frederic Rolfe and those who misperceived him: "Mr Pirie-Gordon and the partners of Chatto and Windus beckon and speak like figures on the other side of a distorting glass pane. They have quite a different reality, much thinner reality, they are not concerned with eternal damnation. And their memories of Rolfe are puzzled, a little amused, a little exasperated…." (Collected Essays).

Often there is a great force that strains against this door; in Journey Without Maps, Greene writes of the "earliest dream" he can remember, a dream "of something outside that has got to come in … a force exerted on a door, an influence that drifted after me upstairs and pressed against windows." The presence willing itself to break through the glass—this is the God as Intruder that constitutes Pinkie's terrifying moment. But the barrier of the window is one that Rose also encounters, and it relates to a deep wish which she feels may never be fulfilled, if what she suspects regarding Pinkie's final intentions turns out to be true:

She put a hand on him and felt his instinctive withdrawal: for a moment she was shaken by an awful doubt—if this was the darkest nightmare of all, if he didn't love her, as the woman said … The buses passed them going downhill to the town: little bright domestic cages in which people sat with baskets and books: a child pressed her face to the glass and for a moment at a traffic light they were so close the face might have been held against her breast.

The child inside this cage of domesticity comes within arm's length of Rose, but it is a world in a moving bus, soon to be gone. After Pinkie pulls the car to the side of a cliff, he spots a light "behind a stained-glass door," with its clear intimation of a church. Greene brings to life the lure of the unknown "other," and also the intangible struggle between detection and hiddenness, through the visceral image of something or someone pushing against glass, seeking to find an elusive reality on the other side.

Thus the sense of being hunted rears up and haunts Pinkie at every turn; the most insidious part of the feeling is the fear of not knowing precisely who is following him, and also a lack of assurance about when the chase will end and what its ultimate consequences will be: "Not a single false step, but every step conditioned by a pressure he couldn't even place: a woman asking questions, messages on the telephone scaring Spicer. He thought: when I've married the girl, will it stop then? Where else can it drive me, and with a twitch of the mouth, he wondered—what worse?" The suggestion that the pressure Pinkie feels ultimately derives from something other than an earthly source is one that Greene constantly circles around. He punctuates the narrative in several places with the picture of an old man stooping, searching among stones for food or clothing, and then translates the image of the old man into a metaphor for the divine detective: "It was almost dark along the beach; the edge of sea was like a line of writing in whitewash: big sprawling letters. They meant nothing at this distance. A shadow stooped with infinite patience and disinterred some relic from the shingle."

In his well-known essay on François Mauriac, Greene analyzes the monitoring of a character by God: "The ungainly clergyman [in a Trollope novel] picking his back-booted way through the mud, handling so awkwardly his umbrella, speaking of his miserable income and stumbling through a proposal of marriage, exists in a way that Mrs Woolf's Mr Ramsay never does, because we are aware that he exists not only to the woman he is addressing but also in a God's eye" (Collected Essays). This is a point Greene returns to repeatedly in his writing: man is made visible, given form, by the detection and even prosecution of heaven. Writing of Somerset Maugham, Greene observers: "He cannot believe in a God who punishes and he cannot therefore believe in the importance of a human action … Rob human beings of their heavenly and their infernal importance, and you rob your characters of their individuality" (Collected Essays). Brighton Rock goes one step further than Trollope's benign heavenly observer; the passage depicting Pinkie's drive through the rain strikingly recalls "The Hound of Heaven," a poem which Greene held in high esteem, and Pinkie's rush to avoid God's grace echoes [Francis] Thompson's opening lines: "I fled Him down the nights and down the days; / I fled Him, down the arches of the years; / I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways / Of my own mind…." The God who confronts the narrator at the end of the Thompson poem assumes a knowing paternal air: "All which I took from thee I did but take, / Not for thy harms, / But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms." No such reconciliation is allowed in Brighton Rock; in a novel where the images of containment and capture are manifold, it appears that there is something within Pinkie that is even more overwhelming than the pursuit of God: "he couldn't experience contrition—the ribs of his body were like steel bands which held him down to eternal unrepentance."

In the novel's final chapters it seems as if God chases Pinkie, but in an earlier scene, after he escapes the knifing at the racetrack, it is Pinkie who years, "with a faint nostalgia for the tiny dark confessional box, the priest's voice, and the people waiting under the statue, before the bright lights burning down in the pink glasses, to be made safe from eternal pain." He eludes Colleoni's men by ducking into an empty garage, that actually is a kind of "potting shed." Greene's later play of the same name suggests that the potting shed is a place of potential rebirth, a setting which is connected to the saving and even miraculous power of God. But the other aspects of the potting shed—its darkness, its status as a place of refuge, the whole connotation of something buried beneath the earth—calls attention to the themes of crime and hiddenness in Brighton Rock, and the idea of a detective's quest is further magnified by the "marks" left by the owner of the shed:

Whoever the owner was, he had come a long way to land up here. The pram-wheelbarrow was covered with labels—the marks of innumerable train journeys—Doncaster, Lichfield, Clacton (that must have been a summer holiday), Ipswich. Northampton—roughly torn off for the next journey they left, in the litter which remained, an unmistakable trail. And this, the small villa under the racecourse, was the best finish he could manage.

The description of the trial that eventually ends, foreshadows Pinkie's own trek; the only possible "detour," that of repentance, is rejected in light of his "dim desire for annihilation … the vast superiority of vacancy." Pinkie's demise is deliberately constructed to parallel the path of Hale that begins the novel. Hale concentrates on being spotted, only to be reduced to "indistinguishable grey ash"; Pinkie, in turn, purposefully leaves clues of his whereabouts as part of his alibi: "He planted his information pedantically, as carefully as he had had them lay Fred's cards along the route—for later use." He usurps Hale's role as a "distributor of signs," as he consistently demonstrates in his relationship with Rose; not only does he imprint a scalding outburst of hate in the recording booth, but he converts a message of love from her into a tool of power: "He held it up into the grey light and read—with difficulty. 'I love you, Pinkie. I don't care what you do. I love you for ever. You've been good to me. Wherever you go, I'll go too.'… He crumbled it in his fist: a dustbin stood outside a fishmonger's—then he held his hand. An obscure sense told him you never knew—it might prove useful one day." He uses the note to prod her into giving up her life—"He took his hand out of his pocket and laid on his knee a paper she recognized. He said, 'You mean that—don't you?'"—and attempts to complete the process of elimination through yet another scrap of paper that will explain the "suicide": "She said, 'I wrote what you wanted.'" Pinkie's alibi for these events is contingent on a carefully fabricated trail: "The Boy had left too many signs behind him—the message at the shooting-range, at the car-park: he wanted to be followed in good time, in his own time." Given his struggle to control and manipulate the use of signs, Pinkie's end is as ironic as Kolley Kibber's, as though once again all the traces of a life simply vanish into a blank void:

He looked half his size, doubled up in appalling agony: it was as if the flames had literally got him and he shrank—shrank into a schoolboy flying in panic and pain, scrambling over a fence, running on.

"Stop him," Dallow cried: it wasn't any good: he was at the edge, he was over: they couldn't even hear a splash. It was as if he'd been withdrawn suddenly by a hand out of any existence—past or present, whipped away into zero—nothing.

The trail of Brighton Rock ends with Pinkie's disappearance from the map, and for all the clues and signs that the novel discusses, Pinkie is not so much "detected" as chased out of the world; he remains an unexplainable mystery, an unsolved case. As Greene indicates, Pinkie's end is a "zero," a circular line that revolves round and round with no discernible start or finish. Pinkie is the zero or the undetectable life; despite the sociological chronicle of a loveless and poverty filled childhood, Pinkie's origins cannot fully account for him and, moreover, the theological ambivalence implicit in the priest's advice to Rose that one cannot conceive of the "strangeness of the mercy of God," thereby implying the possibility of Pinkie's salvation, means that in a Greeneian universe we cannot be sure of Pinkie's final status either. The novel contrasts Ida's smug satisfaction with the outcome—"'He's not on my conscience anyway'"—with the priest's sense that the verdict may not have been sealed on Pinkie: "'But we must hope,' he said mechanically, 'hope and pray.'" But neither Ida's inclination to close the case nor the dim spark of grace that the priest believes may yet be available can help illuminate the darkness that shrouded Pinkie in "this life." In a discussion of the postmodernist novel that is suggestive of the problem of Pinkie, Michael Holquist surmises that "if, in the detective story, death must be solved, in the new metaphysical detective story it is life which must be solved." At best, Pinkie's pursuers—God included—are only able to partially detect him, and Greene emphasizes the corruption of a sign as Rose walks off to the horror of Pinkie's recording, as though with all the good-will in heaven, Pinkie has the last word on knowability here on earth.

Martin Lebowitz (review date Autumn 1991)

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SOURCE: "The Uncynical Disillusion of Graham Greene," in The Southern Review, Vol. 27, No. 4, Autumn, 1991, pp. 946-48.

[In the following review, Lebowitz discusses Greene's moral and religious vision in The Last Word and Other Stories.]

