(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mark Robins (the “red,” or Marxist) and Charles Dyat (the diehard reactionary) became friends when they attended Oxford University together in the early 1920’s. They were both from professional, upper-middle-class families. As students, Mark was the conservative and Charles was the radical, sporting a red tie. Twenty-five years later, in the aftermath of World War II, Great Britain has a Socialist government, and Mark has swung to the Left, while Charles has swung to the Right. However, they have remained friends: As the story opens, Charles is visiting Mark and has just spent the night in Mark’s “Rotting Hill” apartment in the suburbs of London.

Wyndham Lewis’s portrait of postwar Britain is comically grim: It is a satire of the same sense of cultural and material debasement, shoddiness, and deterioration conveyed more somberly by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). In Mark Robins’s apartment, the water heater has broken down, the bread is gray and hard as brick, the buttonholes on his shirts are too skimpy to push buttons through, his shoelaces are too short to tie in bows, and his nail clipper falls apart when applied to his nails. The telephone lines are fouled up, and food shortages continue, leaving nothing but bad tea, bad butter, and bad jam. All this adds up to a bad mood for Mark, who nevertheless represses his mood, dismisses the problems, and believes that soon enough the progress of socialism will cure these ills.

Unlike Mark, Charles places no faith in the current regime. As they begin to talk over breakfast, their political differences quickly become apparent, over the topic of tipping, or “oiling palms.” Charles confesses that in order to get preferential treatment he always gives tips, but Mark is scandalized by this vestige of upper-class patronization. Their conversation...

(The entire section is 757 words.)