The Second Phase : Strike The Father Dead
In STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD we have a fusion of realism and romance. Like Saul Bellow's DANGLING MAN and THE VICTIM, this novel conveys "the sense of a real sufferer hedged in by circumstances and neurotic attitudes".1 It has an exuberance and a sense of infinite possibilities. In fact, it is the novel "of a sufferer in the city but of a sufferer who contains the city within him.2 Jeremy, the hero, feels that he is the prisoner of his perception of Greek Grammar as he gets a severe report :
Anyway, once I got properly into the country, where there wasn't any traffic to speak of, I got the eternal Greek grammar out of my pocket and spread it open on the handlebars. Christ Almighty, I could weep when I think back on it. The way they'd sold me that stuff. My work had never been bad - I'd always been kept down to the grindstone so firmly that I wouldn't have known what to do without it - but I had been falling behind in Greek, and old Thorne had taken me aside on the last day of term. 'I'm giving you a severe report, Coleman', he'd said, looking at me with that awful glum seriousness of his. Anybody watching would have thought he was saying I'd got to have both my legs amputated, and by God they'd have got the same impression from my face as from his. A severe report. The son of Professor Alfred Coleman to get a severe report in Greek. 'I know it won't please your father', old Thomas went on, looking more like a St. Bernard do than ever. 'But I want to spur you on some extra effort. Your Greek has been sleeping'. And yours has slipped I ought to have told him. It's slipped down from your cranium till it's round your neck and strangling you, you old ruin. Instead, of course, I just cast my eyes down meekly, and as soon as he cleared off I went up to the dormitory to get on with my packing, an the first thing I put in was the Greek grammar, I can see it now, a nasty little olive - green volume. Olive - green. A colour that ought to make one think of olives, the Mediterranean, warm evenings with music, glasses of red wine out of doors, and girls in night dresses. Instead, it makes me think of that dammed grammar.3
But the fact of the matter is that it is his perception that is his prisoner. He sees only what he needs to see and we see only what Jeremy sees. Yet Wain is not Jeremy. Though he had some difficulties in maintaining a distance from his hero - he has been successful to a considerable extent in doing so.
The important characters of the novel are Professors of English (Alfred Coleman and Matheson), Vice Chancellor (Lennox), jazz players (Jeremy and Percy). It is the world "in which people by definition have functions"4 They are hardly ever genuinely mysterious or even non-existent. It is the sum total of the ambitions (of Alfred and Jeremy), the striving, the calculation and the cross-purposes of just such individuals as populate the rest of the novels like HURRY ON DOWN, THE CONTENDERS and A TRAVELING WOMAN.
Wain takes up a large area of modern life as his subject in STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD.He believes it is his business to show his readers how decisions are arrived at on some of the most important issues of both public as well as private life. He is interested in relations between the sexes, between man and man and man and woman in their merely personal lives. In other words, he belongs to the tradition of Jane Austen and E. M. Forster, novelists who excelled in the delineation of personal relationships in English fiction. But he is also interested in the way groups of individual act with or against one another to produce events which have significant public consequences. Wain does not create an artificial division between private passion and public behaviour. At a level of perceptibly below melodrama he shows how the two are so entangled, so caught up in each other, that they cannot be separated without "unacceptable violence"5 being done to their natures. This unacceptable violence to their nature does occur in STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD when Jeremy, the hero, "revolts against his father",6 Jeremy calls it a murder, not of a person but of "a way of life".7 In fact, like Dostoevsky, Wain through Jeremy, tries to maintain the dignity of man. He defends the self and affirms the beauty and dignity of man. He tries to create an idea construction of reality, humanizing the world after his own image in order to impose himself on reality though also submitting to it instead. Through this process Wain has been also to affirm human possibilities. He does so not with a view to preserving the self. He dissolves the self in brotherhood. His revolt, as seen in the following passage, is a step towards this :
The endless round of duties and responsibilities that had been palmed off on me as a life - it wasn't a life. It was a fraud and knew it. And it they didn't know it, so much the worse for them. They meant everyone, including the old man Alfred (Jeremy's father), or rather especially him.8
Later his feeling became stronger :
Out of my I thought, I've struck off the chains and I'm heading for open country. An escaped slave, perfectly willing to cut down everyone who stands in front of him. This was no time for evasions.9
His self-defense is manifest in his romantic escape in piano playing :
It was about four o'clock when I got back. Aunt Eleannor called out that tea was ready; I called back that I didn't want any, thanks, and went into the music room. There was the piano - all those lovely white fangs smiling up at me, with the black chunky ones laid out over them in such a satisfying pattern. This was what I was lusting for. It was the one thing that permitted me to do something to rival that bird's take-off. I threw off my jacket, sat down and began to bear it out.
