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The Narrative of Graham Greene'S Brighton Rock gains force through the presentation of two conflicting impulses continually at war with one another. The text describes not only the literal pursuit of Hale, and then the hunt for Pinkie, but also abounds with the metaphoric terminology of detection, containment, and capture, from Rose's yearning to seal Pinkie's words on a recording to the snapshot of an unaware Spicer that hangs outside a photographer's kiosk for all the world to peruse. Yet concurrent with these attempts by characters to "pin down" one another, are the dark pockets of incomprehensibility that stubbornly thwart and even mock human perception. Pinkie best exemplifies this enigma: "You couldn't tell if he was scared; his young ancient poker-face told nothing."1 Determined to foil any surveillance of his inner being, he has "an air of removing his thoughts, like heavy bales and stacking them inside, turning the key on all the world" (270). He utterly rejects any attempt to categorize or define him; when he is criticized by a former member of his gang, he aligns himself with Christ as the paradigm of the misunderstood figure prone to the subjective fancies of others: "The picture Cubitt drew had got nothing to do with him: it was like the pictures men drew of Christ, the image of their own sentimentality. Cubitt couldn't [End Page 689] know" (230). Although the limited accessibility of Pinkie's inner self to outsiders may be attributable to the notion formulated by Terry Eagleton that he and Rose "belong to a metaphysical elite" (132), it is also true that Ida Arnold, whom no one might accuse of an alienating religious philosophy, is as hard to pierce as the darkest Jansenist: "Her large clear eyes . . . told nothing, gave away no secrets. Camaraderie, good nature, cheeriness fell like shutters before a plate-glass window. You could only guess at the goods behind . . ." (92).

The tension in the novel between detection and evasion, the vast emotional spaces separating the characters and the fiercely dogged pursuit intended to annihilate that gap, centers around Pinkie. Perhaps because of his very reticence, he does not lack for pursuers; he is the magnet for various kinds of detection, and nearly everyone and everything in the novel eventually comes to hunt him. Critical studies of the novel have long focused on the philosophical opposition between Ida and Pinkie, but in the following I argue that Ida is but one in a series of "hounds"—Colleoni, the police, his childhood, Rose, God—each representing a different threat to Pinkie.2 Yet for all of his pursuers, and despite the novel's constant emphasis on the use of messages, photographs, recordings, signs, witnesses—all forms of tracing an individual—Pinkie emerges as profoundly indecipherable.

One of the central ironies in Brighton Rock is that although Pinkie is constantly watched or hunted by these antagonists, Greene seldom places him in a position of physical danger or of needing to escape an actual threat. Despite a few instances of actual pursuit—Colleoni's men tracking Pinkie after the racetrack incident or the race at the end of the novel to stop the killing of Rose—much of the action, from a strictly conventional point of view, is rather static. The characters all know where they can find one another; in fact, Pinkie is adamant that he will never leave Brighton:

He stared straight out towards France, an unknown land. At his back beyond the Cosmopolitan, Old Steyne, the Lewes Road, stood the downs, villages, cattle round the dewponds, another unknown land. This was his territory, the populous foreshore, a few thousand acres of houses. . . . It had been Kite's territory, it had been good enough for Kite, and when Kite had died in the waiting-room at St Pancras, it had been as if a father had died, leaving him an inheritance it was his duty never to leave for strange acres.

(160-161)

The repeated mention of such locales as The Cosmopolitan, Snow's, and Frank's Place enhances the presence of gang rivalry in Brighton Rock...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 689-703
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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