Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Strike the Father Dead was Wain’s fifth novel. It resembles his early work in that its hero is a young man who rebels against a rigid social order and a class system which does not allow him to be himself. It goes beyond the earlier novels in range and depth. The structure is more complex and unified than, for example, the picaresque tale of Charles Lumley’s adventures in Born in Captivity (1953). The multiple points of view conveyed by different first-person narrators give the characterization a depth that Wain had not achieved before. Each character possesses a distinct voice: Alfred’s long, well-formed, carefully balanced sentences contrast with Eleanor’s simplicity of tone, and both contrast with Jeremy’s direct, humorous, slang-filled honesty of expression.

Although it met with mixed reviews when first published, Strike the Father Dead is a powerful and impressive novel. Not the least of its achievement is its brilliant evocation of the delight of the jazz musician in his art. Yet perhaps more central to its value is the fact that it does not simplify human experience to make it digestible or intelligible, and it offers no pretentious or sentimental conclusions. The plainness of Jeremy’s final comment, “You live by doing what you have to do,” is not banal but the product of experience and reflection. He has come to an understanding of himself and of life’s processes, and even of his father’s attitudes. The relative optimism of the conclusion is in contrast to many of Wain’s later novels, particularly the two novels which immediately followed, The Young Visitors (1965) and The Smaller Sky (1967).