The End of the Affair
Representation of Misogyny and Anti-Feminism in Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair
Misogyny and Anti-Feminism
Literary Analysis of The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
In an age of rising capitalism and an increasing secular attitude, Graham Greene released a novel filled with guilt and sin. As a component in a series of extremely catholic novels, The End of the Affair accuses and calls out those who believe Catholicism is irrelevant in all but times of hardship and need. At the time of the release of his novel, women are beginning to gain equality in the workforce as well as in the government, however Greene explicitly objectifies women and displays females incompetence. Greene utilizes his strong catholicism and personal experiences to express ideals of misogyny and anti-feminism in his 1951 novel.
Many of the ideals Greene expresses in this post-war novel were influenced by his personal life. Most of Greene’s previous novels had been more blatantly Catholic and discrete, but The End of the Affair is his most personal novel. Not just broad ideas in this novel influenced by real events, but small truths are littered throughout its smallest details. One example of this being the extreme similarity between the profession of his mistress’ husband and that of Sarah, the mistress of the main character. Though these details may seem irrelevant, they show a deeper connection to more of Greene’s deeper beliefs. The inverse relationship between the changes in society and those in the evolution of Greene’s novels are a result of the issues in his personal life. Greene happily converted to catholicism for his marriage, but began to steer away from its teachings when he was not granted a divorce. This is a possible explanation for the criticism of catholicism in The End of the Affair, but also for the misogyny displayed throughout the novel. His hatred of his wife gradually increased his hate and objectification in all women, resulting in the cynicism seen in his novel.
The objectification of the character Sarah Mills shows Greene’s disrespect and blatant disagreement with the basis of feminist principles. By definition, feminism is not the belief that females hold superiority over males, but the opposite. At the time of The End of the Affair, the feminist movement began to abolish the traditional belief that a woman is the property of a man. However, Greene illustrates a character named Brendrix (undoubtedly resembling himself) that treats Sarah as if her sole purpose is to please the men in her life. Though sarah is not married to Brendrix, but participating in an extramarital affair, he treats her as a possession. When Sarah and Bendrix lose contact he believes she is in someone else’s possession.
“Oh, she doesn’t belong to anybody now,’ he said, and suddenly I saw her for what she was – a piece of refuse waiting to be cleared away: if you needed a bit of hair you could take it, or trim her nails if nail trimmings had value to you. Like a saint’s her bones could be divided up – if anybody required them. She was going to be burnt soon, so why shouldn’t everybody have what he wanted first? What a fool I had been during three years to imagine that in any way I had possessed her. We are all possessed by nobody, not even by ourselves.”
Greene discusses that women could be possessed, but never really owned, to their own fault. He shows that Bendrix yearns to possess Sarah, but she is going to hell because she will not allow any one person to have her. With this idea, Greene reverts to the idea that women must be owned and guided, because they are incapable of anything else.
Not only does Bendrix’s narration suggest that Sarah should be possessed, but that she is incompetent and incapable of doing or deciding anything for herself. Though the main character is Bendrix, the whole novel is plagued and filled with Sarah’s indecisiveness and helplessness making the reader become annoyed and dislike Sarah. To this day, it is still common to believe women are less competent than men unless proven otherwise. However Greene exaggerates because of his personal bias caused by his wife. This is mostly shown in the novel by Sarah’s inability to make decisions in her love life. Greene shows this when she is questioning her major life decision of marriage to Henry.
“I couldn’t help wondering, is my husband so unattractive that no woman has ever wanted him? Except me, of course. I must have wanted him, in a way, once, but I’ve forgotten why, and I was too young to know what I was choosing.”
Though Greene is still objectifying Sarah, but he is also showing she is incapable of even the very important things in her life. The amount of times that this theme is repeated throughout the novel annoys the reader and causes them to believe Sarah (and all women) are not as mentally evolved as men. Throughout Greene’s career, he became more and more misogynistic as his relationship with his wife went downhill. Another large portion of the novel are excerpts from Sarah’s novel which show her indecisiveness. She often talks about feeling alone, being in a desert, and that she only cares about being with someone so she never has to be alone.
