The Boy, Pinkie, only wanted one thing: to escape the pangs of love. At an early age, when he endured the sights and sounds of his parents’ love in their tiny apartment, he dismissed its very notion as childish and subhuman. The very thought of its amorous qualities gagged him; the very thought of its philia characteristics drove him to murder. By receding from the love of others, he only loved himself. He did whatever it took to place himself in power and authority over others. He loved in a twisted manner.
Rose only wanted two things: to love and to be loved. She wanted to sacrifice her entire being — mental, physical, and spiritual — for another. It was her duty to do so. Her sacrifice was not intended for the betterness of the other, but instead, for the fulfillment of her soul. Her sacrificial, dutiful love gave her value, even if the value fell outside the bounds of her Catholic faith. Her love openly embraced eternal damnation at the price of a damned sacrifice that reaped false earthly value and satisfaction. She loved in a twisted manner.
Ida only wanted one thing: to love what is Right and Wrong. These transcendent axioms guided her life. Every move she made was predicated upon them. If an action does not fall under their umbrellas, participate in them completely. If an action infringes upon them, be a champion for what is Right and Wrong. Do whatever it takes to make sure those around you live within their rules. All of Ida’s love went toward these truths. She didn’t really love anyone. Her marriage failed and her current male companionship was only indulged upon for his sake. She loved in a twisted manner.
In Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, the reader encounters these three unique characters. Each one has an ideal that determines the way in which they love. All three of these qualities are found in love, but they separated them from the very essence of love — God.
In a desperate attempt to save his skin from prison, the Boy loves himself and his position of seeming power in Brighton so much that he kills his fellow gang members, marries the impressionable, sacrificial, dutiful Rose, and eventually tries to manipulate her to kill herself out of duty to him. Rose, because someone (the Boy) finally took notice of her, gave her entire soul to him: “I want to be like him — damned.” Whatever depths of evil he plunged to, she followed willingly behind him — in duty and sacrifice to the love he obviously fabricated. Ida, on the other hand, adhered to an obscure notion of Right and Wrong, yet she had no foundations to determine the rightness or wrongness of any action. She was her own legislature, judge, and jury. She tried her best to save the young Rose from the Boy because she felt it was the Right thing to do.
Even the priest at the end, the only semblance of true faith, seemed disconnected and discontented: “the old head bent toward the grill [confession booth]. The priest had a whistle in his breath…the old priest had a cold and smelt of eucalyptus.” In the moment of Rose’s greatest peril and hope, in her moment of repentance, the priest told her to “come back soon — I can’t give absolution now — but come back — tomorrow.” The priest, who in Catholicism is man’s advocate to God for his sins, fails to sacrifice his time and comfort in order to absolve Rose’s sins. The reader never know if she goes back, but it is fair to assume she doesn’t. I think it is also fair to assume she commits suicide after she encounters the “worst horror of them all” (a taped recording of her apparent “love”, the Boy, speaking sweetly to her. Instead she will find this: “God damn you, you little bitch, why can’t you go back home for ever and let me be?”).
God is no where to be seen in these manifestations of love. Because of it, the Boy kills himself, Rose wants to follow him to damnation, and Ida feels no remorse for the Boy’s death and goes to the ouiji board. 1 Corinthians clearly states that God is love. For to be loved by God and to love him and his people fully, one must love his own self, die to his own self for the sake of Christ, and follow God’s commands and help those he loves to do the same.
I think we all, for the most part, love like the Boy, Rose, or Ida — and even the priest. Yes, the picture of humanity’s love that Greene paints is grotesque (Its fitting since Greene was good friends with Flannery O’Connor) and offensive, but his purpose is to draw our hearts inward to reflect and ask the question: do I love like the Boy? Rose? Ida? The priest?
When I initially read Brighton Rock, I only felt pity and fear for Rose. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. None of my sins, pains, or gifts seemed to be present. Usually, when that is the case, I drop the book and move to something else. My hope in reading novels is usually to be moved to a higher consciousness of my own broken and redeemed reality. But for some reason, even though I initially didn’t recognize those features in Brighton Rock, I didn’t do drop it. I pressed on. At the time, I felt like in some way or another I could save Rose if I kept reading — which of course is ridiculous. But now I know why I really kept reading…
I’m frequently, and obviously, the Boy.
Who are you?