It was a funny thing, this piano-playing. All through my childhood, I'd been dutiful and hardworking about everything, but nowhere more so than in my music lessons. Even at the age of eight or nine, I'd experienced a blessed sense of release in bringing my fingers down on the keys and striking out those lovely rich sounds from behind that polished wood. Even when all I was being taught to play was 'Fairy Bells' and stuff like that , it used to do me good to hear music coming out. I used to practise for hours. Of course, looking back on it, I can see that it was the only way I could combine duty with pleasure; it was a virtuous of making a noise. I used to rejoice in striking chords and listening to them echo through the whole house. This is me surrounding these chords. I used to think, plong, plong : Jeremy Coleman's chords. Nobody else but Jeremy Coleman can play exactly this sequence of chords.10
The germination of the seeds of revolt against his father has roots not in his father as individual but in his imposition of learning Greek grammar that Jeremy so much hated. He always got a severe report in Greek grammar. On Alfred's advise he also did some extra effort, yet Greek ever eluded him. To be the worthy son of a worthy father Jeremy knew he could have to do a lot; and in fact he did so. To take his own words :
I ate, drank, slept and breathed Greek grammar. My only ambition was to print that evil little book on my brain, indelibly. Then I should know all the answers about Greek grammar........ Then I should be loved, admired, accepted and tolerated, by everyone in my world. Especially my father. Because of course, from his point of view, a son who really knew every page of the Greek grammar was a son to be proud of, one who had the right stuff in him. The right stuff, in this case, being Greek grammar.11
Jeremy, a slip of a boy, takes too much upon him and hence the 'unacceptable violence' between the father and the son. Once again Jeremy confesses that it is not a personal revolt against his father when he decided to switch over to playing piano rather than cramming Greek grammar. Once again he wants to preserve the self like the hero of Saul Bellow's HERZOG. He confesses :
I swear I wasn't doing it to needle him. I was in revolt, yes but not necessarily personal revolt against the old man. When I threw the Greek grammar away, I didn't mean anyone any harm; I just threw it away, period. I just couldn't take any more. And now this. I wanted to play the 'Memphis Blues' the way the bird wanted to take off in a deed straight line. It was welling out of me. But how far you explain that sort of thing to someone like my old man? Answer : you don't. So, in a kind of desperation, I kept on playing.12
But Alfred belongs to the world of John Wain, in which we have "very busy people".13 Alfred is awfully busy. He is the only senior professor who has never asked for leave. For the last thirty one years of service, Alfred has not once gone on even sick leave. The vacations have always sufficed him both for rest and his researches. It is not that he never finds his duties light, but neither has he found them impossibly onerous. It has always seemed to him that a man in normal health, that luckily he has enjoyed so far, ought to be able to function his duty normally, Alfred turns down very politely the offer given by the Vice Chancellor to go on leave. He is also against those visiting professors who believe in the tendency in modern academic life to make a continental tour lecturing here and there. Surprisingly enough, his son Jeremy finds a revulsion towards this Alfred's meticulous sense of duty. Through that process Wain (like Saul bellow) attempts to "affirm human possibilities".14
Duty had been more important than God - which was, I suppose, an attitude I had unconsciously picked up from the old man. On the other hand, his brand of antiseptic agnosticism hadn't particularly affected me. I'd somehow, twigged, from a quite early age, that these things went in periods, and the old man belonged to an epoch in which anyone with any intelligence naturally thought religion a lot of mumbo-jumbo, and every clergyman either a hypocritical scoundrel or a well-meaning idiot.15
And since his aunt Eleanor comes nowhere in the picture he does not revolt against her. When he leaves her home and his aunt, he feels very sorry for Eleanor. He never wants to do anything that will make her sad. She remains ironically distanced from Wain and Jeremy :
I tried to keep my mind off all that, but I kept on seeing Aunt Eleanor's face, all screwed up the way it is when she's is trying to keep herself from crying. If only she won't worry, I thought. I'd always hated doing anything to hurt Aunt Eleanor. Of course she'd got hurt pretty often, one way and another, being placed as she was between the old man and me, and with it the sort of tender heart that bruised if you just brushed against it. But she always did her best for both of us. Sitting there, in the farmhouse kitchen, reading old newspapers while it went dark outside, I kept swallowing and swallowing, but the lump in any throat kept coming back. 'God', I remember thinking, 'if only it were possible to live without hurting anybody.16
