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.
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