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.
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