Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The central themes of the novel are religious in nature. Characters who were enslaved are freed; those who were lost are found. These themes operate both on literal and on symbolic levels.

Freddy Hamilton, for example, is enslaved by his mother. Pretending to himself that his debonair, uncommitted existence is a sign of freedom, actually he lives from letter to letter. When he tears up his letters to his mother, her companion, and her doctor and embarks on his adventures, he has freed himself to be a human being, to take the initiative in life, rather than merely attempting to ingratiate himself with others. When he rescues Barbara from the convent, Freddy is releasing both himself and her from the prison of rules and customs—from his careful diplomacy, from her careful Catholicism.

The symbolic pattern of finding the lost also operates throughout the novel. The fact that Freddy has lost two days from his life is as significant as the other central mystery of the plot, the fact that Barbara has been lost in Jordan, having already lost her way to Harry. By the end of the novel, Freddy has found his memory, and Barbara has returned to Israel. Freddy and Barbara have also found their own identities, however, as well as a new power to act: Freddy in his mother’s murder, Barbara in her marriage.