Yet Jeremy remains alienated. He runs away from Eleanor and Alfred. Eleanor's non-interference in his affairs and Alfred's too much insistence on learning Greek grammar are the factors for his alienation. He feels his father might inhibit integrity of his ego. In course of his talk to Diana he mentions angrily :
My father is an old fashioned professor of classics at a tenth-rate university. He lives a stiff, uncomfortable life because it's good for his soul. He hates to see anybody enjoying themselves because people who are enjoying themselves don't talk about duty and self-sacrifice. He sent me to that school classics are particularly taught there and he knew a way to get me in pretty cheaply. I don't believe he cares about snobbish values any more than I do. Its just that he wanted me to do plenty of Latin and Greek under the belt so that I could be like him.17
This conflict of STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD can be traced back to Richardson's CLARISSA.. As in CLARISSA so in STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD>, we have a conflict - "the individual heart versus the conventional standards of the property owning class"18 - a conflict found in modern novels (Jeremy standing for individual heart and Alfred for conventional standards). Hating Greek grammar is nothing but Jeremy's conflict with the conventional standard of his father. How much relieved he feels when he decides to break with the value of his father stand for and goes to the border of a country-lane and finds 'life' :
Well you know what the border of a country lane is like in April. It hadn't rained that day, so the grass wasn't soaking wet. If it had been, I suppose I'd have scrambled up, picked up the bike and righteously pedalled on, and if so I'd probably have finished up as a professor of Greek. What a deliverance. It's strange that I can't believe in a God, really, because this really did look like an instance of divine intervention. The grass was young and tender, like me. It was green, and so was I. All it wanted was to be left alone to grow and enjoy life in its own fashion. And suddenly the same of true of me, and I knew it.
I rolled on to my back, put my hands behind my head, and looked round me. At my side there was a hedge, just coming into leaf. The road I had pedalled along stretched away through fields and woods; birds flew across the sky, which showed, here and there, patches of fresh, pale blue. There was a breeze, but nothing to gnaw at your bones. Everything in sight was rejoicing that the winter was over. Etcetera. You can fill in the blah for yourself. But I was there, I saw it. The grass was soft and full of life between my fingers. The back wheel of my bike down in the ditch, was still whirring gently round. A few insects zoomed about in the mild air. Life, I thought. I didn't think anything more coherent; nothing you could make into a connected sentence. It was just that one word, life, that started beating around in my head, my chest, my belly and finally my arms and legs.19
Wain is very neat Fielding, Austen and Thackeray when he presents in STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD the conflict caused by love. It is the conflict between Jeremy (who is devoid to his father's love) and Alfred who attacks the self of Jeremy. So Jeremy's revolt against his father seems to have some justification. Even Eleanor, his aunt, sometimes feels that Alfred has not given love to his son. He has been quite neglectful in this respect; though she has tried to give him motherly affection after the death of Alfred's wife. When Jeremy's leaves home and joins the jazz group, she does not find Alfred making any serious attempt to search him out. While talking to Alfred about Jeremy she bursts out :
You're a monster, Alfred, you've a heartless father. You were too harsh with the boy. you lost his trust and he couldn't tell you about his troubles, and now he's gone and we'll never see him again.20
And Jeremy, too, tells about it to Alfred bluntly when he goes back home for the first time after jazz-pianist, and is confronted with him. This confrontation illustrates the clash between individual heart and conventional standards, as should be clear from the following dialogue between Jeremy and Alfred :
Look father - you know what I mean. You stuffed me full of principles. Live for others. Hard work and self-sacrifice. Discipline. Don't be tempted by pleasure and self-indulgence-shut all that out. Well, it didn't work with me. I tried to swallow it, when I was young enough to accept your view of the world as the only one. But the time had to come when I just shook it off.
