by Sarah Jones
'Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours,
that they meant to murder him'. This powerful and
sinister sentence is the opening line of Brighton
Rock and the start of a gripping thriller. Part One
of the novel, despite Greene's later concerns that it
should have been removed, sets the scene and introduces
the two main protagonists, Ida and Pinkie (initially
referred to as 'the boy' - it is not until Chapter Two
that he takes on the role of main character and becomes 'the
Boy'). However, from Part Two onwards, it is quickly
apparent that the novel is not just a murder mystery but
also addresses metaphysical issues of Good versus Evil
and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.
The two opposing characters in the 'Good versus Evil' struggle are Pinkie and Ida. It is interesting and ironic that the evil Pinkie is the 'Roman'. He nurtures vice, although he realises, after his first taste of alcohol that 'You could lose vice as easily as you could lose virtue', and chooses Hell over Heaven: 'Heaven was a word: hell was something he could trust'.
Pinkie is appalled at the idea of sexual contact: 'a prick of sexual desire disturbed him like a sickness . . . He felt desire move again, like nausea in the belly'. This is partly a result of having watched his parents' weekly sexual activities while he was a child. In order to consummate his marriage he needs to tell both Rose and himself that they are committing a mortal sin because they were not married in church.
comes to believe that Hell is all around him, it is part
of his life. He is responsible for two murders, and is
compelled to marry Rose to prevent her from giving
evidence. On his wedding night he looks around his room
from his bed, no longer alone and no longer celibate: '(he
had graduated in the last human shame): This was hell
then . . . it was just his old familiar room'. Mr Prewitt,
the lawyer, confirms this when Pinkie visits him: 'Why,
this is Hell, nor are we out of it'.
characters are opposites in other ways: Pinkie is young (seventeen),
thin and introverted. Ida is late thirties or early
forties, large and ebullient. She is superstitious.
Pinkie prides himself on not being, or trying not to be,
superstitious: 'If I was one of those crazy geezers who
touch wood, throw salt, won't go under ladders'. Ida is
confident, popular and not afraid to stick to her own
views even when friends try to talk her out of something.
As the net closes in on Pinkie, Phil Corkery is tiring of
the intrigue and wants to leave well alone: 'Don't you
think, Ida, we've done enough . . . We've done our best.
It's a matter for the police or no one'. But Ida will not
give up; it is not just her sense of fairness but the
sense of excitement: 'I don't say it hasn't been -
exciting . . . What's the harm in that?'
thought after his first sexual encounter is not of the
pleasure but that 'he had exposed himself and nobody had
laughed'. He is driven by a need to feel safe. When he
believes Spicer has been killed by Colleoni's men, his 'thoughts
inevitably came back with a sense of relief . . . It was
impossible to repent of something which made him safe'.
If he could acknowledge one weakness, it would be the
effect of music on his emotions - music could make him
cry, but rather than admit this he would walk away from
the music or leave a cinema. Pinkie is sadistic. He wants
to rip a plaster off Spicer's cheek to see the wound open,
he pinches Rose's wrist until it hurts, and, on their
first date, threatens her with the acid he regularly
carries. Ida, by way of contrast, on leaving Frank's
place, gives money to a little boy she does not know -
she possessed an innate kindness.
lifestyle, religion and personality take him into a
downward spiral of multiple murder and ultimately his own
death. Ida's irreligious love of life gives her the
strength and courage to fight for Good. Good wins over
So Rose represents a good which completes Pinkie's evil, in contrast to Ida who represents good fighting evil. She is, in many ways, the link between the two, a connection between Good and Evil. Her memory for faces allows her to deduce that Hale did not leave the Kolley Kibber card at Snow's. She passes this information to Ida. But it is also this memory that turns her into a threat to Pinkie, forcing him to marry her to prevent her testifying against him. Rose, in her naivety, wants to believe that Pinkie loves her, and becomes his most loyal supporter, even though she suspects he is a murderer:
Ida sees the good in Rose and wants to save her from Pinkie, and Rose is part of Ida's motivation for continuing her quest. But Rose has convinced herself that Pinkie loves her and wouldn't do her any harm. She has, through her association with Pinkie, lost some of her goodness. She is loyal to a murderer. Some of her Catholic beliefs have slipped away and she is not ashamed of committing a 'mortal sin' - sleeping with Pinkie without a church wedding. The morning after the wedding, she wakes up in Pinkie's room:
Rose is absorbed into Pinkie's life to such an extent that she appears willing to commit the ultimate sin, suicide, so that they will both go to Hell together.
It never occurs to Rose that Pinkie would not kill himself after she is dead. She takes the gun that Pinkie has given her and he leaves her alone in the car. She begins to doubt but pushes the doubts aside: 'If it was a guardian angel speaking to her now, he spoke like a devil - he tempted her to virtue like a sin'. Pinkie's influence is apparent here as this thought reflects Pinkie's own view stated earlier: 'You could lose vice as easily as you could lose virtue'. She picks up the gun but Ida, Dallow and a policeman arrive just in time. In the ensuing struggle, Pinkie's face is burned with his own vitriol:
achieves his ultimate goal and dies in the fires of Hell.
Ida feels vindicated, she has solved the puzzle and saved
Rose but the experience has changed her - perhaps she has
had enough adventure and excitement. She goes home to ask
the Board if she should return to her husband and
possibly to a more traditionally accepted 'good'
lifestyle without the amorous adventures.
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