Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Repression and social fracture are the themes of The Murderer. The social setting for these themes is the middle class in Guyana. Although the existence of the middle class in Guyana is a modern phenomenon, the middle-class characters of the novel are premodern in the sense that their family relationships are tribal. Education and professional success may be important to these people, but more important are family ties and the institution of marriage on which they are based. As a class, these people tolerate (if barely) lasciviousness (Winston, for example, lives for a long time with his future wife, Jessie, before he marries her) and insist on marriage. As a member of this class, Galton suffers a malaise peculiar to it: Free to choose his destiny professionally and sexually, he is also free to subordinate others’ problems to his own.

In short, Galton is allowed not to help sustain the tribal aspect of his class. He is allowed to indulge in his repression to the extent that he disconnects himself from the needs and expectations of his community. His wedding reception is a farce, without feasting or dancing; his marriage is a mockery that ends in murder; and the generosity of Selwyn and Winston drives him to a tenement which is a kind of hell for the sick in body and spirit.

Galton’s mother stands at the heart of his repression. Because of her, he can neither withdraw completely from nor commit himself wholly to the society she (and by extension other women) represents. Because his priority is himself, and because his society or class has no power to overcome this priority, he has no way to solve his problem, no way to break out of his isolation.