Why had it to come?
He shrugged, 'It just didn't work. I didn't see life that way. All things that you taught me to avoid, as snares being put there by the Evil one. I certainly never filled your head with any superstitions about the Evil one. I interposed.
'Not in person, no. Don't worry, you're a high-minded atheist, and everybody gives you credit for it. But that didn't make it any better; the old gaudy waxwork show about God and the devil might have been a bit human, at least, a bit colourful. All I got from you was dry biscuits labeled Duty and Temptation. I was to go for one and avoid the other, with no explanation given. Well, I don't accept it. I won't give my life up to the kind of duty and self-denial that you've given yours up to. I don't see that it's made you happy. Oh, I know you'll say that's not the point, 'as I tried to break in,' but to me it is the point. I think people should make themselves happy first, and they try to spread that happiness around. You can't produce something out of nothing. If you're not happy yourself, how can you make other people happy?
I began to see the hopelessness of the task before me. Still it was my duty to go on trying as long as he would listen, and I said. The word "happy" Jeremy, which you use so many times per sentence, is not one that I rely on very much.'
'You're damn right it isn't, he retorted.
'Impertinence and flippancy will not make our discussion any more illuminating,' I remarked.21
A little further while talking about happiness to his father, Jeremy affirms his selfhood :
'Happiness, I said,' seems to me an unsatisfactory ideal to set before. It can so easily become matter of the satisfaction of immediate, selfish impulses. If a man can justify his actions by saying that they make him happy, he has opened the door to all kinds of vice and, ultimately, all kinds of misery.'22
And so Jeremy alienates himself. He wants to be away from the place where the 'old man' may have no chance of being harsh of him. When he is away from his father, even lying in bed gives him a sort of relief :
And I hated to be in company; I craved solitude, and went to strange lengths to get it. For instance, almost every night for the rest of the holidays I went to bed at about eight O' clock. At least in bed I could lie and wrestle with the enormous problem of how to get back my self-respect, without having to break off for anything23
The factors responsible for Jeremy's revolt against his father lead to switch over to being a jazz-pianist. When Jim introduces Jeremy to Percy, a negro jazz trombonist, he finds the gap left by his father filled up. He feels his self would remain intact. Percy, unlike his father, had "learnt the grammar of jazz",24 and not Greek grammar, and this is what Jeremy is interested in. He finds Percy great. He describes his first meeting with Percy in the following words that tell the effect of Percy on him :
We shook hands. You know how some people can shake hands quite naturally and yet you feel as if you were playing them feudal image? Their present is so much greater than yours that you feel diminished, shrunk, played off the image. I felt like that. This Percy was like some barbaric emperor.25
Thus the image of his father in Jeremy's life grows dimmer being replaced by Percy's. He finds that Percy and not Alfred can lead him in his life. Percy occupies the image of a hero for Jeremy. When Diana asks him who has influenced him deeply, Jeremy feels no hesitation in opting for Percy. It is perhaps because he finds in him an affirmation of the self :
'That's right', she said. 'I knew you'd throw Percy in my face. He is your big alibi, isn't he? There wasn't anybody like Percy at your school, was there?
