Two Gentle People By Graham Greene (Tone And Language)
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“Two Gentle People” Language and Tone 6/21/01 Graham Greene’s story “Two Gentle People” introduces us to his characters Henry and Marie-Claire. They meet in a local park and are brought together by the thoughtless act of two teenagers. They are two people who seem very stuffy, rather old fashioned, and “” as we discover “” very unhappily married! In this story, the imagery and symbolism in their dialogue abounds. This sets the tone for a rather sad and pitiful story. The story reminds me of a song by country western artist Reba McIntyre that goes “”¦where were you when I could have loved you”¦.?” The central idea relays the notion that sometimes we need to aggressively seek to find our happiness. No matter what your age, true love could be out there waiting for you.
The story is set in late afternoon to early evening in a park in Paris, France. It concludes in the later evening in the individual homes of the characters. What is interesting about these settings is the opportunity for a romantic liaison. The reader has to wonder if it doesn’t come to pass because the characters are older, “In younger people it might have been a day for a chance encounter-secret behind the long barrier of perambulators with only babies and nurses in sight. But they were both of them middle-aged, and neither was inclined to cherish an illusion of possessing a lost youth,”¦” Or if it was because of the time period the story was set in (late 70’s?) and the free love movement had never hit their age bracket. “Modesty and disillusion gave them something in common’ though they were separated by five feet of green metal they could have been a married couple who had grown to resemble each other.
This story is told from an omniscient third party’s point of view. The narrator presents a few different conflicts throughout the story, but the major one is the conflict each character has within themselves. For Henry, does he tell Marie-Claire of his wife who tries his patience “” Patient? Does he maybe take the chance of being physical with Marie-Claire? Does she even want him to be anything but the gentleman she perceives him to be? For Marie-Claire, she finds herself in a horrible sham called a marriage. Does she confide in Henry? Does she linger over cocktails at the end of the evening to prolong what has probably been one of the happier evenings of her life in recent memory? The narrator also hints at the sex lives of these characters. Did Henry just make love to his wife that morning? “You want me to sleep so that I won’t expect anything. That’s it, isn’t it, you’re too old now to do it twice.” (Is it making love or just having sex?)
Poor Marie-Claire is married to a man who seems to prefer men to her. Even in the late 70’s, people had to be worried about AIDS; I doubt she would let him touch her! There is really interesting language in this story. As mentioned earlier, the tone is sad and goes hand in hand with pitiful, as you feel sorry for these two characters. The first example of language crosses over between symbolism and irony. Each of them goes home to sleep in a twin or single bed, yet both of them are married. The single bed symbolizes the passionless relationships they both exist in. The irony also lies in the sexual aspect where, because they wouldn’t delve deeper into each other’s lives “” even though it was obvious they wanted to “” they both missed out on a romantic interlude. Maybe, if they had realized they had so very much unhappiness in common, they could have changed their situations.
Symbolism also mixes with imagery in this story. The obvious imagery is in the beginning where they describe Henry’s moustache. “”¦with his silky old-world moustache like a badge of good behavior”¦” You can imagine a big, but neatly trimmed, busy moustache as the center feature of his face. Maybe similar to an English gentleman of yesteryear. But the imagery and symbolism I really like are the words Graham Greene paints for us as they each enter their domicile. “Marie-Claire walked through the self-opening doors and thought, as she always did, of airports and escapes.” The imagery shows us that long before she even meets the charming Henry, Marie-Claire has had thoughts of escaping her unhappy life. Airports, especially, symbolize escape as one usually does not get on an airplane unless they are taking a longer trip then one might undertake by car.
As she enters and the first thing she sees is the abstract painting she seems to detest, we see imagery of her feelings reflected in the narrator’s description. “An abstract painting in cruel tones of scarlet and yellow faced the door and treated her like a stranger.” Marie-Claire only feels like a stranger in this house/flat. Because the picture was painted by one of her husband’s many assignations, Marie-Claire feels that it mocks her. It seems to symbolize all she dislikes of her life in that place. Interesting also, is the “little stone phallus with painted eyes that had a place of honor in the living-room.” It symbolizes her husband’s preference for penises as opposed to the soft curves of a woman.
Henry greets his wife, Patience, and ironically puts up with her impatient tone and sarcastic imaginations. The cigarette burns on the pillow make the reader believe this woman very seldom leaves her home, let alone the bed. She obviously has an elixir to help her sleep and he mixes it up with water encouraging her to drink it. Their dialogue is telling, “You want me to sleep so that I won’t expect anything. That’s it, isn’t it, you’re too old to do it twice.” These words tell the reader that even if they have a sex life, Henry is in no hurry to repeat the deed that was apparently done in the morning. He would rather sit back and relive his evening with Marie-Claire. “”Luckily this would not be one of their worst nights, for she drank from the glass without further argument, while he sat beside her and remembered the street outside the brasserie and how “” by accident he was sure “” he had been called “tu”.”
The ultimate irony is how Marie-Claire and Henry come together, once again, in the end of the story. This time their chance meeting is esoterically in their minds. Henry sits back and thinks, “I was only thinking that things might have been different,” he said. It was the biggest protest he had ever allowed himself to make against the condition of life.” Marie-Claire, as she inserts her earplugs to block her dallying husband, “”¦and she shut her eyes and thought how different things might have been if fifteen years ago she had sat on a bench in the Parc Monceau, watching a man with pity killing a pigeon.” Where were you when I could have loved you”¦”¦..?”