Joe Lampton, an ambitious twenty-five-year-old accountant who takes a job in the municipal treasury of the City of Warley, in the northern English county of Yorkshire. The physical move from his hometown to Warley allows Joe to make a social move away from his working-class background. He tries to dress in a middle-class manner, and through the Warley Thespians, a theater group that he joins when he gets there, he learns more middle-class ways. He also faces a moral dilemma. Determined to get the best for himself, Joe is cold-blooded and calculating in his will to rise. For example, he used his time in a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II to study accounting instead of planning heroic or patriotic deeds. The will to rise collides with his personal relationships. He meets two women at the Warley Thespians, Alice Aisgill and Susan Brown. He is attracted to Alice, and they have a passionate affair, but marriage with Susan, the daughter of Warley’s most powerful industrialist, would further his career. Joe chooses Susan, and Alice commits suicide. Joe knows that he is responsible for Alice’s death, but no one else blames him and he accepts marriage with Susan.
Alice Aisgill, the thirty-four-year-old wife of a local businessman. She is unhappy and frustrated. She had given up an acting career in provincial repertory theater for marriage to a man who proved to be interested only in business. As an outlet for her frustration, she gets involved in the...
(The entire section is 629 words.)