“Sometimes I get tired of trying to convince him that I love him and shall love him for ever. He pounces on my words like a barrister and twists them. I know he is afraid of that desert which would be around him if our love were to end, but he can’t realize that I feel exactly the same. What he says aloud, I say to myself silently and write it here.”
As an excerpt from Sarah’s journal, this should show her deepest fears and thoughts. Greene shows that Sarah only concerns are between her and the men in her life, depicting a very misogynistic stereotype.
Not only does Greene show obvious anti-feminism, but he even uses Catholic principles to make women appear lesser. Though Greene himself did not stick to traditional catholic ideals, the way he describes Sarah creates a sense of disgust. Although not raised a catholic, Greene tried to live by catholic ideals. However, after his marriage he had multiple affairs which are documented by letters and poems. Though Greene himself had affairs, he shames Sarah for sinning in The End of the Affair. Not only Sarah is involved in the affair, but the narration of the novel places no blame on the man in the relationship. He turns the reader against Sarah by creating irony. It is obvious that Sarah is not in following with many Catholic rules, but she still prays when she needs help or is in a bad place.
“What were you doing on the floor?’ I asked. ‘Praying.’ ‘To who?’ ‘To anything that might exist.’ ‘It would have been more practical to come downstairs.’ Her seriousness frightened me. I wanted to tease her out of it. ‘I did,’ she said, ‘I didn’t hear you.’ ‘There was nobody there. I couldn’t see you, until I saw your arm stretching out from under the door. I thought you were dead.”
Greene shows that Sarah only prays to God in times of great need, which shows that she is not a true catholic. Sarah also prays to God when she is in need of answer making her look extremely selfish and superficial.
“I’m not at peace anymore. I just want him like I used to in the old days. I want to be eating sandwiches with him. I want to be drinking with him in a bar. I’m tired and I don’t want anymore pain. I want Maurice. I want ordinary corrupt human love. Dear God, you know I want to want Your pain, but I don’t want it now. Take it away for a while and give it me another time.”
This passage combines all of the aforementioned points, that women are objects, incapable and lacking in depth. Greene shows that Sarah relies on God only to help her though she does nothing in return, and that her deepest problems involve her relationships with men. Even upon her death, they also suggest that she had a Catholic wedding which invokes furry and unrest in many readers.
Even at a time of increasing gender equality, Greene manages to use negative connotations and literary techniques to create anti-feminism and misogyny in his novel. To make Sarah seem as an object, he only displays her in terms of relationships and describes multiple cases of men feeling the need to own her. To make Sarah seem incompetent, he shows that her deepest thoughts are shallow, and that she can not be trusted to make decisions for herself. Lastly, to make Sarah very controversial and hated by readers he shows that she is very self centered and only does things for her own benefit, even in concern to religion. In this novel, Sarah represents all women because Greene does not include any other significant female characters. In his beloved novel, he tricks the reader into believing female stereotypes from a less evolved time because of his personal bias and bad experence. Using clever strategy and philosophy, the reader believes they do not like Sarah on their own accord, while Greene has created the idea. These strategies allowed The End of the Affair to become the classic it is today, while continuing to display anti-feminism and misogyny.
