The general theme for many of Graham Greene’s stories is childhood, the stories I have chosen to study are very much based on characters and the results of their experiences in life. The main focus of this essay will be on the opposing themes of innocence and experience created by the examination of adulthood and childhood- these are two very different worlds that are described in Graham Greene’s writing. In his stories, Green realistically portrays the world around him as the ‘shabby’ world.
The ‘shabby’ world is the dark world of adulthood and experience, where one has to suffer to live life as a real human being ‘I suffer therefore I am’. Greene’s work is often based in places that are physically uncomfortable, and these settings reflect the kind of story he tells. In ‘The Basement Room’ Phillip enters the ‘shabby’ world, Greene describes this dark world that is new to Phillip: ‘Of smuts from the trains which passed along the backs in a spray of fire. ‘i Another characteristic of Greene’s choice of setting is the dark and gloomy, which is an integral part of Greene’s ‘shabby world’.
Childhood is the innocent, important period in an individual’s life, it is the most delicate period that may reflect on one’s future and present. During childhood one may see the movement from innocence to experience, this is leaving the comfortable, secure world and entering the more complex, adult world of life. It appears that Greene’s characters are taken into the uncomfortable, ‘Shabby’ world of experience. In some cases this crossing of the border between the two states is accidental, and this unprepared, unpleasant encounter may have an impact on the individuals life as an adult.
As I will mention later, Phillip’s accidental encounter with the adult world affects him psychologically. He chooses not to be a part of that world in his childhood he ‘Cuts the wires’ from life and Baines. Later in adulthood, ‘just as the old man sixty years later startled his secretary, his only watcher, asking, ‘Who is she? ‘ii Phillip is obviously still deeply affected; he has hidden himself away from the real world. It is the selfishness of the adults that moulded the child into this man and changed his perception on life.
To Greene innocence is found to be dangerous, something can happen to a child and they can become in contact with this complex world too soon, as did Phillip. There is an examination of childhood in ‘The Basement Room’, and that is loss of innocence. The childhood world of innocence is always under attack from the adult world. The world of experience is intrusive to the childhood state of innocence and once corrupted, the result is dysfunctional to the individual; i. e. Phillip shuts himself out from the outside world due to his fear and guilt.
He feels that he owed Baines loyalty, however, he betrayed him in the grown up world. It appears that as a child, he has stepped over the border line of innocence to experience- he has entered another world that he doesn’t understand. Green has therefore illustrated the importance of childhood and how it can be affected. The style of the story increases our understanding as it is told through a 3rd person narrator, the reader sees the relationship with Mr and Mrs Baines through the eyes of a child.
The style and language of the story also increases our understanding of childhood, as it is told through the perception of a child: ‘knowing nothing of love or jealousy or passion. ‘iii Phillip feels a certain responsibility for Baines, his understanding of jealousy and adult troubles are small; he is innocent and has not yet experienced these things, and could therefore not understand them. ‘Like the witches of his dreams’iv, Greene’s choice of language and imagery informs our reading; he uses language appropriate to Phillip and his fear of Mrs Baines.
This language reminds the reader that it is a child in a challenging world of adults, we therefore see the adult world through his understanding. Green is fascinated with the Macarb, possibly because in his past he travelled and encountered many shabby situations. During his travels he witnessed unpleasant environments, which have clearly influences his stories: ‘The Basement Room’, ‘A Drive In The Country’ and ‘The Innocent’ are stories in which Green creates the ‘Shabby’ world where individuals are involved in pain. Being apart of this world makes you alive, as opposed to living in a false ‘metroland’.
In ‘ A Drive in the Country’ we see how innocence to experience may change one’s perception on life in later days. The young girl is the typical norm of a teenager, she belongs to an over-secure household; the family attend church every Sunday and sit at the same pew: there is a security of religion. The father obsessively locks every door in the house, the girl is disgusted with her father’s security and has reached the time in childhood when an individual freedom. Greene’s use of childhood informs us on the typical teenager thinking she knows life, when in fact she has no experience of life.