Many years ago, T. S. Eliot remarked that wisdom consists largely of uncynical disillusion and that uncynical disillusion is essential to religious understanding as well. For Graham Greene, as for Eliot, detective fiction is a parable or paradigm of thoughtful disillusion. In the stories included in this thin volume, reflective of this disillusion is the tone of affective neutrality or realism that has become Greene's trademark. It is distinct from both pessimism and optimism and evokes a sense of reality which is causal and definitive rather than idealistic and emotional. Greene's realism is aseptic in that it is free of both preconceptions and strict implications. Of course, one might reply that objectivity is itself a hypothetical ideal that a writer may approach perhaps but never actually achieve. Nevertheless, in a manner reminiscent of Santayana in The Realm of Matter, Greene appears to champion the objective ideal by identifying God with a type of intellectual perception of matter. Indeed, one might conclude that God in Greene's vision provides an ideal limit of perception rather than a practicable goal.

The best story in the collection is the first and title story. It portrays a deranged and impecunious old man dying a slow, agonizing death in a squalid room in the mordant and moribund world of the future; unified despotically, this world has transcended nationalism and nationalities and is marked above all by squalor, anhedonia, and a crippled and ruthless purposiveness. The old man is the last pope in a society destitute of religion and indeed of any ethos, spirit, or mystique. The temporal ruler of this society mercifully executes the old man, ending his misery, and the reader is left with an intimation that this society, a sort of apotheosis of impersonality, is expected to enjoy the same fate. But what is one to make of the story's concluding question: "is it possible that what this man believed may be true?" The contrast between Greene's professed beliefs in Catholicism and the "objectivity" or tenor of his literary technique here and in his other work may make the question of true belief insoluble.

Another characteristic of Graham Greene—a result of the intensity of his moral preoccupation or soul-searching—is his pervasive ambiguity, reminiscent in some ways of Henry James. Thus the detective story, one of which is included in this book, is a paradigm of ambiguity, just as, in Kant, the Thing-in-Itself is an archetypal mystery. "A Branch of the Service" illustrates this ambiguity when a man patronizes a variety of restaurants for the ostensible purpose of evaluating for a magazine their food, service, and facilities, while he is more seriously concerned in observing some diners exchange incriminating information. The moral irony here is self-evident.

Religious consciousness as a subject for soul-searching is an identifying theme of Greene's work. Thus, in an "Appointment with the General," the revolutionary mystique of Latin American countries has an ambiguous relation to politics as such since, more so than in developed countries, revolution there consists above all in the pursuit of power. Thus an ambiguity in this story is that the General dreams obsessively of death, a symbol not simply of his own demise but of the vacuity and hopelessness of his endeavors for his country. That his interviewer in the story is an attractive French woman might suggest a moral contrast between the French Revolution and revolution in Latin America.

In a brilliant story called "The Lottery Ticket," Greene describes with an anthropologist's perception a small, tropical, almost inaccessible state in Mexico—primitive, backward, and violent, although a "democracy," in its poverty and in its politics. This town epitomizes the human condition in all its desperation and hopelessness. The story's hero has bought a lottery ticket in Vera Cruz and when he wins the lottery, he wants to donate the money to improving the condition of life in the destitute, benighted region. The lottery ticket becomes a symbol of the capitalism that has been repudiated there. Greene seems to be saying that all societies create symbols of indeterminacy that they may or may not identify with religion; but their human or psychological significance is religious nonetheless. Thus capitalism itself may be viewed as a transcendental myth subordinating human nature to a higher reality whose workings are, in the end, inscrutable. The indeterminacy of existence is a metaphysical datum from which philosophy, politics, ethics, religion, and even science necessarily derive.

The dismal squalor that comprises the milieu in which Graham Greene's fiction usually occurs is redeemable, if at all, only by religion, whether religion is viewed as literal truth or as mythic and poetic moral vision. I would suggest that, of these two views, the first is facile and uninspiring, while the second is Promethean and heroic.

Trevor L. Williams (essay date Spring 1992)

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SOURCE: "History Over Theology: The Case for Pinkie in Greene's Brighton Rock," in Studies in the Novel, Vol. 24, No. 1, Spring, 1992, pp. 67-77.

[In the following essay, Williams draws attention to the sociopolitical context and value of Brighton Rock. According to Williams, "Brighton Rock remains one of Greene's most ambitious achievements for its ability to encapsulate an historical movement, namely the collapse of the British economic power in the 1930s with the consequent paralysis and the poverty that crept like a cancer across the normal social boundaries."]

Brighton Rock (1938), reprinted countless times, remains one of Greene's most intriguing novels, eminently teachable in the classroom, mixing as it does the detective novel genre with adolescent sex hang-ups, and complicated by the claims of religion. It is also a period piece, evoking with the starkness of a black and white movie the feel of the 1930s in England, a country already in decline even before World War Two finally pushed it off the center of the world stage. Part of Greene's attraction as a writer always is that, having been in the right place at the right time, he is then able to chronicle with documentary fidelity the fall of some corrupt regime or other. Brighton Rock, a consistently symbolic and allegorical novel, does not, despite its fidelity to the "lower" Brighton of the time, chronicle the fall of England precisely, but seems (with the benefit of fifty years' hindsight) to hint at the much larger literal and figurative fall that the world war eventually brought. At the same time, the heavy emphasis on the "Roman" religion, criticized even, or especially, by Catholic critics over the years, now seems anachronistic, as much imposed from above as the obligatory unsullied working-class hero in works of socialist realism of the same period. I hope in this essay to direct attention away from the dated moral abstractions (is anyone seriously interested in an ethical league table where Good comes in first and Right a distant second, and where Evil is somehow preferable to "mere" Wrong?) and to concentrate more on the sociopolitical value of the novel. Greene's catholicism, too, rather than being taken at its own valuation, can be inserted into a sociopolitical context.

A young man who joins the Communist Party for four weeks in 1926 and later the same year is received into the Roman Catholic Church is clearly in need of a belief-system. These initiations were also ways of declaring contempt for an upper-class establishment (Tory and Anglican) which between 1914 and 1918 had sent a generation into the trenches of the Western Front and which now presided benignly over an economically stagnant Britain. The General Strike of 1926 was the nearest Britain came to a violent revolution in this century and the strike only failed because of the irresolution of trade union leaders (nor should it be forgotten, here, that many of Greene's fellow students at Oxford helped keep the trains running, thus playing their own minor part in preserving the political status quo). With the failure of social democracy to seize the moment of revolution, the Communist Party was, and remained throughout the 1920s, a natural haven for a few sensitive upper middle-class students alienated by the incompetence and corruption of their (own) ruling class. (Philby, Burgess, Maclean, Blunt: the names chronicle the history of spying in Britain.) To join the Communist Party or to spy for the forerunners of the K.G.B. was not, I would assert, an act of solidarity with the Soviet system, but a calculated attack designed to undermine a ruling class which had betrayed or was continuing to betray, through economic mismanagement and political indifference, the interests of the country as a whole. Greene himself is quite specific about this in The Human Factor (1978) where Castle, the Communist spy, is "innocent" (committed as he is to love, human rights, and the well-being of his own country) when compared to the morally loathsome representatives in the novel of the country's ruling class, for whom the "foreign country" to be subjugated is the democratic Britain outside the establishment enclave of London clubs and country houses. It was logical then that Greene would be drawn to so "principled" a spy as Philby, a voluntary exile in Moscow as much as Greene himself in Antibes.

In the English-speaking countries, to join the Communist Party, in 1926 as much as in 1990, is to marginalize oneself from the mainstream of party political life, though often the ideas generated by the Party later become, with circulation, received opinion in the middle ground of politics. Similarly, to join the Catholic Church in 1926 was also an act of marginalization, if socially safer and demographically more comforting. If in 1960 the religion of the president of the United States, a country where Catholics were a larger percentage of the total population than in England, was an issue, it is easy to imagine the kind of shadow status that Catholicism occupied in Britain in 1926. For the Catholic convert here was a war to wage. And, as everyone knows, Greene regularly inserts a Catholic character or a discussion of Catholic doctrine into his fiction, as if, it sometimes seems, to demonstrate his fidelity to a "party line" (of his own making). In a novel like The Power and the Glory (1940) the demonstration is integral to the theme and so is not a distraction. In Brighton Rock, however, where Pinkie and Rose are powerful characters, but extremely marginalized socially, the catholicism distorts, gets in the way of, what frequently seems like a socialist critique struggling to emerge. It's as if Greene, committed emotionally to both "-isms," catholicism and socialism, could not decide which theology to work with in describing the fallen world of Brighton.

So, while Brighton Rock, like many Greene novels, has the virtue of verisimilitude (in this instance to the "feel" of the 1930s British seaside resort, not much changed in its basic structure to this day), the novel does not quite feel right, it does not quite "come off." Perhaps (and T. S. Eliot's famous "objective correlative" explanation for Hamlet's "failure" will help here) Greene was not in total control of his material. We recall that Milton set out to justify the ways of God to man, but instead produced a Satan whom all succeeding generations found sympathetic. Greene creates a Satan in Pinkie whom he tries to condemn through repellent descriptions, but while Milton's Satan became sympathetic despite the poet's best efforts to turn the party line against him, Greene actively intervenes on Satan's behalf by suggesting constantly that Pinkie's dedication to evil is superior to Ida's obsession with right and wrong. The intervention fails (and accounts for one of the weaknesses in Brighton Rock), because, I would suspect, few readers of the novel have ever found it possible to sympathize with Pinkie merely on the ground that he was a "Roman" and therefore in touch with something eternal called Evil. Rather, the average reader might well be prepared to accord Pinkie some sympathy on the ground that he was socially deprived and thus as a character to be subsumed under the more mundane problems of the here and now represented by the "Right and Wrong" position in the novel incarnated in Ida. Just as, following the marxist view that social being determines consciousness, Hamlet cannot escape being a product of a corrupt court but must somehow escape that contamination and rise heroically above and beyond the court, so Pinkie is trapped in a contradiction of his author's making. While Pinkie's consciousness is "produced" in the slums of Brighton, his author would have us believe that he escapes that social determination and is derived, uncontaminated by the merely social, from some theological infinity of pain.