Different Demonstrations of Love Theme in The Odyssey, The End of the Affair, and Viper’s Triangle
Love and the Good Life
None would disagree that all want to love and be loved. The title of this essay will likely not seem very controversial to anyone. For it seems, within everyone lies an assumption that a life filled with love is a life to be desired. Poets write great romantic poetry that their audience loves to read, and authors build great love stories just as popular. So, it seems writing to convince the reader that love is a good thing and plays a large role in a life well lived would be an unnecessary endeavor. Instead, what few ever talk about is what happens to us in love. Few ever consider why it is that we hold love in such high regard. Love is an interesting phenomenon between two people, and affects who a person is in a lot of ways. Perhaps this investigation of love will result in an appreciation of its role in life. So, the first point of inquiry is into the reason love makes a person happy. It seems it must lie in how love makes us relate to the other. The second inquiry is into the effects of love on a person; that is into what happens to a person’s identity when they are in love. The last thing is to address the problem that it is not uncommon for negative emotions to sometimes be associated with love. Feelings such as depression and heartbreak are also associated with the feeling of love, so there must be something in the nature of love that might also cause suffering. To better consider these aspects of love, an analysis of the love demonstrated in the books The Odyssey, The End of the Affair, and Vipers’ Tangle will be helpful. These texts will help reveal different aspects in love but will ultimately reveal the nature of love and the good life. Love’s role in the good life is ultimately about our relation to the other.
The first aspect of love to consider is why people desire and are made happy by love. The fact that happiness is related to love is fairly uncontestable but there must be some aspect of love that explains this. In Vipers’ Tangle the writer of the diary, Louis, talks about the fact that being in love with his wife Isa brought him such happiness. He writes to her, “How can I possibly make you understand the emotion that you roused in me? I had become suddenly aware that I was no longer unpleasing, had ceased to repel, was not odious anymore. One of the most important moments of my life was when you said: ‘How extraordinary that a man should have such long lashes!’” . Luckily Louis was able to see what it was that made him so happy to be with Isa. What love did for Louis was let him see himself through the eyes of another person. The fact that this other person loved him gave him a unique perspective on his own value and nature. Even something as meaningless as learning about her thoughts on his eyelashes, is something he considers to be significant in the course of his entire life. Shortly after, Louis describes this occurrence beautifully saying, “I caught my reflection in the mirror of somebody else’s personality” .
This feeling is also articulated by the main character, Maurice, in The End of the Affair. When Maurice realizes that he is in love with Sarah, he notices that there is an odd feeling accompanying the feeling of love. He says, “it’s a strange thing to discover and to believe that you are loved, when you know that there is nothing in you for anybody but a parent or a God to love” . Maurice also notes that it is a strange experience to gain this view of yourself from something external. He never considered anything making him valuable or loveable but now being in love with Sarah has shown him this.
Both of these characters are similar as far as they both seem to struggle with insecurity. Thus, one might assume that this feeling of finally seeing yourself as someone who is able to be loved is unique to their situation due to their nature of insecurity. But, perhaps there is some way in which everyone struggles with insecurity before they are able to see themselves through the eyes of a lover. An isolated conception of oneself limits a person’s ability to ever see this value they have. Without the other person in love, it is impossible to fully comprehend oneself outside of his own perspective. Thus, when a person is able to see their worth through the eyes of their lover, this is the aspect of love that people desire and the aspect that makes them happy.
Now, the next consideration is what happens in love when we gain this perspective from another. Often times love has the ability to truly affect who a person is and change them. Thus, it appears love has some sort of relation to a person’s identity in someway. Maurice mentions this similar relation when he is considering the fact that he is happy when he is in love with Sarah. He says, “the sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual. . . but happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity” . Maurice points out that he cannot as easily describe his happiness because in his happiness he has lost his identity. That is to say his happiness has caused him to lose his perspective on how his happiness relates to his singular identity. On first read, this may seem to be a negative look at happiness, but perhaps this annihilation is a good thing. Perhaps by falling in love Maurice has lost a self-centric focus and now views everything through a consideration of Sarah. Thus, love has in some way shifted him away from his singular identity to an identity of a relationship with others. When love forces a person to consider another, it forces the person to no longer see themselves as an independent identity. Instead love changes a person’s identity to a relationship with the other.
