Greene’s notion of life as a moral drama is reflected in his treatment of death and dying in the novels. His main characters usually meet sudden and violent ends, but their aftermaths or deaths are almost always accompanied by hints of hope. Through his treatment of his characters’ deaths, he makes known the nature of that great gap he finds between the actuality of life in the world, with its disappointments and limitations, and the possibility of infinite life.
Greene’s characteristic methods of describing death emphasize its ambiguity. He intensifies the focus of his narrative on the person for whom death is imminent. For example, at end of the short story Brother we come across a setting of danger, damage and death, typical of Greene. The context of the story is Paris during WW1. A cafï¿½ proprietor is afraid when six communists enter his coffee shop asking for drinks. Two of them, a man and a young lady do not speak throughout the whole account but sit in a corner of the cafï¿½. The young man is severely wounded and intimacy between him and the young lady misleads the proprietor into believing them lovers but later he learns they are in fact brother and sister. In contrast to the owner is the billiard player who seems oblivious to the danger around him.
The billiard game, parallel to the events, makes sense when, in the end the communists (red) that initially meant danger, in fact, suggested safety corresponding with the billiard player who plays on the red ball to place it in the safe of the billiard table. The final twist in the story is the fact that the owner finds the young man dead in the cellar after the shoot out. Even worse, the young man is found in deepest and darkest part of the cafï¿½. In spite of this negativity of context, the cafï¿½ owner moves from fear to acceptance of the dead young man as ‘brother’ again a point that Greene makes is the fact that the man may rise above the context and experience greatness.
This technique of describing death emphasizes both its finality and its mystery. The individual’s life is seen as a completed progression, with death as its last act. By focusing on the survivors’ often mistaken or incomplete understanding of the deceased, Greene shows our inability to understand life or death. Evoking the mystery and the suddenness of the characters’ deaths by means of abrupt shifts in viewpoint and by the use of white space, Greene makes of death a strange departure for an unknown destination. These factors make up the story A Little Place off the Edgeware Road and Across the Bridge. In the first short story, characteristic of Greene the opening paragraph gives an idea of the entire context.Craven is immediately presented as a tangent to the kind of life one finds in this busy London area. He leads a miserable life carrying ‘his body about like something he hated’ and believing that ‘the body shall rise again’. This belief is what scares him most, that he will have to carry his body for all eternity. Craven is obsessed with the disgust of his own body and ‘sometimes he prayed at night that his body at any rate should never rise again.’ The incidents that follow this initial reflective phrase, function to confirm Craven’s fears. Tired and eager to get cover from the rain, he opts to buy tickets for a silent film in a theatre. The film does not particularly interest Craven and he again thinks of the waste of time.
Eventually Craven finds himself engaged with a stranger who arrives and occupied the seat next to him. The man asks Craven what is happening in the film and Craven reports that the woman (Pompilia) had just committed suicide. The man hauls Craven into a bizarre exchange on murder and blood commenting that a murder individual would bleed more profusely than the film suggested. As the man talks Craven gets the sensation that his face is being lightly sprayed with damp breath. Before the other leaves the theatre he mentions the Bayswater Tragedy and Craven asks him about it having seen he words on a poster before he entered the park. As the man is leaving the theatre the light from the film makes Craven aware oft eh smear on his hands. Panicked he leaves the theatre and phones the operator to be informed that there has been a murder in Cullen Mews.
The problem was that the police had got the murderer but failed to find the body. It is at this point that it dawns on Craven that the man next to him in the theatre was none less than the victim. The conclusive ideas in the work show Craven ‘back in the horror of his dream – the squalid darkening street outside was only one the innumerable tunnels connecting grave to grave where the imperishable bodies lay’. At the end of the story the reader is left with the impression that something has been launched, which the eye cannot follow. In Across the Bridge, the detective’s inability to identify a man in a context where he obviously stands out conspicuously introduces a humoristic element, however the situation is also tragic since the detectives intend to bait the man.
The conversation between Calloway and the detective must be understood at two main levels: at one level Mr. Calloway is apparently misleading the pursuers in assuming an innocent stance yet, all the same time, his answers are all authentic as he desires to cross the bridge. Irrespective of the reason why Mr. Calloway eventually chose to cross the bridge, whether he is looking for his dog or otherwise, his death is pitiable as suggested by the final image of a dying man with his hand around the dog. The final twist illustrates that Mr. Calloway’s tragedy didn’t lie in his death but his tragedy was his baseless optimism, his self-deception.
A recurring theme explored by Greene is the degree of intimacy in male-female relationships. In The Basement Room, there is a breakdown of the relationship between Mr. And Mrs. Baines as the story investigates the hatred of a husband and a wife towards each other. In The Innocent, Greene contrasts the untainted love of a child for another with his lust for sex as an adult towards Lola, a girl he picks from a bar. In The Blue Film, the themes are again marriage, love and lust. The issue is however, presented in a more challenging and provocative situation. The final stage of the work is the effect of the strange experience on the couple. Mrs. Carter, as expected, shows interest in wanting to know more. Mr. Carter, on the other hand, opts to be dismissive. The end of this account is rather tragic. Mrs. Carter is implacable in her desire and while she screams in what is supposed to suggest orgasmic passion and afterwards talks excitedly, ironically Mr. Carter feels he has betrayed that night.
In some cases, the characters’ own viewpoint is more pessimistic than that of the people who knew him. The question posed and left unanswered concerns the character’s ability to love, and Greene’s message is always the same: it is our human capacity to love which both leads us into sin and redeems us.