Theme of Catholicism in Brighton Rock
Greene has successfully crafted the concept of heaven and hell in Brighton Rock. He has displayed the circumstances of Roman Catholics of his time through this theme. The leading character Pinkie confirmed throughout the novel that he believed in hell only but in reality he was also searching for the crack that would take him to heaven. Though he was not able to visualize the picture of heaven but had a vivid vision of hell:
“Of course there’s Hell. Flames and damnation, torments.” (55)
Pinkie believed that he is not a saint and will go to hell that awaits him after death so there is no need to trouble about it in advance. He says, “Hell-it’s just there. You don’t need to think of it not before you die.” (96) Rose is the another character who supports Greene in depicting the theme of heaven and hell. Opposite to Pinkie, she had faith in God, prayers and heaven.
She confirmed Pinkie about the presence of heaven that it is also there but Pinkie’s reaction was only this ‘maybe.’ For him, “Heaven was a word: hell was something he could trust. A brain was only capable of what it could conceive and it couldn’t conceive what it had never experienced.” (248)
At Pinkie’s above speech, she said that ‘you might die sudden.’ Pinkie lost in thought and suddenly the speech floated in his mind, “You know what they say-Between the stirrup and the ground, he something sought, and something found.” Rose knew that the word, that will replace Pinkie’s ‘something’ is ‘mercy’.
Pinkie knew that he would be damned but he also had belief in Roman Catholic teachings that a person can be saved if he repents before death. Perhaps this is the reason that he hummed the rhyme ‘stirrup and the ground’ throughout the novel.
Rose told Pinkie that she always prays God to have mercy on her. She was afraid of sudden death and asked him whether he did prayers or not. Pinkie denied that he never prays but the reader knows that he was praying just before when Spicer was talking about his wedding with Rose. He was scared of carrying her any further in his life so prayed God to take her away from his life.
“I don’t, he said, but he was praying even while he spoke to someone or something: that he would not need to carry on any further with her, get mixed up again with that drab dynamited plot of ground they both called home.” (96) Pinkie denied his belief in God and prayers but he felt that some invisible power is working against him. “He couldn’t get the suggestion of Spicer out of his mind; it was like an invisible power working against him.” (108) The joke of Spicer to marry Rose, the stupid nature of Spicer who had allowed a photographer to click his picture at pier and hang it on the wall of his studio, the woman who was asking questions, all these thoughts trouble his mind and he felt as if he was pursued by some unknown power.
Even when Colleoni’s men attacked him at racecourse, he ran away to save his life. He could feel the death and this realization terrified him. All the way, he prayed God to secure his life. “He wept as he ran, lame in one leg from the kick, he even tried to pray.” (115) The fear of death brought softness and religion out of a hard and stubborn Pinkie. In this painful condition, he thought about Spicer who might have been killed by Colleoni’s men. His death will relief him because Pinkie felt that Spicer is milky and may become the witness against him. He was sure to handle Rose and then there will be peace in his life. Suddenly, he began to think about the confession box in church. “His heart weakened with a faint nostalgia for the tiny dark confessional box, the priest’s voice, and the people waiting under the statue, before the bright lights burning down in the pink glasses, to be made safe from eternal pain. Eternal pain had not meant much to him, now it meant the slash of razor blades infinitely prolonged.”(117)
This nostalgic thought exhibits the real Roman inside the rude Pinkie who thinks about God, confession, repentance and relief from eternal pain that at present moment was the pain of blades.
The thought of salvation and damnation always remained in Pinkies mind, when Pinkie walked alone day after his marriage, he saw an old woman in the wee hours of morning. He observed her as a sight of damnation but when he focused on the words she was whispering, he got to know that she was one of the saved.
“He could just see the rotting and discoloured face: it was like the sight of damnation. Then he heard the whisper, ‘Blessed art those among women’. Saw the grey fingers jumbling at the beads.This was not one of the damned: he watch with horrified fascination, this was one of the saved.” (204)
In the company of Pinkie, Rose was confirmed that she had chosen the sight of damnation. Before marriage, she went to church but came back from outside only because she knew that Pinkie is not a holy soul and would be damned so how could she pray for her salvation. While Pinkie was watching that old lady, Rose too realized at Pinkie’s home that, she had chosen her path of damnation and stopped doing morning prayers. “What was the good of praying now? She’d finished with all that: she had chosen her side. If they damned him, they’d got to damn her too.” (207)
After marriage Pinkie began to feel his home like hell. He could not bear the presence of Rose in his room. He can easily visualize the scene of hell in his own bedroom. “Now it was as if he was damned already and there was nothing more to fear ever again-The ugly bell chattered, the long wire humming in the hall, and the bars globe burnt above the bed-the girl, the washstand, the sooty window, the bland shape of chimney, a voice whispered, “I love you, Pinkie.” This was hell then; it wasn’t anything to worry about; it was just his own familiar room.”
