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...
(The entire section is 411 words.)