Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 569
Like several earlier novels by Morley Callaghan, particularly the important 1930’s works Such Is My Beloved (1934), They Shall Inherit the Earth (1935), and More Joy in Heaven (1937), The Loved and the Lost is both a realistic depiction of modern man’s quest for the self in the physical world and a symbolic study of the metaphysical conflict between the spiritual and the sensual.
At the center of this conflict in The Loved and the Lost is the protagonist, Jim McAlpine, a former professor of history, disillusioned with his profession and seeking more practical success in journalism. His first break in this direction, and the event that sets the action of the novel in motion, comes when Joseph Carver, the wealthy publisher of the Montreal Sun, sees an article by McAlpine in The Atlantic Monthly entitled “The Independent Man,” a title whose irony the rest of the novel will make clear. The central object around which McAlpine’s search for independence and his spiritual and sensual conflict revolve is Peggy Sanderson, an ostensibly innocent and unassuming young woman whom he meets when he moves to Montreal to try for a job as a columnist on Carver’s newspaper. Completing the important plot triangle in the novel is Catherine Carver, the rich publisher’s divorced daughter. Whereas Catherine draws McAlpine toward the social success he thinks he wants, Peggy impresses him with her lack of concern for worldly success.
The structure of the novel derives from McAlpine’s attempt to come to terms with his desire for Peggy—a desire which obsesses him in spite of her own obsession with blacks, especially with black men. Whereas the men at the newspaper—Milton Rogers, Claude Gagnon, and Walter Malone—interpret Peggy’s love for black men in the most stereotyped and sexual way, McAlpine himself is not sure. Whether Peggy is an innocent whose love reflects essential Christian charity or is merely a sensualist is the question that plagues McAlpine and the reader as well. While McAlpine pursues Peggy, even as she pursues black culture by her regular attendance at black nightclubs and her friendship with various black men, Carver holds him in limbo by not immediately fulfilling his promise to hire McAlpine as a columnist on the Sun.
Although McAlpine vacillates between the values represented by Carver and his daughter and the independence represented by Peggy, he does finally commit himself enough to know that it is Peggy he wants—that is, if she is willing to leave her black friends and come away with him. The conflict comes to a climax in the last few chapters of the novel when, after a brawl in a nightclub started by Walter Malone’s crude attempt to pick up Peggy, Peggy finally seems to admit the truth of what McAlpine has been telling her: that her obsession with blacks is dangerous and that she should come with him. Exactly at the point when Peggy is ready to yield to McAlpine sexually and emotionally, however, he decides that such is not the appropriate moment, that he would be exploiting her; thus, he leaves her to go back to his own hotel. The next morning, he returns to find that she has been raped and murdered. The novel ends with a dazed and lost McAlpine wandering about in search of a symbolic image of Peggy’s spirituality, knowing that he will keep her with him forever.
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