Later on, when Pinkie visited Prewitt’s house, the image became more apparent: when he saw a spouse having watch on every guest from the basement, the shaking walls of his house and the non-stop noise from the radio of neighbourhood. Prewitt felt that he was captured in a hell where he even could not die. He quoted Mephistopheles’ words to Faustus.” “Why, this is Hell, nor are we out of it.” Andrew Moore opines that “Pinkie would not be familiar with Marlowe’s play, but the quotation expresses an idea to which his own thoughts have been tending.” Pinkie is like Faustus who was trying to make a deal: He accepts his own damnation in return for some advantage in this world. Every moment he spent with Rose was like hell to him. He wanted to get rid of her but got indulge in a lifelong relationship.
Pinkie had deep faith in hell, and in a way accepted the Roman Catholic teachings though in perverted way. Though he believed that there was no place like heaven but at emotional weak points of his life, he yearned to have that crack that may show him the image of heaven. Greene has provided him several chances of forgiveness but everytime he became firm and moved ahead on the path of damnation. While driving to Peace Haven where he had planned the suicide of Rose, he had a vision of sixty years ahead. “there’ll be time enough in the years ahead sixty years-to repent of this. Go to a priest. Say: Father, I’ve committed murder twice. And there was a girl-she killed herself.” Even if death come suddenly, driving home tonight, the smash on the lamp-post-there was still ‘between the stirrup and the ground’. (248) For a moment he became emotional and looked at Rose with affection and without repulsion. He was stirred with an awful resentment and the question troubled him, why did he not get the chance of having a glimpse of heaven.
“-why shouldn’t he have had his chance like all the rest, seen his glimpse of heaven if it was only a crack between the Brighton wall…” (249) He looked at Rose as if she may be that crack in his life that will show him the glimpse of heaven. But he only got disappointment and saw a mouth that wanted a sexual embrace. When he drove away from the bar, the chance of repentance came most vividly. He felt as if “something trying to get in; the pressure of gigantic wings against the glass. Dona nobis pacem…If the glass broke, if the beast-whatever it was- got in, God knows what it would do.” The phrase ‘God knows has significant meaning here. God was providing him the chance to see the crack opening in Brighton walls but he resisted it and met his damnation.
Rose did not have the power to visualize hell like Pinkie but she was confirmed on one thing that “she was going to show them that they couldn’t damn him without damning her too.” (249) But she was afraid of death and when Pinkie gave her gun to shoot himself, she wanted to throw it away and ran somewhere else. Her passionate honest love for Pinkie was stopping her to betray him and run away. She felt her responsibility to play her role “Moral maxims dressed in pedantic priestly tones remembered from old sermons, instructions, confessions-‘you can pride for him at the throne of Grace’-came to her like unconvincing insinuations. The evil act was the honest act, the bold and the faithful-it was only lack of courage, it seemed to her, that spoke so virtuously.” (263) But with the hustle and bustle of outside, she got the chance to throw it away. And now it was Pinkie’s turn to face his damnation. Greene has picturized his death scene as if he is in a purgatory session facing his punishment.
“He screamed and screamed, with his hands up to his eyes; he turned and ran; she saw a police baton at his feet and broken glass. He looked half his size, doubled up in appalling agony it was as if the flames had literally got him and he shrank-shrank into a school-boy flying in panic and pain, scrambling over a fence, running on.” (264) Dallow hurried to stop him but he was late, Pinkie was gone. It seemed as if he had achieved him damnation “It was as if he’d been withdrawn suddenly by a hand out of any existence-past or present. Whipped away into zero- nothing.” (264) The hand out of any existence must be of God who took him away to face the consequences of his misdeeds and to save Rose’s life from his cruel hands.