Of course, this notion of the absolution of Evil is not unique to Greene amongst twentieth century authors, nor is it necessarily the product of a "Roman" view of the universe. It raises its head in Conrad, can be seen in the character Loerke in Lawrence's Women in Love, and is a major theme in early T. S. Eliot. Early in Heart of Darkness Marlow rejects the moral flabbiness of the Manager and other lesser mortals than Kurtz, preferring the latter's single-minded dedication to Evil, invoked, vaguely, in "the horror, the horror." Eliot picks up this distinction in "The Hollow Men" whose epigraph recalls this mysterious description of Kurtz's death. This fascination with "the horror" is really a theological evasion, an attempt to mystify what is totally explicable by the action of men pursuing, in all instances, goals which are economic even before they are political. The evasion is perpetuated even in a brilliant movie such as Apocalypse Now, where the madness committed on behalf (ultimately) of American economic goals is accounted for by the "evil" of a single individual. Ironically, Greene himself clearly saw this evasion in Vietnam, and exposed it in The Quiet American (1955), which thirty years after its publication became required reading as Americans began to analyze the horror they had just lived through.

In Brighton Rock, however, Greene's determination to impose a Catholic framework on the fallen world of Brighton proves a distraction, even though Greene is careful to delineate the social rottenness and even to draw attention to the almost universal poverty, both material and spiritual. Unfortunately, this fallen world is too easily ascribed to the weakness of Protestantism as a religion, simplistically leaving only the "Roman" faith as the superior vehicle for dealing with the eternal verities. Even then Greene gets it wrong, since his suggestion that the trials and tribulations of Pinkie and Rose will be rewarded in the next world is no more nor less than what Protestant divines were holding out to the working class throughout the nineteenth century. Poor but honest, the oppressed classes could rest happy in their confident inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven. Greene further sentimentalizes Pinkie's evil by suggesting at the very end that Rose may already be carrying Pinkie's child within her, which will somehow compensate for the final horror when she puts on the record and listens to Pinkie's words of "love."

Despite the distortions caused by the imposed Catholic framework, Brighton Rock remains one of Greene's most ambitious achievements for its ability to encapsulate an historical moment, namely the collapse of British economic power in the 1930s with the consequent paralysis and the poverty that crept like a cancer across the normal social boundaries (Mr. Prewitt the lawyer is a brilliant illustration of the latter). Greene's ability to analyze social conditions through the symbolism of fiction contrasts starkly with some of the myths erected by historians about that phase of British history. The summer of 1990 saw the patriotic 50th anniversary celebrations of the "Dunkirk spirit" and the heroism of "the Few." Though the heroism was genuine, the truth, as Clive Ponting has heretically pointed out, was that the wartime cabinet, meeting on August 22, 1940, had to decide whether to sue for peace with the Nazis or whether to pay the price demanded by the United States for its economic co-operation, namely liquidation of Britains's imperial assets. In May/June 1940 two views of the way ahead dominated debate in the cabinet: "peace now" urged by the foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, a leading appeaser, or "let's wait" (to see if Hitler will give us better terms, the view of the new prime minister, Churchill). Clearly, these are not differences of philosophy. Either way, the English ruling class was prepared to preside over a fallen country, and Greene, with his connections to the intelligence community, would have ample cause to know that the country had been betrayed over many decades by its own upper class.

While Greene throughout his career carefully singles out various ruling elites as the source of betrayal, this, despite his consistently leftish philosophical stance, does not make him a socialist. He clearly shows sympathy for the lower class characters in Brighton Rock caught in a hell not, mostly, of their own making, and gratuitously introduces two upper-class "hearties" who, sizing up Rose's sexual potential, mockingly reify her in the pub, yet no characters, other than Rose, no matter what their class, escape Greene's criticism. An interesting example of this generalized criticism of "fallen England" occurs at the beginning of Part 4, where the people who pour into Brighton for the Bank Holiday are described as a "migration of insects." Bosch-like in its detail, the panorama includes a blind man's band (whom Pinkie, unaware they are blind, will later push roughly off the kerb) and some rich hockeying schoolgirls well above the "plebeian procession, those whom the buses wouldn't hold, plodding up the down, kicking up the dust, eating buns out of paper bags … It was as if the whole road moved upwards like an underground staircase in the dusty sunlight." The vision, in its entirety, is truly "underground." It also includes, remarkably, a disproportionately long description (ten lines in the Penguin text) of a "negro" sitting on a bench in the "Pavilion garden" smoking a cigar. He has "great teeth gleaming like an advertisement" and "cushiony lips," and the children playing nearby back away from him "uneasily." Why does Greene, drawing a composite picture of "Brighton," allow so much space to this black person, especially when blacks in the 1930s formed such a minuscule part of the total British population (let alone of Brighton's)? Why indeed does Greene reproduce the typically "white" view of a black person's physiognomy? I can only speculate that the narrative's "political unconscious" has tapped into the racist fear and loathing of the foreign, of the outsider who would intrude and gnaw away at the nation's entrails, threatening the livelihood of the nation's youth, a fear not specific to England, of course. This non-specific, all-inclusive (Catholic?), criticism of the fallen Protestant world is, or would be, a weakness insofar as it purports to represent Greene's own imposed Catholic ideology (and of course Greene's total oeuvre is ample evidence of the frequent indivisibility of Greene and the omniscient narrator), but insofar as Brighton Rock reflects the "condition of England" the inclusion of this xenophobic undercurrent is realistic (and one that will not easily go away from English life).

Interestingly, in the Collected Edition of Brighton Rock (1970) Greene seems to have regretted this xenophobic note, even to the extent of silently omitting several anti-semitic references glaringly there in the first edition (and chronicled in the footnote that follows). Clearly these are post-Holocaust emendations, yet the anti-semitic references to rich Jews are an essential, even if racist, echo of 1930s history and their omission weakens slightly the force of Greene's social critique. The xenophobia emerges also in the character of Colleoni, the smooth man building a monopoly on organized crime in Brighton, a Jew in the first edition but an Italian gangster after 1970. Colleoni belongs to a well-established literary tradition, especially in spy fiction, of the suspicious foreigner (even more suspicious if Jewish) who does indeed turn out to be a spy. Whenever Pinkie sees or thinks of Colleoni it is as if over an immense divide of ownership. As Colleoni pads through the Metropole or relaxes in a limousine, he forcibly reminds Pinkie how much he is deprived of ownership in his own city. This is especially the case when Pinkie himself tries to book a room in the Metropole on his wedding night. He is refused a room purely on class grounds.

I want now to shift the argument to the question of ownership as such, for it is here that one can make the case (the case that Greene tries to make on purely theological grounds) that Pinkie and Rose are indeed superior to the other characters. To begin with Colleoni:

His old Italian face showed few emotions but a mild amusement, a mild friendliness; but suddenly sitting there in the rich Victorian room, with the gold lighter in his pocket and the cigar-case on his lap, he looked as a man might look who owned the whole world, the whole visible world that is, the cash registers and policemen and prostitutes. Parliament and the laws which say "this is Right and this is Wrong."

Even though Colleoni may own only the "visible world," this still remains a powerful vision of complacent ownership, the assertion of a universalized (again the word "Catholic" comes punningly to mind) power to control every facet of political, economic and social life. Pinkie will notice only the outward manifestation of this ownership (on his wedding day he remembers a "gold cigarette case"), the fetishized commodity, but the reader is probably more aware of the total overall control that Colleoni exercises, Colleoni here being no longer the small-time gangster but the representative figure for a rapacious owning class. The novel as a whole demonstrates that Colleoni uses violence quickly, surgically and treacherously, but normally Colleoni is "respectable" and respected within the Metropole Hotel, that emblem of effortless wealth and power. For much of the novel he is barely visible, yet his control is pervasive. This above all is the triumph of Greene's realism, for surely this is indeed most people's experience of the way power works in a society: very rarely does a democratic society have to resort to violence to ensure the stability of the status quo but if it must it will.

