Childhood and Adolescence

Greene had a happy childhood. In his novel, The Ministry of Fear, he says of childhood:

'... we live under the brightness of immortality - heaven is as near and actual as the seaside. Behind the complicated details of the world stand the simplicities: God is good, the grown-up man or woman knows the answer to every question, there is such a thing as truth, and justice is as measured and faultless as a clock... ' (The Ministry of Fear, pp. 88-89)

This hardly describes Pinkie's world. Even Rose, who Ida constantly refers to as 'child', is not so naïve as to accept the tick-tock notions of justice that Ida throws at her. Greene continues,

'... Our heroes are simple: they are brave, they tell the truth, they are good swordsmen and they are never in the long run really defeated' (ibid.)

Greene's childhood heroes are those of Rider Haggard and R.L. Stevenson. Whilst Pinkie, the hero of Brighton Rock, is not immediately identifiable with the heroes of Haggard - he is certainly not simple - there is a romance common to Greene's own heroes and those of his childhood authors. Pinkie does not succeed in his ambitions of power and wealth. He runs away, defeated, from Colleoni's men at the race-course and even Spicer gets out of his trap on this occasion. He marries Rose, a girl of the same impoverished class as himself. Indeed, the whole plot unfolds out of a failure in his carefully planned murder of Hale. But he is the hero of the story. He shares with his Victorian adventure story counterparts a kind of dignity and glory that Ida - who succeeds in her objectives - lacks. We can only speculate whether Pinkie is successful in his spiritual quest for eternal damnation.

The corruption of the Victorian hero of Greene's childhood lies behind 'the green baize door'. Greene's father was the headmaster of Berkhamstead School, the school that Greene himself attended. The private side and the public side, the headmaster's lodgings and the school, Greene's home and hell, were separated by no more than a green baize door next to his father's study. The happiness of his childhood came to an abrupt end when, as he reached adolescence, he was forced onto the other side of the green baize door to become a boarder at his father's school.

Pinkie is caught in adolescence, that period between childhood and manhood that Greene depicts so painfully in the characters of Pinkie and a number of his other protagonists. It is a period of desolation; without the consolation of childhood, confronted alone by the growing pains of manhood. The greatest of these is a feeling of entrapment, a feeling that there is no escape from this adolescent hell. In The Lawless Roads, Greene describes the link between adolescence and hell in more explicit terms:

'It is this boyishness, this immaturity, which gets most on my nerves in Mexico. Grown men cannot meet in the street without sparring like schoolboys. One must be as a little child, we are told, to enter the kingdom of heaven, but they have passed childhood and remain for ever in a cruel anarchic adolescence.' (The Lawless Roads, p.69)

Pinkie represents - in his hatred of authority and ambitions to power and glory; his fear of growing up and thirst for experience - the insecurities of adolescence. The registry office, a watershed in Pinkie's short life, is likened to a public lavatory - an abiding reminder of the disinfected institution of Greene's schooldays. There are many references, more directly, to the 'school playground' that reveal Greene's schoolboy misery:

'Like a cruel child who hides the dividers behind him, he put his hand with spurious affection on Spicer's arm' ... "Good luck to you," he said in a high broken adolescent voice and patted him again... 'Pain happened to him, and he was filled with horror and astonishment as if one of the bullied brats at school had stabbed first with the dividers.' (101-106)

Pinkie is like a schoolboy that revels in the romantic glory of Second World War fiction. His dreams, equally romantic, are of money, power, glory... fur coats, elegant and mature women, the thick pile carpets of The Cosmopolitan, gold cigar lighters. He is not allowed to dream for long. Imagine a schoolboy

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