Finally, the remaining consideration is the fact that suffering is also associated with the act of loving someone. This comes as a surprise considering the fact that love is often considered desirable, but there must be a nature to love that makes us vulnerable to love. C.S. Lewis says in his Four Loves,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
In this quotation, C.S. Lewis points out that there is a vulnerability intrinsic to love. Thus, one is not able to find a way to love and not be vulnerable; the only way to avoid this vulnerability is to avoid love entirely. So, C.S. Lewis also sees the fact that love makes one vulnerable to suffering, but that does not make it clear why exactly a person is made vulnerable. Perhaps the vulnerability again lies in a person’s relationship to another in love. The fact that the love is for another human means that the love is for something that cannot be protected. In the Odyssey, the titular character, Odysseus, is trapped on goddess Calypso’s island away from his home and wife. While trapped on this island Calypso comes upon Odysseus while he was “sitting where the breakers rolled in. His eyes were perpetually wet with tears now, his life draining away from home sickness. . . Days he spent sitting on the rocks by the breakers, staring out to sea with hollow, salt-rimmed eyes” . Odysseus is trapped on an island far from his wife and all he can do is stare out at the sea separating them and weep. The fact that he has loved another person means that he is not able to make sure he is always able to be with her. His love has been turned towards something external and he has little control over the external world, and so he suffers. He is separated from the object of his love and is vulnerable to the pain this separation inflicts. The problem also lies in the fact that loving another person means loving something that is mortal. The object of love is then something that is inevitably going to die. No one has the power necessary to protect another and keep them forever. This means that love also makes a person vulnerable to the inevitable pain of losing his lover. So, this is why these feelings of suffering are also associated with love. Unfortunately, by nature of loving something that is external and mortal means that a person must be made vulnerable to this suffering if they are to love another.
In conclusion, to understand love one must look at it through its nature of relating a person to the other. The reason love makes a person happy is a result of the relation to the other and what one gains from that relation; that is the ability to see oneself through the eyes of the other. Love also affects a person’s identity because of the fact that this relation to the other makes him shift their focus from an understanding of a singular identity to a focus of his relationship with the lover. And ultimately this relationship to the other makes a person vulnerable to the pain of suffering. The object of his love is external to him and is mortal. Thus, his lover exists in a space that he does not have completely control over, and he also is not strong enough to protect his lover from inevitable death. But the intrinsic nature of vulnerability to suffering in love does not at all negate the fact that love is part of the good life. Instead, one should accept that it is nearly impossible to avoid suffering in life and embrace this vulnerability and appreciate what it means to be in a relationship with another person. Because, without others one would not be able to gain that ability to see themselves as more than just an isolated being. This relationship with others teaches a person more about himself, namely what it means for him to be in this relationship and who he is in their eyes. Others act as a mirror that allows a person to see more than just his physical reflection.
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. Maurice Bendrix Character Analysis
What is a person? It is easy to see someone’s person as their actions or choices, but this seems far to reductive. Doing this might make it easier for us to categorize others thereby making them more comprehendible and predictable to us. Though, by doing so, much is left to be desired in our understanding of them. That is, the complexity of human beings is left unconsidered thus leaves our understanding lacking. This is also commonly done with characters of novels. One might easily consider the character as only a vehicle of actions and choices, but many times the person created by the author is also so much more. Such is the case with Maurice Bendrix in Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. Perhaps by trying to see the complexity of humanity within these characters, one might extend this view to the people around him. Ideally, while reading this essay the reader will not consider there to be any difference between whether or not Maurice were a real person or a character, other than that by being a character in a text there is an opportunity to see more of his internal struggles.
By considering Maurice, it will become clearer that he contains many deep desires and motives that manifest in the actions others see. Sometimes these actions may even end up seeming to be completely contradictory to his desires. Maurice is a human who has desires, such as a desire to be loved and be with Sarah, and fears, such as insecurities in himself and not being enough for Sarah. These desires and fears also are the complexity that is the foundation to his relationship with God. One might easily reduce this relationship to something as simplistic as stubbornness or pride, but again this seems to leave out too much. The value of seeing the complexity within a person also directly relates to Ultimately, the hope is that it is clear that Maurice Bendrix is a human.