But how is such power exercised non-violently? Or, the same question: how do people consent to have such power exercised over them? One answer (the easy one, it now seems in retrospect) was given by Althusser two decades ago, when he coined the term "ideological state apparatuses." He meant the institutions of government, education, the churches, the military, and the large corporations (especially media corporations)—all these institutions may countenance change (that is, they are not irredeemably conservative—but they will ensure that they maintain control over the content of change. Where radical divestiture of power occurs (as in Gorbachev's Soviet Union) uncertainty, to put it mildly, occurs. A world governed by "Colleoni" cannot brook uncertainty. But the search for a theoretical answer to the problem of "consent" must take us further back than Althusser, to the Marcuse of One-Dimensional Man, which remains, a generation later, one of the most brilliant analyses of, and attacks upon, the thought-system underlying both advanced capitalism and Soviet communism. Marcuse there refers to "the closing of the universe of discourse," the tendency in advanced industrial society for only one view of the world to dominate, all others, though "allowed," being relegated to the margins. Thus a massive "consensus" of the center will effectively close off meaningful debate about radical alternatives, the latter being dismissed as "utopian," always forever unattainable. The "consensus" then becomes the common sense way of viewing reality and is reinforced daily in the way Althusser described. (Gorbachev's Russia is, again, a dire warning of what happens when the consensus is allowed to break down—and, significantly, no Western country has yet shown that kind of appetite for democratic dismantling of its constituent parts.) And how does this relate to Greene? I would argue that Ida (or rather "Ida") represents this massive assertion of common sense, of the one-dimensional mentality, the closing of the universe of discourse. Ida's ouija board comes up with the letters "FRESUICILLEYE" and, like Ida, we can extract meaning to suit our own purposes, so that this "one-eyed" view becomes a form of moral and intellectual "suicide" in which "freedom" is threatened.

To put it allegorically, "Colleoni" needs "Ida" to help keep "Pinkie" and "Rose," the lowest segment of the non-owning classes, marginalized. Together, though in separate spheres, Colleoni and Ida seek to exclude Pinkie (and, inevitably, Rose) from ownership of their own lives, their souls even. Ida would take away the last vestige of choice from Rose, reducing her to an animal passivity. Ida represents that vast petty bourgeoisie and respectable working class who by their silence give consent to actions carried out, nominally, on their behalf and thus give legitimacy to this "fallen world." Greene remembers to include them: they are the London girls whom Hale tries to pick up, they are the waitresses at Snow's, the desk clerk at the Metropole, and, memorably, they are the Mr. Prewitts.

If Pinkie deserves sympathy it's not on the Greene ground that he belongs to a superior religion and may yet, despite his evil, be saved; it's because he comes from the same destitute background as Rose and carries it as a "visible scar," a place where love is suffocated "among the lavatory smells." Thus Greene does emphasize Pinkie's social being (even if he weakens this insight constantly by referring to Pinkie's Satanic origins). Since both Pinkie and Rose come from the same social background, though one is "evil" and the other "good," it is clear that a simplistic sociological (base/superstructural) explanation of moral development is inadequate. But Greene's "theological" explanation is itself reductive, especially when he has the 17-year old Pinkie declare, "Credo in unum Satanum." To reduce Pinkie like this to something unique, sui generis, a high school dropout who speaks perfect Latin, is to distract attention from those moments when Greene does allow the social complexity of Pinkie's being to come through. The most notable moments of course are those when Pinkie expresses extreme distaste for marriage and sexuality: "To marry—it was like ordure on the hands" and (love-making) "seemed to him more like death than when Hale and Spicer had died." As "explanation" the text focusses on Pinkie's enforced Saturday night witnessing of his parents' copulation, but Greene is here making it easy for the reader to mutter something about adequate housing and proper privacy. The underlying materialist explanation for Pinkie emerges clearly near the end:

A brain was only capable of what it could conceive, and it couldn't conceive what it had never experienced: his cells were formed of the cement school playground, the dead fire and the dying man in the St. Pancras waiting-room, his bed at Frank's and his parents' bed.

This seems much more to the point than "Credo in unum Satanum." For Pinkie "life" is "gaol, it's not knowing where to get some money. Worms and cataract, cancer … children being born. It's dying slowly." It is this materialist underpinning of the novel (always Greene's strength, anyway) which allows Pinkie to be human and vulnerable, as when he weeps under the influence of some sentimental film-music: "it was like a vision of release to an imprisoned man. He felt constriction and saw—hopelessly out of reach—a limitless freedom: no fear, no hatred, no envy." He also weeps under the razor attack by Colleoni's gang and he recalls weeping when being caned at school. Terry Eagleton argues that the novel "detaches (Pinkie) from any natural locality and so renders his evil less environmentally explicable." It is true that we don't see Pinkie "operate" in his own environment, but enough description occurs (particularly during the visit to Rose's parents) for a materialist or "environmental" explanation to be supplied by the reader.

I should like to return finally to the unresolved tensions which lie at the heart of Brighton Rock. As Eagleton points out, Pinkie "embodies a kind of true negation, (yet) Pinkie's view of experience is time and again confirmed by the novel itself." A fundamental opposition exists not so much between theological views as between the political choices available to the actors in world history: either this world's "not a bad old place," as Ida frequently claims, or it's a place where you die "slowly." Ida's view entails accepting the status quo. Going with Pinkie entails entering a dark night, not knowing how it will end, a revolutionary step. History shows that revolutions can be either reactionary or progressive, or even have both tendencies simultaneously. Any revolution associated (symbolically) with Pinkie would probably be fascist, but one associated with Rose would almost certainly be progressive (a point I would like to return to). This irresolution, at the "political" heart of the novel, is not, I would argue, a weakness, but rather a realistic reflection of political reality in 1930s Britain. This was the time of appeasement, of coalition government, the broad consensus, and it was also a time of extreme economic marginalization for the Pinkies and the Roses. Being neither an avowed socialist nor a proletarian novelist. Greene does not need to resolve the issue one way or another. If anything, his ending is, in political terms, "reformist": despite the horror of Pinkie's recorded voice awaiting Rose, the last page points to a vaguely "better" future, the cliché of birth and renewal and redemption. Again (and always at the level of symbolism) this is historically "accurate": Pinkie's voice is the voice of fascism leading to war, on the other side of which is the social democratic future.

But still the political problem remains. Isn't Ida's the voice of the people and doesn't Greene dismiss this voice as a source of salvation? Clearly Greene (not just the "narrator") despises Ida for her devotion to the things of this world, the here and now, to justice, fair play and a satisfying glass of Guinness. The narrator maintains a persistent sneer whenever Ida looms into view, but I'm sure I'm not alone in asserting that the reader's natural inclination, even if one stops short of "identifying" with Ida, is to resist being seduced by that sneer and to hope that Ida will indeed track down Pinkie, not because, any more than Ida, we want Hale's murder avenged, but because we are disturbed that such evil is abroad even, let alone that it should remain "unpunished." The majority of readers perhaps are on Ida's side as she follows Pinkie and saves Rose with "merciless compassion." However, by the end of the novel, the "hunt" or detection element is probably less fascinating than the final suspense over whether Rose will commit suicide, or to put it in Greene's terms, whether Good will submit to Evil.

Pinkie and Rose do seem superior to Ida, finally, but not because Catholic absolutism is about to overcome the Protestant consensus. Rather, what seems admirable in the final pages about these social outcasts is their deliberate choice of a fate, damnation, whose finality would shame those Protestant pursuers, "showing them they couldn't pick and choose." To choose one's fate, to make (as far as possible) rational choices, is morally and politically superior to drifting with the tide of Ida's modern history, yet an immediate caveat must be entered: Pinkie does not choose suicide, since he never intends to carry out his part of the pact, and Rose's choice is forced upon her (though her instinctive rebellion against the act shows that had she in fact committed suicide it would ultimately have been out of a deliberate and conscious choice. Damned already, Pinkie chooses to intensify the damnation that already awaits him). Even so, the end of the novel is important simply for raising the issue of choice at all. Though Greene is asking a theological question, a much deeper social and political question seems to be posed at the level of the novel's political unconscious: given that this Brighton, this England, this world even, is utterly "fallen" ("why, this is Hell nor are we out of it"), do we have to recognize that fact and change it, as Marx urged, or do we go along with Ida and raise our glasses to this imperfect world which nonetheless allows us a modicum of happiness as we float by? It is at this deeper structural level that one makes a case for admiring Pinkie and Rose as against Ida, Prewitt, Colleoni and all the other corrupt and fallen characters. However minimally, Pinkie and Rose make a choice, an act of resistance, and briefly step on to firm ground out of a sea of false consciousness. But the birth of new consciousness will involve endless struggle.

Christine De Vinne (essay date October 1993)

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SOURCE: "Truth and Falsehood in the Metaphors of A Burnt-Out Case," in English Studies. Vol. 74, No. 5, October, 1993, pp. 445-50.

[In the following essay, De Vinne discusses the metaphorical significance of children and childhood in A Burnt-Out Case. According to De Vinne, "childhood corresponds with falsehood while adulthood symbolizes truth" in the novel.]

A Burnt-Out Case is Graham Greene's narrative of a disillusioned architect who seeks spiritual and emotional peace among burnt-out lepers deep in the Congo. There, in a primitive world far removed from the distractions of civilization, its characters confront the essential questions of life. The rhetoric of the novel too is stripped of anything extraneous; Greene makes clear that the story is based on two simple, straightforward metaphors. The first and most obvious establishes leprosy as a symbol of the disillusionment from which Querry suffers. Like a leper whose disease has spent itself after eating away fingers and toes, this afflicted man confesses to Dr. Colin, 'I am one of the mutilated.' Numbed by leprosy both mental and spiritual, he is senseless to joy as well as to pain. The distance he travels to find a home in his suffering suggests Greene's second metaphor, that of journey. The outward journey Querry makes into the heart of Africa, as far as river and road can take him, corresponds to an inward journey of the man's heart. The inner journey must parallel the outer one to the leprosarium, for only by coming to know himself, by reaching 'the furthest point' of self-knowledge, can he be cured.

