Although the protagonist Arthur Seaton is the impelling force in this novel, Alan Sillitoe makes it quite clear that Arthur’s character is grown out of his working-class environment: All of his moral and social standards are the products of his milieu. With the exception of a two-year stint in the army, Arthur at twenty-one has worked in the bicycle factory five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, since he was fifteen. His broken down, alcoholic father works in the same “monster” factory, which swallows them because their work consists of “actions without thought.” While Arthur’s Saturday nights might seem to be evenings of escape from the “monotonous graft in the factory,” even these “holidays” are spent “within breathing distance of [the factory’s] monstrous being,” and Arthur proves himself to be an extension of this monster as he frequently drinks alcohol until he is set “into motion like a machine” and bursts into fights “as if he were a robot....” Indeed, the bicycle factory circumscribes Arthur’s entire existence, and he believes that his life is comparable to that of an animal’s in a jungle: “a good, comfortable life if you didn’t weaken....” Yet, despite the fact that he is controlled by his anger toward his generally mechanical existence, Arthur thinks of himself as essentially free of the world wherein men and machines are indistinguishable, and he implicitly believes that his affairs with Brenda and Winnie, two married women, serve as proof of his exceptional freedom, for such affairs are his exercised “right.”
Brenda’s husband Jack, like Winnie’s husband Bill, is “daft” for being married, according to Arthur, and even though he views Jack as a “good bloke,” in “such a cruel world” as theirs a man should feed his various appetites whenever he can, loyalty to friends and ethics be damned. While Jack is simple, satisfied with his two-valued orientation...
(The entire section is 793 words.)