The first set of complexities within the person of Maurice are his deep desires. Often times a person’s desires are limited in one’s mind to the things another visibly pursues. Thus, it might seem as though Maurice’s desire is to sleep with Sarah, as that is what primarily happens between them. But there seems to be something deeper than lust motivating these actions. When Maurice has an escort offer him her company he notes that “my passion for Sarah had killed simple lust for ever. Never again would I be able to enjoy a stranger without love” (Greene 2, II). By saying he would never be able to enjoy a stranger without love he makes it clear the love he had for Sarah. It was a sort of love of being-with that he shared with Sarah. When Maurice is trying to convince Sarah to run away with him while in the church, Sarah falls asleep on his arm and he says that “the growing pain in [his] upper arm where her weight lay was the greatest pleasure [he] had ever known” (Greene 4, I). The pleasure he found was in their togetherness, but the way in which it manifested was in his pursuit of sleeping with her. This is because he considering sex to be the highest state of being together he could achieve with Sarah. Thus, the way in which deep desires manifest can easily be misleading, and sometimes even seem completely contradictory to a person’s deep desire. When Maurice starts the story, he tells his readers that it is about his hatred for Henry and Sarah. To then conclude that he claims to hate Sarah because he actually loves her would seem unreasonable. But, this is precisely the case. Maurice later says, in regard to the story being about hating Sarah, that “when [he] began to write [their] story down, [he] thought [he] was writing a record of hate, but somehow the hate got mislaid and all [he knows] is that in spite of her mistakes and her unreliability, she was better than most” (Greene 4, I). Perhaps the hate was a way of coping with the loss of something he loved so much, but it is clear that on closer evaluation that the hate was just a pretext for a true love and admiration of Sarah. This demonstrates that a person’s actions and choices often have a number of far more complex and confusing desires to motivate them.
A second set of complexities within the person of Maurice are his deep fears. If one is to build a picture of a person based exclusively on their desires, even if they somehow fully understand them, they will still come up short of seeing the whole of the person. One might have a desire that they wish to fulfill, but then end up rejecting their best opportunity to achieve that desire. Often times this is the result of a deep fear becoming an obstruction. For Maurice, his deep fears cause him to drive Sarah away. In her diary Sarah shares her perspective on her relationship with Maurice and writes, “Sometimes I get so tired of trying to convince him that I love him and shall love him for ever. He pounces on my words like a barrister and twists them. I know he is afraid of that desert which would be around him if our love were to end” (Greene 3, II). Sarah talks about how Maurice is unwilling to accept her promises, and actively twists them against her to create a division between them. This originally seems entirely unreasonable on his part, and one might easily say that this obviously proves Maurice does not actually want to be with Sarah, but, as she so keenly notices in her journal, this is a result of a fear that lives with in Maurice. Maurice also talks about this insecurity that he suffers that causes him to constantly be fearful of not being good enough and losing Sarah. He says, “it’s a strange thing to discover and believe you are loved, when you know that there is nothing in you for anybody but a parent or a God to love” (Greene 2, VIII). Maurice is convinced that he is unlovable and as a result struggles with accepting Sarah’s love. This insecurity then manifests in his pushing away of Sarah, perhaps so that he no longer has to be in constant fear that he is not enough. He can instead tell himself that Sarah in fact never loved him and would never have worked out. So, again, Maurice’s actions do not immediately give away his deep fears and motivations, and perhaps even might lead one to conclude something entirely false about him.