Given Greene's two basic metaphors, it is easy to see why references to disease and journey abound in the novel. However, those two symbols do not account for its numerous allusions to childhood and children, particularly in a text where none of the major characters are minors. Their presence in the work of an author as economical in style as Greene suggests that a third metaphor is operative, one for which childhood or youth must be the vehicle. While an obvious conclusion in a search for the tenor of such a metaphor might be to identify childhood with truth or innocence, the novel's journalist offers his own caution against such a simplistic explanation: 'It's a funny thing about metaphors—they never really follow through.' In fact, a careful examination of the roles of the characters reveals that A Burnt-Out Case rests on a surprising premise, that in Greene's topography childhood corresponds with falsehood while adulthood symbolizes truth.

The central character for all of the novel arrives in the Congo well into adulthood, a figure in his late fifties. He is Querry, a soul on quest who asks questions of life and a hunted man who is pursued by fame and fortune, as the 'querry' 'quarry' wordplay underlying his name suggests. His character is as ambiguous as his name. It would seem that he wishes to leave all the trappings of adulthood behind him—the sophistication of Europe, the practice of his profession, even the pleasure of sex. And yet he faces in Africa questions of personal identity and metaphysical truth that only an adult can answer. Querry stands between two worlds, the world of adulthood and the world of childhood. He scorns the childish 'innocence and immaturity' of the fathers' cardgames and likewise disdains the stuffy sophistry of Rycker's adult discussions. Although, as Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan notes, he claims biological parenthood, he maintains that his children have 'disappeared into the world a long time ago,' presumably grown, and he declines any adult responsibility for them. He longs for the simple joys of the Pendélé that his servant Deo Gratias, a deformed leper, seeks in the bush, yet he has the sophistication to recognize that he can never find it. Querry the character must learn what Greene the author has learned by the time he composes his autobiography at the age of sixty-seven, that an adult should return to the experiences of 'the distant time' and 'feel them, as [one] felt them then,' not to revert to childhood but to bring order and truth to adult life.

The close identification between adulthood and truth in Querry's quest is best seen in contrast with the child figures and their inherent dishonesty in A Burnt-out Case. The most obvious of these is Marie, the wife of Rycker, whom Querry mistakes for his daughter rather than his spouse. All Greene's descriptions of this character emphasize her youth: she appears to be a 'girl' with an 'unformed face'; she is afraid of moths, lizards, cardgames and everything she does not understand; she speaks in stilted copybook phrases; she giggles with the easy amusement of the young; and she writes in a schoolgirl script. Narcissistic and immature, she is an arrested adolescent, her development frozen at the time she left her family home and convent school to wed the man old enough to be her father, suggests K. C. Joseph Kurismmootil in his analysis of this character. Even Querry is deceived by her apparent innocence; on the night which will condemn him, he visits her room under the delusion that '[t]his one [is] too young to be a great danger.' But Marie is far from innocent. As child in Greene's Congo she typifies falsehood and poses the gravest threat to Querry's life. With the 'transparent honesty of a child who has prepared a cast-iron lie' she convinces herself, her husband, and the community of the leprosarium that Querry has slept with her and she now carries his child. 'God preserve us all from innocence,' proclaims the cornered Querry, for it is the false innocence of Marie's childhood which costs him his life.

Marie's husband, André Rycker, is as much a child as she is. He boasts of his extensive experience, both secular and religious, but he remains just as selfish and false as the other child figures in A Burnt-Out Case. He uses people like he uses religion, to create his own false world. Patronizing and patriarchal, he cultivates a childish dependency in his wife, telling her how to behave at parties and lisping her name as the babyish 'Mawie' for a term of endearment prior to lovemaking. An architect of delusions, he constructs a false image of love based on theology rather than affection and a false image of Querry based on illusion rather than truth. Initially he insists that the newcomer is a man of faith and intellect even when Querry denies both appellations; later he converts to an equally mistaken but far more dangerous belief, that Querry is an adulterer who has violated his marriage. In killing Querry, Rycker epitomizes all that is wrong with the child in Greene's burnt-out world: he acts out of false beliefs. He hunts Querry down because he believes the man has seduced his wife and he shoots because he believes Querry is laughing at him.

The religious analogue to the coarse, self-seeking Rycker is the immature, self-centered Father Thomas. Despite his position as ordained priest and director of the leprosarium's schools, Father Thomas remains 'doomed to a perpetual and unhappy youth.' He has never outgrown his childhood fear of the dark or accepted adult responsibility for his physical and psychological limitations, his poor eyesight and his inability to adjust to mission life. Doubting himself and his vocation, he seeks to make of Querry a sainted model for overcoming all his imperfections. He talks to the Superior about Querry's rescue of the lost Deo Gratias and muses aloud, 'I hope I would have done what he did, going out at night into the bush looking for a servant, but I doubt….' He watches Querry help carry the feverish Parkinson ashore and says in admiration. 'We could all learn from you.' Like Rycker, Father Thomas prefers his false sanctified version of Querry to the truth, and like Rycker the priest condemns the man as quickly as he canonizes him. Another victim of Marie's lies, Thomas hears of her accusations against Querry and dissolves in childish disappointment and tears. Just like the Ryckers, the self-centered Father Thomas has used Querry for his own purposes and chosen the false security of a make-believe world rather than the adult fact of the real one.

The child as metaphor for falsehood lies at the core of one other character in A Burnt-Out Case, the journalist Parkinson. This vulgar opportunist exhibits a childishness more covert than the other characters'. Hints of it are evident, however, when he arrives from Luc, lying in a boat, naked, helpless, and unable to communicate. His choices, moreover, clearly mark him as child. He prostitutes his profession at the price of truth. He falsely credits 'Stanley and his little band' with exploration of the leprosarium area, ascribes quotations to spurious sources, and uses his camera to create visual lies. Like Marie, Rycker and Thomas, he produces his own false image of Querry, as 'The Recluse of the Great River' and 'The Saint with a Past,' but his guilt exceeds theirs on two counts: he is conscious of the falsehoods he perpetrates, and he promulgates them far and wide for his own gain. He deliberately fabricates the scenario of the wronged husband out of adjoining rooms, powder-smudged towels and coded journal entry on Querry and Marie's ill-fated trip to Luc. For his own childish gain he has forsaken his art and turned to scandal and falsehood on a personal and professional level.

Once the Ryckers and Thomas and Parkinson have invaded what Richard Kelly calls Querry's 'Garden of Eden,' there is no such thing as childhood innocence. There is still adult truth, however, and Querry's insistence on truth identifies him as one of Greene's heroes. The man constantly 'worries over truth' while he 'searches for peace,' writes D. J. Dooley. He is honest with himself in claiming to have reached 'the end of desire and the end of a vocation.' He is equally honest with others; to all who will listen he proclaims that any good acts he performs spring not from faith or altruism but boredom and disillusionment. He is honest with Rycker in asserting that he is not an intellectual, with Marie in asserting that he is not a lover, with Thomas in asserting that he is not a saint, and with Parkinson in asserting that he is not a hero. The problem is that these characters reject the straightforward truth, weave their own mystique around him, and then condemn him when their self-made vision crumbles. Querry's 'mistake' is to cling tenaciously to the truth; he chooses an adult solution in a world of children. Inevitably, when he has faced the final truth about himself, that he is cured, he dies at the end of Rycker's own version of a juvenile cops-and-robbers game.

Querry's cure is dependent on his recognition of truth, for it requires that he rediscover the reserves of goodness and meaning his life still holds. His physician and guide in the essential lesson of adulthood is the forthright Dr. Colin, modeled after Docteur Michel Lechat of the Yonda leper colony, to whom Greene dedicated the book. The doctor's fervent affirmation of life and truth clearly marks him as adult. A pure scientist, he searches for empirical truth. He pores over his secular Bible, the 'Atlas of Leprosy,' dreams of living 'to see leprosy in retreat,' and rages against the unnecessary suffering of a disease science should be able to prevent. He takes on Querry as one of his patients and insists that, for a man without feeling, the only hope for life lies in sharing others' pain: 'A man can't live with nothing but himself…. Sooner or later he would kill himself.' Ironically, in Greene's hands Colin's cure of Querry is inextricably bound to his death. He takes his first step out of his solitary world when he agrees to drive to Luc for the doctor's new equipment; there he meets the Ryckers, and Marie later allows that she at once fell in love with him (228). Likewise, he undertakes his last visit to the city, the trip on which Marie accompanies him, in order to return with medicines and supplies. Colin cures Querry by teaching him the truth that one cannot live like a burnt-out leper, feeling and caring for nothing, in the adult world. Rather, one must reach out to the other, and the pain of the embrace, even when it means death, is the surest sign of life.

