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The Sinner-Saint Syndrome in Graham Greene’s Novels

Smita Jha

IIT, Roorkee

Volume 8, Number 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF


Graham Greene (1904-1991) emerged on the literary scene of England in the thirties with the publication of his first novel entitled The Man Within (1929), a historical romance, written perhaps under the influence of R.L.Stevenson, John Buchan and Marjorie Bowen, the little-known writer of The Viper Milan. He kept on writing for six decades thereafter, and in the process authored a large number of novels and ‘entertainment’, short stories, plays, travelogues, memories and general as well as critical essays. Greene was indeed a prolific writer, and perhaps he still continues to be Britain’s ‘main literary export’ to the rest of the English-speaking world. It is really amazing that at a time when a considerable number of writers and other intellectuals of the West were learning towards Marxism on account of the Russian revolution of 1917, Greece embraced Roman Catholicism in 1926 at the age of twenty two. Nevertheless, he is a rebel Christian, and in this connection says: ‘I am a Catholic with an intellectual, if not an emotional belief in Catholic dogma’. He speaks a good deal about sin and salvation, damnation and redemption in his fictional works; he does not paint his characters in mere black or white, for he is of the view that a saint may be an ex-sinner or that a sinner may be a saint in making.

Green’s novels are so complex, and there is so much of ambiguity in them, that they may be viewed from several angles. In the first place, they may be considered in terms of the theme of pursuit in them, for in the world of his novels, a world contingent upon crime and violence, treachery and betrayal, sin and damnation, pursuit, whether physical, existential, or metaphysical, dose play a significant role. Secondly, they may be interpreted in view of the theme of lost childhood or innocence in theme, for a majority of green’s major characters suffer, either physically or psychologically, during their childhood, lose their innocence, and go adrift in life. Thirdly, these novels may be considered from the existentialism point of view, for Greene is a votary of an individual’s uniqueness or singularity, and believes ardently in the independence of human mind and man’s freedom of choice. Imagery forms the very matrix of Greene’s prose style, and this is so because, on his own admission, Greene was greatly influenced by the Seventeenth-century English Metaphysical poets. And lastly, Greene’s novels may be discussed in the light of sinner-saint syndrome for, in a way, they are little theatres of the absurd, where the difference between good and evil, a saint and a sinner, between the hero and the villain, the tragic and the comic gets nearly obliterated. The present paper offers an interpretation of Greene’s five major novels in the context of this sinner-saint syndrome…Full Text PDF

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