This Sporting Life Characters
by David Storey

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The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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Arthur Machin is more antihero than hero: He is materialistic, opportunistic, suspicious of almost everyone, vicious on the playing field, and abusive of his friends and followers. His parents—bitter, domineering, cold, and surly—have left unhealable scars on his psyche. He struts through life with ferocious anger, quick to attack, slow to trust, a menacing bear growling his way through life’s tangled forests. In revolt against his working-class origins, he cashes in on his physical skills, unquestioningly accepting not only money but also civic adulation and an artificial, temporary social elevation. He exults in his wildness, his capacity to hurt others with his body.

Yet beneath Arthur’s rough aggressiveness, he shows a capacity for honest self-awareness, an unfulfilled need for emotional nourishment as he tries to rise from his background of manual labor, poverty, and proletarian degradation. The adulatory Johnson gets Arthur the trial he needs with the team, but Arthur realizes that such service is not disinterested: The older man ogles him as though he were a desirable woman. His response is to crush Johnson’s hand and then cast him off. The sophisticated, bored Mrs. Weaver offers him casual sex lacking personal concern; she is amazed. o discover that he has had to take the afternoon off from work to visit her. He rejects her invitation: it might jeopardize his tenure with her husband’s team.

Arthur’s obsessive fascination with Mrs. Hammond is never convincingly motivated. She is a dried-up, unappeasable figure of self-destructive martyrdom who worships the icon of her husband’s life of defeat, polishing daily his boots lined up before the fireplace. She seems to take a perverse satisfaction in refusing Arthur’s numerous attempts to engage her feelings of tenderness. She keeps telling him that he is a pusher, a user, a discarder, a boor, and an insensitive vulgarian. He keeps pushing and probing her to allow him a significant place in her affections. He realizes that her fear of him amounts to a fear of life, that her insistence on her indifference is a masochistic resignation from the world.

Is Mrs. Hammond Arthur’s wished-for but unobtained surrogate for his own mother, who never adequately loved him? David Storey provides no explanation. When Mrs. Hammond, Arthur, and his parents collide in their house and quarrel explosively, his mother insists, “She’s no good. She’s no good to you at all.” Of course, Arthur disbelieves her; most readers will not.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Arthur Machin

Arthur Machin, a professional rugby player for the Primstone Team in northern England. He is in his early thirties, muscular, taciturn, and self-reliant. He also is grimly determined to succeed. Born in the working class, he seeks social respectability through athletic success. Rugby brings him money (and, thus, a car, a television set, and even women) that his full-time job as a machinist could never earn. Money and fame also give him a sense of power over others. In confident moments, he treats friends, parents, and even his lover as opposing players who must be knocked down. On rare occasions, he is a gentle, generous giant.

Valerie Hammond

Valerie Hammond, a widow with two small children, Arthur’s landlady. Desperately poor and still grieving for her dead husband, she keeps emotionally and socially distant from Arthur despite his efforts to befriend her. She becomes his mistress when success allows him to treat her and the children to middle-class comforts. She resists Arthur’s clumsy efforts at emotional commitment. She breaks off their...

(The entire section is 897 words.)