'There's no one like him anywhere', Of course Percy proves your whole point. He's back. And as long as your best friend is some-one black, you can hero-worship him.....26
Jeremy has his own reasons for finding his father's substitute in Percy. He thinks himself "a little effeminate".27 For him Percy has a great authority and charm".28 To him Percy seems to be a man who has no "charm between the world of actions and the world of being."29 Jeremy develops a sort of bond with him thereby grouping for the affirmation of a human being :
He (Percy) and I (Jeremy) were bound together by an instinctual bond of trust and liking, not to speak of our shared interests; but we hadn't really gone very far in the art of talking to each other. Our communication, that is, had always been a matter of being together, doing things together and feeling together.30
Perhaps it was only because of this that Jeremy considers the evening when he first met Percy as "one of the greatest evenings"31 of his life. All the same he is "crippled by the very defenses"32 he uses against his father and also by the guilt he sometimes feels after running away from the school and his home. Here Jeremy looks like the hero of HERZOG having guilt at the root of his masochism :
I felt as if I fouled myself with something that stuck and clung like tar; my own impulse was to scrub and scrub, with the hardest brush I could find, until at last succeeded in fetching it off, even if the skin had come away with it. The skin? - I should have rejoiced to see lumps of flesh come off among the bristles. I wanted to torture myself into purity.33
But unlike Herzog it is not the sexual guilt Jeremy suffers from. He is unable to love. His relationships are far from being complete. They are expressions of a child who requires the assurance he will not be destroyed. But this posture is intolerable to the true soul of the hero. And so he lives a half life, somehow knowing the truth but unable to live it. As he thinks about Lucille, his dance partner, in the club :
But I had chained myself to Lucille, and now my only thought was, how could I bite through the chain? Or, to vary the metaphor, how could I find an acid strong enough to dissolve its hard links? If I could find one, I was willing to splash it on, even if it burned into my own flesh.34
So at the beginning of the hero's transformation the pain is particularly horrible. New conditions - a kind of shock therapy will not allow him to employ his old defenses against Alfred successfully. The hero looks crippled and can no longer use his crutches. The process of transformation of Jeremy is very near to that of the heroes of HURRY ON DOWN, LIVING IN THE PRESENT, THE CONTENDERS and A TRAVELING WOMAN. The hero must enter the world as a simple human creature, giving up his constructed self. And Jeremy does this when he decides to leave his father's house for good and thereby to get rid of Greek grammar :
I suppose I ought to feel more resentment, really, about the whole ugly business, what a monstrous trick, to take a boy of sixteen, just emerging into life and becoming aware of all its possibilities, and sell him the idea that what matters in Greek grammar. To coop him up in a damned great fortress of a boarding-school for fourteen weeks, and then, when you do let him out for four, to send him away clutching his nasty olive-green grammar and frenziedly determining to photograph every paragraph of it on his brain.35
These are, indeed, his burdens. He has to put them down. If we look carefully at STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD, we find a novel in defense in individuality in the beginning but we do not find the novel ending in a mere resignation of freedom. The novel concludes in 'partial hope of a new life' - a life based on a loss of selfhood. Percy and Jeremy, towards the end of the novel, accept that jazz - era is no more in vogue and has been replaced by 'rock-and-roll era'. On invitation to a club they are not appreciated by the young generation who are mad after the 'rock-and-roll' music :
It was going well, I could hear that at once. Percy was playing beautifully; he was gentle, but with a kind of insistence that made his playing very exciting. I began to gain ideas, just listening to him, and by the time my solo came round I could just feel the notes forming themselves under my fingers. It was the old champagne : joy, sheer joy. Ted was fizzing away on the drums just the one side of me and the bass player was walking up and down my arteries. 'Light. light', I kept thinking. 'Light as an invisible feather, light as a bird's breathing'. I forgot all about where we were, all about the kinds and Rod's mob and the dusty little dressing room. This was jazz, and I liked it.
The number ended with everyone putting in exactly what was wanted, so that it turned out on to the plate as nearly as a soufflé. We pinned the edges down with one single deft movement, all eight of us working as one, and then sat back with a sigh. It wasn't until five seconds later that we realized that something unusual was happening. What was it? When we realized. No applause.36
One time hero of the Jazz-music-world, Jeremy has difficulty in getting the full payment even. But when the club is deserted, Percy and Jeremy go back though acknowledging the loss of their selfhood, to the club where there is no one. Jeremy has a look of hope at the piano. The piano-keys seem to throw to him a flicker of new life :
The piano keys gleamed up at me as if smiling. My friends, my sixty-four old friends. I suppose the old man feels that way about his Greek particles. When you've known about one set of things for long time, and learnt to handle them with some kind of authority, they stop being just things and become a way of life. And, sooner or later, everybody needs that feeling. It doesn't even matter what the job is, so long as you can put your heart into it. What is the difference? You live by doing what you have to do.37
Percy began to tap his foot to show the rhythm he wanted. I listened for a momentm, looked up at him and nodded. Then he put his horn to his lips and we started.38
The passage definitely shows John Wain's attack on the self which is as strong as Sartre's in NAUSEA. Both writers move in their novels towards a new idea of human life without selfhood. Not that their conclusions are the same. Sartre's book move towards a man aware of his freedom, aware that he has no self which can protect him from choosing and from the world of existence. Wain's STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD works towards selflessness of a different, more traditional sort-closer to professional brotherhood and the apprehension of the mystical death of the self when Jeremy feels that he is too old to get with 'rock-an-roll' :
That, in a word, was our trouble. We were all too old to get with this rock-and-roll, and having just heard what Rod's mob were turning out, I was glad to know it. I kept wondering what would have happened if I'd been exposed to that kind of stuff when I was sixteen.