Due to her secure social upbringing she wants freedom, however, when she experiences this freedom she finds she is happier at home. She therefore opposes security over freedom. When she runs away with Fred, she eventually recognises that his recklessness is unlimited, to the extent of taking his and her life. She went out into the world where she was secure from, and finds that the free- wild life does not appeal to her afterall, and she wants that security back. Greene again creates these worlds of childhood and adulthood.
Through his choice of language one can see that she does not belong in this world of pain and experience. She comments on ‘his smell’v of whiskey, this suggests she is nai??ve and innocent- this is her first encounter with anything so rebellious. Fred is from a different world to her, in that era, Fred would not have been an insured worker. He is from a different social class, where he spends money on gambling and drink; it is people like him that her father is trying to protect her from, he doesn’t want his daughter interacting with individuals from the ‘Shabby’ world.
When the girl escapes from the outside world and returns home, one can see how the experience has affected her: ‘She was quite free from pain, listening to the rain on the roof’vi, she now appreciates her security. She was put into a position where she needed life’s experience, and because of her naivety and inexperience this affected her. She retreats, and will continue to go through life with an experience that may be of value to her. The reader doesn’t know whether she will be the same person, after finding this world of experience. She may flip into the insecure life on occasion unlike Phillip who completely retreats.
There is an examination of childhood: she would rather the lifelessness of the family than freedom and wildness when confronted. The quote ‘She felt no pity, no attraction, only a faint horror and repulsion’ suggests she may have been put off the other world. This movement from innocence to experience has made her appreciate what she has got- up to then she had always associated security with locks and her father’s ignorance. The stories that focus on innocence contrast in many ways, the girl (A Drive To The Country) thinks she understands the world, and doesn’t believe her father in saying that Fred is crazy.
This contrasts to the Pope’s character in ‘The Last Word’, as he should be in the world of experience, however has recessed into the world of innocence. He has no knowledge of the world as he has lost his memory. The girl and the Pope are both directly involved in a situation which brings them into the world of experience, they are both taken out of this age of innocence- she is informed and he is forced into it. The story ‘I-Spy’ is different as the little boy witnesses the world of experience, however, does not get involved and therefore doesn’t understand the world of his father.
He is hiding from the adult world; there is no interaction. If he had directly involved himself it may have been different. The reader doesn’t know if he turns into an adult, perhaps he doesn’t enter the world, however he may be affected as he has seen it. ‘The Innocent’ differs from the other stories, as it shows how childhood can have an affect on adulthood. We see how one’s perception may be different from childhood to adulthood, and how ideas may change, one’s childhood may reflect on the present.
The man returns to his origin of childhood, and memories return. His feelings are in conflict regarding the drawing he did as a child, the drawing seems obscene, he, however, sees the purity of the picture. His thoughts were innocent as a child, in childhood, sex may have seemed pure- a meaning of love. His perception has however changed, he no longer sees the innocence in his life: ‘It is now that 30 years later in life that the picture seemed obscene’ his knowledge at that age is limited, he sees the picture as an expression of love and passion.
Lola, his female companion is there to provide the contrast. She is from the false world of comfort ‘metroland’, and has no ability to step out of world of comfort; she would rather sit at the bar than explore the world outside. After the reading of the short stories, one can see that the general theme used is childhood, which involves the movement from innocence to experience. Greene informs our reading in many of the stories, as ‘The Innocent’ is an example of how a child’s perception of life is not entirely accurate, and how it may change in adulthood.
He uses the child’s perception of the memory, also the adult’s different perception of the memory. Greene’s choice of language may be uncomfortable for the reader, i. e. ‘The hole’,vii the language used may be used to make one feel uncomfortable regarding the obscene message. The stories inform one’s understanding of the theme as one can see the affect childhood experiences can have on adulthood. The ‘shabby’ settings and characters all help our understanding of the stories.
Imagery is created through the characters eyes; ‘Bright and reckless in the lamp- light, he was exciting and strange to her as the adventure’viii, through Greene’s language in ‘A Drive in The Country’, one can see the experience through the eyes of the girl. It appears that Greene understands childhood is a delicate time in life, he informs us on how the ‘Shabby’ world can corrupt ones thoughts, and may involve ones innocence too soon. It can therefore be said, that Green’s in depth examination of childhood increases our understanding of the theme, and the stories.