Characters Discussed

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Lily Gates

Lily Gates, a woman in her twenties who takes care of three working-class men. Attractive, blonde, and bright, Lily wants desperately to break out of the boredom of her daily domestic chores. A romantic by nature who lost her mother as a child, she makes the most of...

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Lily Gates

Lily Gates, a woman in her twenties who takes care of three working-class men. Attractive, blonde, and bright, Lily wants desperately to break out of the boredom of her daily domestic chores. A romantic by nature who lost her mother as a child, she makes the most of her banal life. She falls in love with the romantic Bert Jones and elopes with him to Liverpool, where, unable to find his parents, he abandons her on the street. She returns home full of guilt and takes up her domestic duties as before. She resigns herself to living without love in Birmingham.

Joe Gates

Joe Gates, the father of Lily and a worker in the Dupret Foundry, a cynical, manipulative, selfish man in his sixties who tries to avoid work. He lives in the household of Mr. Craigan, his best friend, with his daughter and Mr. Dale. To advance himself at work, he befriends the notorious informer, Mr. Tupe, and spends drunken evenings with him. He threatens to blackmail his closest friend, Mr. Craigan, loses his job, and spends his remaining years in an alcoholic haze.

Mr. Craigan

Mr. Craigan, the head of the household and a master moulder at the foundry. He is in his mid-sixties and is a confirmed bachelor. Although he is not a relative, Lily Gates calls him Grandad. He provides a home for Lily, Joe Gates, and the young Mr. Dale. He uses his control benignly and is terrified of being abandoned by everyone in his old age even though he has put money away for his retirement years. He spends his nonworking hours listening to classical music and rereading the novels of Charles Dickens. Although he is highly respected at work by everyone, he is retired early because of his age.

Jim Dale

Jim Dale, an extremely attractive man in his twenties who works at the foundry. He is in love with Lily but is unable to articulate his feelings, though he regularly accompanies her to the cinema. He moves out when Lily elopes with Bert Jones, because the house would be unbearable without her.

Bert Jones

Bert Jones, a foundry worker in his mid-twenties. He falls in love with Lily Gates and promises to take her to Canada or Australia when he secures the funds from his parents. Impetuously, he elopes with Lily to Liverpool; however, after failing to locate his wandering family, he abandons her on the street and disappears forever.

Mr. Dupret

Mr. Dupret, the owner of the foundry, a man in his mid-sixties. He is an arrogant, stubborn, and contrary man who goes out of his way to punish anyone who tries to usurp his power. He refuses to change any of his costly operating procedures. He is habitually unfaithful to his wife and condescending toward his son, but loyal to the older employees. He dies toward the end of the novel.

Richard Dupret

Richard Dupret, the naïve and awkward son of the owner of the company. Unable to get his father to take him seriously, he desperately wants to assert his authority. He succeeds in firing some of the less productive employees in the company after his father’s death.

Mr. Bridges

Mr. Bridges, the manager of the foundry, in his mid-sixties. A company man, he harshly enforces the disciplinary rules. Neurotically insecure, he indulges in complex power struggles with other bureaucrats and is deeply disturbed by anyone not following the chain of command. He loses his job because he is too old and cannot relinquish his antiquated managerial practices.

Mr. Tarver

Mr. Tarver, an engineer in his thirties. Seeing the waste in the foundry and the injustice done to the employees by the elder Mr. Dupret and Mr. Bridges, he attempts to correct the situation. Ambitious and somewhat manipulative, he succeeds in impressing Richard Dupret with his modernistic views on improving production.

Mr. Tupe

Mr. Tupe, a common laborer at the foundry, in his sixties. An informer, he tells the management everything that the workers are doing. A betrayer of his friends, he loses his job because of his age and spends his retirement begging for drinking money.

The Characters

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One of Green’s primary achievements as a modern novelist is his success in creating characters almost solely through dialogue. When the characters of Living are not talking to one another about everyday woes and ambitions, they are engaging in habitual or minor actions which do little to distinguish them from the background of anonymity that is established at the beginning of the novel:Bridesley, Birmingham. Two o’clock. Thousands came back from dinner along the streets.   “What we want is go, push,” said the works manager to son of Mr. Dupret. “What I say to them is let’s get on with it, let’s get the stuff out.”   Thousands came back to factories they worked in from their dinners.   “I’m always at them but they know me. They know I’m a father and a mother to them. If they’re in trouble they’ve but to come to me. And they turn out beautiful work, beautiful work. I’d do anything for ’em and they know it.”   Noise of lathes working began again in this factory. Hundreds went along road outside, men and girls. Some turned in to Dupret factory.

The manager’s falsely paternalistic speech is composed almost entirely of hollow cliches which fail to mask the drudgery and ordinariness of the workers’ lives. Against this gray backdrop “character” rarely emerges; the speech patterns and actions of the novel’s principals, related through the deadpan, noncommittal voice of Green’s narrator, become ritualistic and routine gestures only occasionally interrupted by a colorful flight of birds or an abrupt action such as Lily’s departure for Liverpool with Jones. Even Richard Dupret, whose money and education should, according to the aristocratic philosophy, distinguish him from the crowd, can only speak in conventional phrases or not at all when convention fails him in a complex emotional situation. In a sense, Living is a novel without character, faithfully portraying the nature of the quotidian for both rich and poor. If “character” exists in a Green novel, it can be perceived in those unusual moments when a character such as Lily notices a slight alteration in or sudden movement of something that has been there all along again, Green’s birds serve this purpose. They are signs of an “otherness” which subtends the assumed and false naturalness of everyday life and of ritualized being.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 49

Bassoff, Bruce. Toward Loving: The Poetics of the Novel and the Practice of Henry Green, 1975.

Mengham, Rod. The Idiom of the Time: The Writings of Henry Green, 1982.

North, Michael. Henry Green and the Writing of his Generation, 1984.

Odom, Keith. Henry Green, 1978.

Weatherhead, A. Kingsley. A Reading of Henry Green, 1961.

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