Saturday, June 04, 2005

"Brighton Rock" Summary

It is easy from the distance of seventy years to inadequately appreciate Graham Greene's achievement in his creating of Pinkie. The first portrait of an entirely modern type of lad, Greene's Pinkie attracts the reader's sympathy while remaining entirely repellant. When I read the novel, the sharpness that Greene's creates in Pinkie has the pain of razor cuts in my mind. Greene's genius manages to present the "root causes" of Pinkie's situation in the British (specifically, Brighton) working class conditions, and to cut down the upper class in the scene with the two troffs in the bar, without permitting any sensible reader to excuse the course of life that Pinkie chose to follow.

With the full-length study of Ida Arnold, Brighton Rock again uses a character to condemn of a way of life -- or more properly of an approach to life -- while sustaining a sympathy in the reader. Ida is the middle class -- "the great law-abiding middle class" -- and their shallow hedonistic and tolerant attitude to life is mercilessly vivisected by Greene through Ida and Darrow's banal experience of religion compared with Pinkie's purely existential knowledge that he will burn in Hell eternally. "This is Hell; nor are we out of it." Yet Ida's is shown to us with a twinkle. As she prepares herself to commit adultery with Phil, she is "a great big blossoming surprise." To a degree, Greene's metier was "epater les bourgeois."

Moreover, it is Greene's literary gift to be able to write a novel of pure realism takes place in a Christian ontology. The metaphysic of Hell has few superior literary representations, yet the novel never violates the unity of its ninteen-thirties Brighton setting, nor its realist conventions.

Behind all, of course, is the Stalky model. Prewitt is a protrait of ruin: yet ruination explicitly from a public school and a "great Head." Himself a public schoolboy, and one who repeatedly tried to escape by (failed attempts at) killing himself, Greene is nonetheless unable to escape the Stalky model in defining a height from which a fall will be great. Pinkie's failure is exemplified by the distance that his "Co." lies from the harmonious complementary mutuality that portrayed in Kipling's masterpiece of young British manhood.

And Brighton Rock seemingly makes it impossible to miss the contrast between Stalky's world and Pinkie's in the matter of women. Where women were side concerns -- a plot device -- for both Stalky and Kipling, the trajectory of Pinkie's downfall matches precisely, from beginning to end, the trajectory of his relationship with Rose. And in relation to the organising themes of our course, the competition, battle and rivalry between males that Darwin's sexual selection declares to be universal is ubiquitious - Pinkie is is direct competion with Hale, Spicer, Cubbitt and Colleoni.

Finally, on the matter of masculinity as performace, and of the lads' failure to performace, let Ida's comment stand for the novel's -- indeed, all the course novels' -- message:
"Men always failed you when it came to the act."

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