Many Affairs to End - Thoughts on The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

“I looked up just now from writing and caught sight of my own face in a mirror close to my desk, and I thought, does hatred really look like that? For I was reminded of that face we have all of us seen in childhood, looking back at us from the shop-window, the features blurred with our breath, as we stare with such longing at the bright unobtainable objects within.”

Graham Greene’s writing on page 57 of The End of the Affair encapsulates in only a few lines Maurice Bendrix’s blurred existence. Throughout the novel, Maurice cannot see through his own fogging breath that has blurred everything from joy and pain to hatred and love. Maurice is locked in the cold, banging on the door, seeking entry, yet holding the key. Greene’s illustration of a man so locked inside himself is the mastery in The End of the Affair.

To open the novel, Greene paints everything grimy and bleak. Darkness, confusion, and rain fill Maurice Bendrix and everything that surrounds him. This darkness is the background for much of the story, with Bendrix seeming to almost find comfort in the pain of the night. This darkness plays into the leitmotif of a lack of clarity. Bendrix refuses to see the truth and instead allows the figments of his desired reality to run amok.

The blur is shown throughout the novel when Bendrix cannot decide whether he loves or hates his lover, Sarah. This confusion between love and hate spills into his relationship with God as well. Bendrix thinks he hates, but his own hate is obscured by his love, which is too uncomfortable for him to acknowledge.

His constant internal debate devolves into near insanity when, on the day after Sarah’s death, Bendrix randomly bursts into uncontrollable laughter when discussing a funeral for Sarah. The love of his life is upstairs dead, and he is downstairs laughing at nothing to the point of tears. The demarcation between joy and pain has been blown away like ash.

In the final chapter of The End of the Affair, Bendrix understands that his futile struggle against love and the possibility of God must soon come to an end when he admits, “I felt like a swimmer who has over-passed his strength and knows the tide is stronger than himself.” Maurice Bendrix now knows the truth that his forced ignorance has been cracked. Just like his love, Sarah, Maurice’s affairs with atheism, hatred, and darkness must come to an end.

- Charlie, July 2021