Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 537

The major themes of The Green Man are death and religious belief. At the start of the novel, Allington has no belief at all in any kind of personal immortality a feeling made more painful by the death of his father. His slowly growing conviction that Underhill is still there, still affecting events from beyond the grave, however, forces him to think again; if he is wrong in believing that there is no life after death, perhaps he is wrong also in his connected belief that there is no God. The thematic center of The Green Man is, accordingly, Allington’s interview with the “young man” who appears to be God.

This interview takes place just before the novel’s narrative climax (when Underhill tries to kill Amy). It ought, in a way, to be a turning point: Before it, Allington has failed at virtually everything, from conducting his orgy with Joyce and Diana to persuading people of his sanity. After it, he possesses a crucifix-talisman which even checks Underhill for a moment, and he should have the satisfaction of knowing that he has been recruited by a higher power to carry out a specific task. Nevertheless, the incident is anything but reassuring. To begin with, the “young man” fits conventional notions of God rather badly. He is very powerful but not omnipotent; otherwise, he would be able to destroy Underhill himself. As it is, he is restrained by his own concept of “rules,” one of which is avoiding personal involvement. Furthermore, the “young man” clearly does not want worship; indeed, the reason he wants Underhill destroyed is that the existence of ghosts might start people believing once more: He regards Underhill as a “security risk.” Amis’ “God” is in fact playing a complex game with people and is anxious only that it should be played fairly. From time to time, he comes down, as it were, to stand among his own chess pieces, either as Christ, or it may be as Satan. Yet he seems at best morally neutral, certainly not benevolent, marked in his interview with Allington above all by curiosity, faint annoyance, and perceptible hints of cruelty. The “young man,” in short, is very like both Allington and Underhill—a manipulator, but raised to a very much higher power.

This eerie picture dominates the world view of The Green Man. In this novel, many things are faced which are omitted from supposedly more realistic novels: fear of death, fear of age, fear of pointlessness, regret over one’s lasting inability to take back mistakes. None of these is removed by the interview with “God.” In the world the “young man” has created, all the fears above are intrinsic, sensible, and not to be removed by religious belief. The one assurance given to Allington—that there will be a life after death—seems to be no reassurance at all, given the chilling personality of the Creator with whom he must expect to be reunited. It is difficult to tell how seriously Amis intends all this, outside the artificial confines of a “ghost story.” Yet the view of life which Amis offers, via Allington, is at least recognizable to everyone who has started to grow old.

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