Themes and Meanings
It is hard to say what meaning is supposed to be derived from Cecil’s frenetic behavior. His grief over Simon is understandable, but does it, by itself, justify his actions—especially his callous treatment of Esther?
It is difficult to admire Cecil in the novel’s introduction to him, as he couples meaninglessly with a stranger while Esther toils in the basement. He emerges no more sympathetically during his extended moratorium from life’s demands. His activities in Europe have no substance. The two expatriates with whom he temporarily takes up bring out nothing in him. Webb, the man looking for his son, becomes a useful guide to the art treasures of The Prado but does not prompt Cecil to assert himself in any way that reveals substantial character traits. Hieronymous Bosch’s paintings open up to Cecil the grim, lurking horror of human existence, but no defiant gesture against evil ensues. Whatever moral credit accrues from a fleeting aesthetic shiver is certainly too slight to build a sympathetic character.
The overwhelming impression left by Cecil’s three-year absence is of an abandonment to debauchery. He may be anguishing over Simon or struggling with unresolved identity crises, but his actions suggest little more than self-pity. When he finally decides to return home to Esther, the stage is set for a happy ending, but that ending has already been undercut in the novel’s opening pages in the scene with S. Sherman. Apparently...
(The entire section is 476 words.)