A second adult character who collaborates in Querry's cure is the unnamed Superior of the leper colony. Naive in the ways of the world, he mistakes bidets for footbaths, but he possesses real insight into matters of the soul. His world is that of religious truth, not the heady, theological doctrine that gratifies Rycker, but the lived truth that enables him to preach to the lepers on the real 'Klistian' love. For him the divine truth is that everyone is redeemed, and this truth sets him free to offer friendship to the atheist Colin, support to the doubt-torn Thomas, and encouragement to the searching Querry. With him Querry discusses not faith but maturity. He describes the child-like dreams of Pendélé that captivate him and listens reflectively when the father counters, 'People have to grow up. We are called to more complicated things than that.' His wisdom is missed most keenly at the moment of crisis, when all the 'complicated things' in the lies of Marie and Rycker and Parkinson converge, and even the self-important Father Thomas exclaims. 'How I wish the Superior were here.' When he returns, the truth that he sees is bigger than all their lies, and he refuses to judge or condemn. Like Colin, his secular counterpart, he has outgrown the childish urge to divide the world into 'good guys' and 'bad guys,' saints and sinners, and he can live with the ambiguity of the adult world.

The complex adult world that Greene's characters occupy requires thoughtful analysis on the part of his audience. In 'Graham Greene's Rhetoric,' Gransden suggests that readers can best understand Greene's tone and structure by looking carefully at his style, particularly his use of catalogue and simile. What Gransden says of these tropes could well be extended to metaphor by virtue of its close association with simile:

These two figures occur so often in Greene that they go beyond mere mannerism. They do much to control and formalise his realism, and indeed in a sense to undermine it, for they show that a world whose surface is intensely realistic moves uneasily beneath the surface into fractured and divided images which reflect profound psychological, moral and social tensions.

By extension, Gransden's essay, although limited to Greene's earlier novels, suggests a model for A Burnt-out Case as well, especially for the allegory of the jeweller which the story contains. In the light of his interpretation, this bedtime fable assumes rhetorical as well as dramatic importance. While many critics analyze the piece as a confession of Greene's own disillusionment or a commentary on the tension between faith and despair, it is just as much an extended metaphor of childhood and adulthood. The jeweller grows from a trusting boy to a disenchanted adult, one who attempts, as does Querry, to fight the myths that have grown around him. He loses his belief in people not because they ridicule his art but because they falsely overrate it. He loses his belief in the King not because of intellectual arguments but because the vision of him which he learned in childhood, the promise of blissful reward or painful punishment, proves false in light of adult reality.

Once the jeweller, himself a thinly-masked metaphor for Querry, has 'discovered that there was no such king' and he has reached 'the end of his vocation,' Querry returns from storyline back to fictive reality, but the larger metaphor is still operative. In response to the story's inconclusive ending. Marie asks, 'So then?'; Querry replies, 'I told you, didn't I, that it's just as difficult to leave a profession as to leave a husband,' and follows with a catalogue of all the difficulties she would face in attempting to break away from Rycker. She is right, he tells her at the beginning of the fable, to believe that both of them are 'much too old for fairy-stories,' and he is wrong to believe in the false sense of child-like trust that a bedtime story can engender in teller as well as listener. As Marie sleeps he too succumbs to childish fantasy and in the coolness of dawn reflects that '[p]erhaps he had found here a country and a life.' In Greene's metaphor of childhood, however, such peace can only be deceptive. The truths about life and love and faith which the fable contains are no match for the wiles of the 'child' who falls asleep deriding her husband and giggling, 'I could almost say to him, couldn't I, that we'd spent the night together.'

The story of the jeweller, like the broader story of Querry's life in A Burnt-Out Case, is a fable in which the adult must come to recognize the deceptions of childhood and grow past the resulting disappointment. Appropriately, then, Greene reserves what A. A. DeVitis terms 'the final, choric commentary on the story's action' to the doctor, who, with the Superior, best represents mature truth. Their very adulthood, in Greene's logic, guarantees their honesty, and so their words can be trusted. They first tell the truth about Querry, the doctor pronouncing that 'he had been cured' and the priest avowing that he had found for his life 'a happy ending.' Even more, since they are adults, they reveal the truths of their own lives. The Superior quotes Pascal in his belief that the 'man who starts looking for God,' like the one who has looked for love, 'has already found him'; Colin returns to his dispensary to meet yet another victim of leprosy and insist, 'I can promise you that there will be no mutilations.' Both will continue to search out the painful truths that hide like leprosy below the surface of life, for they know that only if they do so can they help anyone grow to adulthood.

Greene, too, has been true to his purpose in this final scene. The two adults, metaphors for truth, together examine Colin's latest patient, a child of three. Both recognize the symptoms of incipient leprosy in the boy, whose outward appearance gives a deceptive impression of health. On a literal level, this child carries the potential for death, just as the novel's figurative children have been instruments of death. Hope remains, however. In the scientific truth that the doctor seeks, in the religious truth that the priest pursues, lies the promise of life. And in the metaphorical truth that the author presents, the reader who probes beneath the surface will find Greene's authentic message of life.

Elliott Malamet (essay date Summer 1994)

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SOURCE: "The Uses of Delay in The Power and the Glory," in Renascence: Essays on Value in Literature, Vol. 46, No. 4, Summer, 1994, pp. 211-23.

[In the following essay, Malamet examines the narrative function and symbolic significance of delay, hesitation, and suspense in The Power and the Glory.]

Just past the midpoint of The Power and the Glory, as the whisky priest is being led to jail, Graham Greene reiterates the feelings of resignation and fear that have hitherto haunted him: "He knew it was the beginning of the end—after all these years…. When would they discover who he really was? When would he meet the half-caste, or the lieutenant who had interrogated him already?" As in a number of Greene's preceding works, such as A Gun for Sale and Brighton Rock, a sense of inevitability hangs over the main pursuit of the novel; the priest broods over the fact that he must eventually be hunted down. In an earlier passage, he nervously awaits in his home village the arrival of the lieutenant and his men: "Was this the end at last, he wondered?… If they were so careful, they must know beyond the shadow of doubt that he was here. It was the end." Yet on both occasions his anxiety is premature; the lieutenant fails to recognize him although they face each other. We are repeatedly invited to share the priest's point of view that there is no way out. The first time he is arrested, he thinks, "Everything now seemed irrevocable," and yet Greene heightens the suspense and then allows the priest to evade capture. After being released in the morning from the cell, the priest is prevented from going to wash with the other prisoners: "'We've got other plans for you,' the sergeant said." This vaguely threatening statement is followed by a trivial inquiry as to how the priest has slept in the night, which only furthers his anxiety about "how much longer all these preliminaries" will take. When he is subsequently recognized by the half-caste, who is also in the prison, it seems "as if God were deciding … finally." But the dichotomy between recognition and capture becomes ironically complete at this stage. The police have unknowingly arrested the man they have been seeking, but the lieutenant fails to identify him, while the half-caste recognizes but chooses not to implicate him.

The priest's musings about "preliminaries" and "God deciding" are, on one level, apt metaphors for the author's manipulation of the text. Greene's use of deferral bears clear links to typical devices of movement and suspension found in most mystery stories, where

that state of more or less pleasurable tension concerning an outcome, which we call suspense, depends on something not happening too fast. In other words, the detective story formula offers a remarkably clear example of the crucial narrative principle of "deliberately impeded form." ([Dennis] Porter)

But Greene's handling of the pursuit narrative is also marked by certain essential differences and resists narrow genre categorization. R. W. B. Lewis is correct in his surmise that by the time of Brighton Rock "the unsolvable mystery of the human condition … has become Greene's obsessive subject," and that a central weakness in the earlier novels is "rooted in a failure to disentangle the mystery of the mystery, to separate it out from the contingencies of melodrama and the staged surprises of the brain-twister," but his statement requires a fuller account. In what follows, I explore the purpose for which Greene employs such thriller devices as pursuit and delay in The Power and the Glory. Delay operates on many levels in the novel, from the text's hesitation in identifying the priest—including his own reticence to reveal himself—to the suspension of his capture. Ultimately, Greene alternates the hindrance of the lieutenant's goal of the priest's arrest with a different vision of deferral, one that can be seen within the religious context of a winding quest toward an unspecified, and never fully confirmed, future redemption.

The familiar materials of the thriller form are all present in The Power and the Glory: the pursued man, the threat of violence, the shadow of betrayal. From the motto taken from Dryden denoting the hunt to the use of delay to create suspense, the novel is suggestive of the techniques and narrative structure of a fast-paced crime story. But these elements are clearly wedded to a deeper purpose; for R. W. B. Lewis, The Power and the Glory, along with such books as Brighton Rock and The Heart of the Matter, is "a mystery story, in the popular sense, that functions ably as a trial run for a mystery drama in a more ancient theological sense." This thought is echoed by Grahame Smith, who points to the novel's structure "of an elemental pursuit; the simple outlines of this are obvious. But, as well as being the hunted, the whisky priest is also a hunter in quest of what is presumably life's most important object, its meaning. For him this can be found only within not just a religious, but a Catholic, context." The fabrication of suspense for its own sake is thus not Greene's final goal in this novel; as he asserts in a review of Livingstone's travel writings, "the plot of the novel catches the attention, but the subject lies deeper." With this quotation in mind, Gwenn Boardman wisely cautions against a simplistic reading of the text:

Too often, criticism of The Power and the Glory focuses on its pursuits by secular and divine "hounds" while missing the novel's deeper subject…. in The Power and the Glory, there is the "map" of the plot, an exciting and sometimes terrible narrative. There are also special marks—the allusions to Catholic teaching and the very title of the novel.

These "special marks"—the priest's journey to self-realization and the earthly restoration of the power and glory of God—constitute for Boardman the novel's essence.