Another respect in which Maurice’s motivations might be over simplified is in regard to his relationship with God. After the events of the entire book, Maurice is forced to confront the God and religion that had become so important to Sarah in her final years. Ultimately the story ends with Maurice rejecting God despite the clearly supernatural events happening around him as a result of Sarah. This ending can be easily accepted and completely wrapped up by just concluding that Maurice is obviously just too stubborn and prideful to accept God. This seems a reasonable conclusion considering he arguably has enough support around him to believe, but he still does not. But this issue too is slightly more complex than that. From Henry’s perspective, this religion did nothing but cause the one he loved to suffer in her final days. It was what made her choose to not run away with him and be happy. It is what convinced her she must become the Christ figure who took on the pain of all those around her. And worst of all it is what caused her to long for the death that finally took her away from him. Whether or not this is an accurate perspective, it is definitely the perspective that Maurice has, and it is not entirely unreasonable. This leads to Maurice’s indictment against God: “I wanted something very simple and very easy: I wanted Sarah for a lifetime and You took her away. With Your great schemes You ruin our happiness like a harvester ruin’s a mouse’s nest” (Greene 5, VIII). Maurice is not merely being stubborn or prideful in his indictment. He does not have a simple relationship with God. He instead is in a state of struggle with Him. He struggles with the idea that God takes people up on the mount and shows them all the great things that they can have and creates in them a desire for even more than they could have had before, and the fact that he just wanted something simple that God would not give him. He rejects God because he rejects the idea that everybody must desire such lofty and grand things and instead just find contentment in their simple and easy loves. Thus, one does a massive injustice to Maurice when they fail to recognize the complexity of his relationship with God.
Maurice’s accusation against God and underlying question is definitely interesting and drives at the heart of a lot of assumptions in people’s minds and philosophies. An example of such a Philosophy would be that of Augustine. In Teaching Christianity Augustine uses imagery of a journey where a man wishes to get back to his homeland. The man would then need to take a ship or other vehicle and then travel to has home. Augustine concludes that this journey itself is not something the man should take enjoyment in, for if he were to take enjoyment in this journey then he would delay his arrival to his ultimate destination (Augustine 4). But Maurice’s accusation attacks a component of this that many people take for granted. Why must God take people up and show them this great homeland that they can reach? Why can one not just simply be happy and take pleasure in the easy desire of sailing? This is all Maurice truly wanted and in his eyes God took it all away from him. Now, this is not to say that the inquiries of Maurice entirely deconstruct the value or truth of the philosophy. They instead serve as a way of working out questions that must be answered. There very well may be an answer to why one ought to desire this homeland. The problem is that if the complexity of people that do not fit the simplistic structure of a philosophy, such as Maurice, are ignored, then the philosophy would never be able to see the areas in which it might be lacking. These areas where it is lacking might also be causing it to fall short of truth, and truth ought to be the goal of any worthwhile philosophy. Therefore, any worthwhile philosophy ought to see the value in addressing the issues brought up by people like Maurice.
In conclusion, the important point is that a person is often times far more complex than perceived. This is made clearer when evaluating characters such as Maurice and what one might initially think of him in comparison to what a deeper analysis reveals. The analysis of Maurice’s complex desires, fears, and relationship with God in this paper are not meant to be a complete picture of the character either. Instead the intent is that the analysis demonstrates the depth one can go to continually seek to understand a person rather than allow a surface level conception to remain. When Maurice interacts with a character named Sylvia he says, “I was a human being to her” (Greene 5, II). The intent is that the reader can become like the character Sylvia and see Maurice and others. That Maurice and others become human beings to the reader; human beings who hold within them a deep complexity that we can not judge solely on what we perceive of them.
I feel like I learned a lot from Maurice and The End of the Affair. The style of delivery the story through a first-person perspective journal revealed this idea of the complexity of people to me. I think it made it very clear to me how certain characters contained within them more than we often consider. It has offered me a perspective that I can take with me now both into future novels and relationships with others. I also feel as though I have somehow learned more about the complexity of my own person. It feels odd to say that I somehow did not fully see it, but there does seem to be some level of self-knowledge that came with idea.