Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The theme of the novel, the fall of the British Empire in Ireland, is related to the decline of British imperialism throughout the world by the interpolated news stories, which relate not only the violent events in Ireland but also the rebellion against the British in such outposts of the empire as South Africa and India. To the Anglo-Irish, the occasional shots or acts of vandalism are isolated events. The news stories make it clear that colonial Ireland and even the last bastion of its rulers, the Majestic Hotel, are doomed.

The fact that the Majestic Hotel itself symbolizes Ireland is evident to everyone except its inhabitants. The upper stories of the hotel are rotting. As a result, those who inhabit it must shift from room to room, as one room after another becomes untenable. Yet the landlord cannot find the money or the will to repair it. His answers are those to which the British “quality” in Ireland resorted. By maintaining the surface of social life as much as possible, he attempts to convince himself, and the old people who still live there, that nothing has changed. Tea will still be served every afternoon. In case of boredom, whist will be played. At the same time, the status quo will be defended, whether by showing the colors defiantly in the nearby pub or by taking potshots at intruders. Thus, the real problem, the fact that the rulers of Ireland, the upper classes, are rotting like the upper levels of the Majestic, is not dealt with...

(The entire section is 462 words.)