But this assessment, while accurate, verges on establishing too rigid a dichotomy between form and content in the story, between the employment of pursuit and suspense and the depiction of the priest's development as a man of God. "The hunt," if rather limited as a strict plot device, is fertile as a metaphor; it is a means of gaining access to and understanding this deep subject. For Greene's fiction does not take the divine presence for granted; Tennyson's acquiescence that "I still believe, though I cannot see. And I have faith that God will be waiting for me when I have crossed the bar" ([J. Hillis] Miller) is accelerated by Greene into an active process of looking for grace in a world considered to be "a burning and abandoned ship" (The Power and the Glory). The notion of abandonment presumes an Abandoner, and pursuit in the novel is both an indispensable narrative tool and a symbol by which Greene evokes the sense of something missing, of an absence. That the police hunt is subsumed within the search for God is indicated by the priest's initial decision not to head north to safety, but to travel "in the actual track of the police … he wasn't ready yet for the final surrender … Jogging up and down on the mule he tried to bribe God with promises of firmness." In this sense Greene interestingly reverses the traditional detective novel sequence whereby a puzzle precipitates a search; in The Power and the Glory, it is the search for the priest, who is temporarily at large, that calls attention to the more mysterious gap between man and God.

The novel begins, appropriately enough, with the language of searching: "Mr Tench went out to look for his ether cylinder, into the blazing Mexico sun and the bleaching dust. A few vultures looked down from the roof with shabby indifference: he wasn't carrion yet." The image of the vultures occurs throughout the first chapter, an overt symbol for the machinery of the state that converges on the lone priest, and it also embodies the designation of the Church as a parasitical entity feeding on the poor that composes the core of the lieutenant's plea to the priest's village neighbors: "You're fools if you still believe what the priests tell you. All they want is your money." The hunt for the priest is already underway at the outset and spans the entire length of the text, but Greene slowly reorients the meaning of the novel's chases. The priest's dream in the crowded jail cell distinguishes between genuine and illusory pursuits:

His eyes closed and immediately he began to dream. He was being pursued; he stood outside a door banging on it, begging for admission, but nobody answered—there was a word, a password, which would save him, but he had forgotten it…. His feet had gone to sleep and he knelt outside the door. Then he knew why he wanted to get in: he wasn't being pursued at all: that was a mistake. His child lay beside him bleeding to death and this was a doctor's house. He banged on the door and shouted. "Even if I can't think of the right word, haven't you a heart?"

The underlying direction of the priest's experience is the attempt to "see the doctor"; he must bang on the door and find the "right word" that leads to God. One of the main objects of the novel's deferrals and postponements, therefore, is to allow the priest to forge a more profound bond with his faith. Delay works as a thriller technique but it also contains Christian significance, as Patricia A. Parker writes:

The time between First and Second Coming is itself a respite or "dilation," an interval in which the eschatological Judgment is held over or deferred, a period of uncertain duration when the "end" already accomplished in the Advent is, paradoxically, not yet come…. The deferral of the promised end is, in the phrase of Alanus de Insulis, the "dilatio patriae," the delay of the coming of the Sabbath which is the extended interval of time itself.

The Power and the Glory is ironically structured around the various "comings" of the lieutenant; his failure to perceive the priest the first two times they meet necessitates a delay in judgment and the priest's predetermined end is thus briefly stayed. Greene's incorporation of deferral as a thematic component in the novel's Christian content is also exemplified by the priest's sermon to the peasants about heaven:

We deny ourselves so that we can enjoy. You have heard of rich men in the north who eat salted foods, so that they can be thirsty—for what they call the cocktail. Before the marriage, too, there is the long betrothal … the beating you always get from the jefe because you are too poor to pay, smallpox and fever, hunger … that is all part of heaven—the preparation. Perhaps without them, who can tell, you wouldn't enjoy heaven so much.

Here life resembles a dilatory quest that culminates in heavenly fulfillment, but this tribute to what lies ahead is subverted by the insistent and immediate pursuit of the lieutenant close at hand:

It was not easy to concentrate: the police were not far away…. A voice whispered urgently to him, "Father."


"The police are on the way. They are only a mile off, coming through the forest."

The juxtaposition of a speech that promises something that can only be fully tasted in the future, and a Mass which can brook no delay—"Were they on horseback or on foot? If they were on foot, he had twenty minutes left to finish Mass and hide"—sharply denotes the novel's tension between movement and suspension.

The plot of a thriller is consumed by its forward motion, by the spectre of the chase and capture that is always ahead, but the classic detective story, as Dennis Porter notes, "is a genre committed to an act of recovery, moving forward in order to move back." In The Power and the Glory, the priest is the focal point for these two competing narrative patterns. One is the prospective view: what is likely to happen next given the unfolding action? The other, the retrospective impulse, continually refashions meanings of the past as plot developments lead to a new understanding of prior events. This is what Robert Coover refers to as

a tension in narrative, as in life, between the sensation of time as a linear experience, one thing following sequentially (causally or not) upon another, and time as a patterning of interrelated experiences reflected upon as though it had a geography and could be mapped. It is, in a sense, the tension between future time, which, with its promise of death and its intransigent sequence of days and nights, bears down upon us remorselessly, and time past, which if it can be said to exist at all, exists only in cranial space, in that sprawling, multilevel and often chaotic house of our memory.

This duality infuses The Power and the Glory. Even as his doomed fate chases and passes by the priest several times before finally ensnaring him, the novel's pattern of delay grants him several opportunities to uncover and reexamine memories of complacency and greed in his past: "somewhere they accumulated in secret—the rubble of his failures." While the lieutenant, at least on the surface, is content with simply finding and executing his man, the priest, in being forced to flee, gains a sharpened perception of his previous behavior—"the fat youngish priest who stood with one plump hand splayed authoritatively out while the tongue played pleasantly with the word 'Governor'"—and deepens his sympathy for others.

There are few clues to the priest's past life; one is a scrap of paper left over from a dinner given at Concepión in his honor that he carries with him "as a charm," a reminder of a time when he had envisioned that "a whole serene life lay ahead—he had ambition. But in the night spent with the mestizo, his ambitions come back to him as "something faintly comic." His life as a fugitive has brought with it the gradual surrender of the signs and objects of the priesthood:

feast days and fast days and days of abstinence had been the first to go: then he had ceased to trouble more than occasionally about his breviary—and finally he had left it behind altogether at the port in one of his periodic attempts at escape. Then the altar stone went—too dangerous to carry with him.

But the loss of his chalice or the breviary—the signs of his vocation—does not displace the priest's hermeneutic frame of reference; he interprets humanity itself as a series of traces of divine presence: "God was the parent, but He was also the policeman, the criminal, the priest, the maniac and the judge. Something resembling God dangled from the gibbet or went into odd attitudes before the bullets in a prison yard or contorted itself like a camel in the attitude of sex." The novel expresses the difficulty in experiencing God's connection with man, as the Indian woman's futile prayer for her child indicates: "Did she expect a miracle? and if she did, why should it not be granted her, the priest wondered?… The priest found himself watching the child for some movement. When none came, it was as if God had missed an opportunity." But the priest never questions the truth of presence and takes as his underlying assumption that God, while transcendent, is surely an everpresent reality; after he is let out of prison, he notes, "God had decided." This is what Thomas J. J. Altizer speaks of as the "clear and radical distinction between an unknowability which is the consequence of the presence of a transcendent or mysterious identity and an unknowability which is the consequence of the absence of all identity as such." Thus the priest also looks to the unfolding of events as a symbol of divine intention; before he is let out of jail, he strikes

yet another bargain with God. This time, if he escaped from the prison, he would escape altogether. He would go north over the border. His escape was so improbable that, if it happened, it couldn't be anything else but a sign—an indication that he was doing more harm by his example than good by his occasional confessions.

The text initially concentrates on the police search, but the priest's blurred photograph on the police-station wall symbolizes the difficulty the police have in identifying him. The Chief of Police notes that the priest "can pass as a gringo," and the drive to hunt down the priest is carefully thwarted by Greene through many devices, including the blurring of identity. The lieutenant admits that the priest "looks like all the rest," a situation that proves frustrating: "If only, he thought, we had a proper photograph—he wanted to know the features of his enemy." Even the mother of his child has difficulty in spotting him when they reunite after a six-year absence:

"Ah, Maria," he said, "and how are you?"

"Well," she exclaimed, "is it you, father?"

He didn't look directly at her: His eyes were sly and cautious. He said, "You didn't recognize me?"

"You've changed." She looked him up and down with a kind of contempt.

While the police are facing difficulties in their forages at capture, the priest is coming to terms with an identity that he initially tries to leave fuzzy, like the hard-to-decipher photograph. At first, the priest embraces anonymity. Like a shadowy criminal in this watchful universe of Tabasco, he must be guarded in his initial conversation with Mr Tench:

The stranger said, "I was expecting to see someone. The name was Lopez."

"Oh, they shot him weeks ago," Mr Tench said.


"You know how it is round here. Friend of yours?"

"No, no," the man protested hurriedly. "Just a friend of a friend."

