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Graham Greene's heroes : regeneration through experience Sabine, Francisco John

Abstract

Criticism of Graham Greene often centers around what has been termed Greene's "obsessions." Much has been made of his "formula" of the hunted man. The suggestion usually is that Greene's "obsessions" and his "formula" are a blemish in his work. Since Greene's artistry in other respects is seldom questioned, it would seem to me that there is an explanation of what seems to be a blemish. The word "obsession" itself suggests an unconscious activity, an unconscious urge. It occurred to me that the recurrence of Greene's themes, and his "formula" could be explained as an unconscious urge translated into symbols which reflect his basic concern. Drawing on Jung's theory of "the collective unconscious," and examining the theory of archetypal terminology in literary criticism as used by such literary critics as Northrop Frye, and Maud Bodkin -- in her Archetypal Patterns in Poetry -- I attempt to show that Greene's heroes are symbols in a mythic structure. This structure, with varying artistic differences, is what we see as Greene's individual novels and "entertainments." The novels and entertainments represent the fusion of Greene's literary artistry, his unconscious symbolism, and his conscious ordering of experience. Greene's heroes, his "archetypes," are recurrent images which evince his theme: that man can only be spiritually regenerated through experience. The word "recurrent" helps to explain the term "formula" which has been applied to Greene's plots. I attempt, too, to relate Greene's mythology to his “obsession." The reason that Greene chooses to call some of his work "entertainments," and others "novels," is that these represent two different literary modes which roughly parallel two general modes in art and literature: the comic and the tragic. The two entertainments examined here, The Confidential Agent and The Ministry of Fear, are discussed as representative of the comic mode, and the two serious novels, The Power and the Glory and The Heart of the Matter, are discussed as "tragic." The entertainments represent not comedy, but the integrative urge; that is, in comedy the tendency is to integrate the hero into his society. Both Arthur Rowe, the hero of the entertainment, The Ministry of Fear, and "D," the hero of the entertainment, The Confidential Agent, are reintegrated into their society through the love of women. On the other hand, the tendency in the tragic mode is to isolate the hero from his society. For example, the whiskey priest of The Power and the Glory, and Scobie of The Heart of the Matter, are in conflict with their society and are not physically reintegrated into it. I also examine Greene's use of melodrama. I attempt to expose the link between his use of melodrama and the comic mode. The necessity for a happy ending in the comic mode is mainly the reason that Greene uses melodramatic formulae in his plot resolution in the entertainments. It soon becomes clear that Greene's use of melodramatic formulae is ironic. This is so because of Greene's basic theme that one should be aware of both good and evil in human nature. His heroes and the minor characters are his medium of expression of this theme.

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