The technique of introducing the priest as an unidentified presence is repeated often in the novel. Several times he is described as "the stranger," and when he re-enters the town of the opening chapter he is simply depicted as the "man in the … drill suit." Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan points out what she views as the thematic function that this hiddenness serves: "[in Part I] we recognize the protagonist as a priest only by the circumstances which surround him and not by any essential, identifiable quality in himself…. The author seems to tell us in this way that the man is not yet worthy of his role as a priest, a father of his people." But even after he is designated "a priest," he is still forced to adopt various disguises. Pressed for a name by the lieutenant in the village confrontation, he uses that of Montez, the man who has been shot earlier in Concepción as part of the lieutenant's hostage-taking plan. And his conversation with the mestizo is couched in denials:

"Won't you say a prayer, father, before we sleep?"

"Why do you call me that?" he asked sharply, peering across the shadowy floor to where the half-caste sat against the door.

"You are a father, aren't you?"

"I have a child," the priest said, "if that's what you mean."

Finally, however, the priest relents to the mestizo's incessant probing:

A voice said, "You are the priest, aren't you?"

"Yes." It was as if they had climbed out of their opposing trenches and met in No Man's Land among the wires to fraternise.

The priest's shifting guises indicate not only how he is seen by others but also mark his faltering progress toward self-recognition and connection with God. One of the central ironies of the novel is that the priest eludes capture often, and yet at the same time he betrays his identity repeatedly through the compassionate embodiment of his calling. The mestizo, noting the priest's refusal to beat his mule, comments, "You talk like a priest," a phrase that is repeated word for word by a murderer in the prison cell in response to the priest's gentle admonition that "It's a terrible thing to kill a man." The Power and the Glory traces the growth of the priest's self-scrutiny and draws a parallel between this and his deepening understanding of God and the subsequent desire, in the prison, to drop his various masks and be seen for what he is. Greene reflects this picture of the intertwined reality of man's relation to himself and his communion with God in the description of the vandalized cemetery in Carmen:

One image of the Mother of God had lost ears and arms and stood like a pagan Venus over the grave of some rich forgotten timber merchant. It was odd—this fury to deface, because, of course, you could never deface enough. If God had been like a toad, you could have rid the globe of toads, but when God was like yourself, it was no good being content with stone figures—you had to kill yourself among the graves.

Just as ridding oneself of God here is said to require self-destruction, then to seek for and find God entails the search for oneself.

The pattern of the priest's initial hesitation but ultimate admission of his vocation is most powerfully expressed in the prison, where he is touched by "a sense of companionship which he had never experienced in the old days when pious people came kissing his black cotton glove." His encounter with the pious woman juxtaposes his past reactions to such meetings with a new awareness: "He was more out of touch with her kind than he had ever been; he would have known what to say to her in the old days, feeling no pity at all, speaking with half a mind a platitude or two." His feelings of helplessness form the beginnings of a true integrity; he is unwilling and unable to substitute the easy rhetoric of the past for the genuine difficulty of present communication. His self-revelation to the prisoners is preceded by Greene's reminder that the priest has a secret life. An old man in the cell relates that he has an illegitimate daughter, which he does not realize reaches deep into the heart of his listener. This poignant irony, combined with the subsequent story, approvingly told by the pious woman, of priests who took away the man's child, prompts the priest to break the shield of anonymity and bare his identity: "He said after a moment's hesitation, very distinctly, 'I am a priest.'"

The parallel structure of police pursuit and the priest's growing wish to make himself known continues to be purposefully interlinked. The priest remains invisible to his police pursuers; they still cannot identify him despite the fact that on his photograph someone has "put a ring round his face to pick it out." The photograph records something that has since altered; formerly, his was "a buffoon's face, good enough for mild jokes to women, but unsuitable at the altar-rail. He had tried to change it—and indeed, he thought, indeed I have succeeded, they'll never recognize me now…." Though Greene asserts that "the priest, for all his recollections of periods in his life when he was different, never changed" ([Marie-Francoise] Allain), the priest attributes his undetectability in the eyes of the law to a new internal reality:

The priest stood not far from his own portrait on the wall and waited. Once he glanced quickly and nervously up at the old crumpled newspaper cutting and thought, It's not very like me now. What an unbearable creature he must have been in those days…. Then, in his innocence, he had felt no love for anyone; now in his corruption he had learnt …

The termination of the hunt, it becomes clear, is contingent on the priest's final "return." Part III of The Power and the Glory describes the priest's brief, tranquil stay with the Lehrs, but the visit is intended as a kind of temporary interlude, an illusion of peace. Lured away by the mestizo to attend to the dying American gangster, Calver, the priest quickly forgets the Lehrs: "the other world had stretched a hand across the border, and he was again in the atmosphere of flight." The story is fashioned so that we accept the reality of flight and the priest's eventual capture as the unavoidable conditions of the text. After the priest leaves the Lehrs' comfortable haven (thereby confirming his ultimate commitment to divine service), the strands of the narrative converge methodically. The priest himself announces that the suspension of the story will no longer be necessary: "'Now,' the priest said briskly, 'we won't delay any more,' and he started down the path, with a small sack slung over his shoulder." But this statement, which seems perfectly supported by the subsequent hastening of plot developments—the priest's capture and execution—is still undermined by Greene in the remainder of the story. For delay continues to plague the narrative; even the self-assured and end-oriented lieutenant, who is "in a hurry to get home," is befuddled and thrown into doubt by what he perceives as the confusing, duplicitous course of the priest's arguments: "You never talk straight. You say one thing to me—but to another man, or a woman, you say, 'God is love.'" The ending is further delayed by the lieutenant's assent to the priest's wish for a confessor; Padre José's hesitation, and the argument with his wife over the matter, conflicts with the lieutenant's desperate desire to progress to an ending:

"Perhaps, my dear," José said, "it's my duty …"

"You aren't a priest any more," the woman said, "you're my husband." She used a coarse word.

"That's your duty now."

The lieutenant … said, "I can't wait here while you argue. Are you going to come with me?"

If the fear of nonresolution haunts the lieutenant—"You have such odd ideas … Sometimes I feel you're just trying to talk me round," he tells the priest—then the hollow ring of closure seems to deflate his former zeal for the hunt: "He looked back on the weeks of hunting as a happy time which was over now for ever. He felt without a purpose, as if life had drained out of the world."

As the novel works its way to a close, Greene inserts a "fictional" analogue to the real story of the plot, with the tale of a saint that Luis' mother reads him:

"Reaching the wall, Juan turned and began to pray—not for himself, but for his enemies…. He raised the crucifix at the end of his beads and prayed that God would forgive them …"

"Had they loaded?" the boy asked.

"What do you mean—'had they loaded'?"

"Why didn't they fire and stop him?"

"Because God decided otherwise."

The reverent fictional treatment of the death of the priest is parodic in its simplicity, but the parallel runs deeper than this, for the mother's narrative is also delayed in comic fashion:

"Now the moment had come, the officer gave the order to fire, and—" She had been reading too fast because it was past the little girls' bedtime and now she was thwarted by a fit of hiccups. "Fire," she repeated, "and …"

The two little girls sat placidly side by side—they looked nearly asleep—this was the part of the book they never cared much about …

"Fire," the mother tried again …

Finally the mother blurts out the remaining narrative and quickly ushers a close to the bedtime story: "'And now,' the mother went rapidly on, clapping her hands, 'to bed.'" Like a microcosm of the detective action of the novel, the woman's recitation of pious stories to her children features a delayed ending until, in the last chapter, the man of God is shot.

Almost all fiction operates on some principle of delay or suspension, but the use of peripeteia—especially in the ordinary detective story—is absorbed by the reader in a spirit of confident anticipation of an ending to the text which will establish order and grant explanatory meaning to the preceding narrative. This is what Frank Kermode refers to in The Sense of an Ending as a "disconfirmation followed by a consonance; the interest of having our expectations falsified is obviously related to our wish to reach the discovery or recognition by an unexpected and instructive route. It has nothing whatever to do with any reluctance on our part to get there at all." Greene's suspensions, his twists in the narrative path, are not absorbed or given full relief by the ending of his novels, but it is not just that his books contain "open" endings characteristic of many modernist works which refuse to seal the illusion of a fully rounded life that is now poised and ready for evaluation ([Marianna] Torgovnick). Critical interest in Greene often focuses on what follows the last page; speculations abound in the reader's mind as to the status of Pinkie, or the whisky priest, or Scobie. What is their post-narrative fate? ([Albert] Sonnenfeld). The Lehrs' Bible contains explicit directions for theological problem solving:

If you are in trouble read Psalm 34.
If trade is poor Psalm 37….
If you desire peaceful slumbers Psalm 121.

But the priest's astonishment at these "over-simple explanations" perhaps reflects Greene's own sense of wonder about the metaphysical realm.

The Power and the Glory ends with the ultimate repudiation of the lieutenant's pursuit, and of the teleological drive of the thriller, with the resurrection of the priesthood:

"If you would let me come in," the man said with an odd frightened smile, and suddenly lowering his voice he said to the boy, "I am a priest."

"You?" the boy exclaimed.

"Yes," he said gently. "My name is Father—" But the boy had already swung the door open and put his lips to his hand before the other could give himself a name.

Thus the text's "speechless" conclusion is particularly skillful in its conflation of a realistic narrative requirement—the obscuring of clerical identity is vital in an atmosphere of persecution—with a deeper metaphor which is at work here, the silence of ineffable mystery.


Greene, Graham (Vol. 1)


Greene, Graham (Vol. 14)