Would I have thought it was the thing to imitate? If so, could I possibly have used it as a starting-point? Could I, that is, have started where Rod's stuff left off? I doubt it, really. The stuff doesn't leave off. It just goed round in a circle with no way out. I suppose that's why there aren't any jazzman like Percy and me coming up. The new crop, where they're not just rock-and-rollers, are all conservatory-trained musicians who don't recognize anything as jazz unless it's so abstruse that you've got to be a Beethoven to comprehend it. It makes me glad I grew up when I did, end no later.39
This mystical death of the old Jeremy when people were crazy after his jazz. It is the death of Jeremy's old self - of the ego-centric individual who must succumb to the emerging fashion of rock-and-roll. But by it Jeremy can be reconciled to humanity and family relation. As a matter of fact, we find that the novel does move toward a possible until between Jeremy and his father. This can be seen in Jeremy's insisting on playing jazz (standing for values of his time) caring little for some hostile ears (values of the day) :
We played another couple of numbers, during the course of which most of the kids wandered off to get bottles of Coca Cola, or something. (It was one these no-licence, finish-at-eleven O' clock affairs). Then, having slaked whatever they have instead of a thirst, they began to drift back and stand about. Waiting for Rod, of course. We were giving them jazz, but they didn't want it. No one was to blame : the agency that booked us ought to have known better, and I'd never taken the booking if we hadn't been short of dates. But there it was; we'd undertaken to play for a stated length of time, to earn out fee, and we couldn't just step down....
Then I became aware of something pressing against us. I let my hands fall from the keyboard and turned to look at the audience. There they were, all five hundred of them, standing looking up at us. And they were giving us the slow handclap.
So that was it. I suppose it happens to everybody, once. When you're producing something you know is damned good, and putting everything into it, everything you've learnt and everything you are - and then you find, all of a sudden, that you've been offering it to wrong people.40
Later on Jeremy realizes that the fans of rock-and-roll music cannot appreciate Jazz music. It was a conflict of values of two different periods just as he in his prime of youth differed with his father :
There were modern young people, not given to standing on old-fashioned ceremony. They were paying, and they wanted their money's worth. To them, we were something as old-fashioned as the crinoline, and they weren't in the mood for antiques.41
True, a metaphor is not the basis for a psychological change, and we do not find Jeremy directly confronting death of a Jazz pianist in him. But the metaphor seems to hold promise of Jeremy's redeeming potentiality - of the possibility of "future reconciliation"42 with Alfred and Eleanor.
Decidedly Jeremy moves away from selfhood and towards union, towards giving as well as throwing himself away. He is struck by his own arrogance. He also feels that "the process of patricide goes on but new and better values do not necessarily emerge from it."43 Sometimes he himself finds amidst his club-friends :
I split into two, and one half of me got sadder and sadder and the other half happier and happier.........44
Jeremy feels pity on the young generation busy with "rock-and-roll" music as he knows this will never give rise to any new values to life or society - a thing he himself should have realized before revolting against her father :
They (the rock-and -roll musicians) were the solid, unteachable, bottom layer of the dance band world. The type who'd become musicians to get out of the machine shop. Good luck to them. But once they were out, once they'd acquired a saxophone or trumpet on the never - never, and paid for a series of lessons and turned pro; they'd never realized there was anything else to do. Hence, they were, with their dull, expressionless faces glittering above their instruments bashing out the stuff that was put in front of them.45
Though Jeremy still feels a communion between himself and Percy, who is unhappy over being beaten up by the white on the ground that he was a rigger, it looks as it he wanted to be free. He realizes that perhaps he and Percy were different persons and in this difference lies the implied new idea of freedom. Percy, on the other hand, deducts from the incident of being beaten up that human being may be divided into two categories as he goes on to say :
Those who can jump over the barrier, and those who can't. Some people know what it's like to jump over the barrier, or may be bust a hole in it and wriggle through, and see what it's like on the other side. What the world looks like on from there. And then they go back to their own side again : or sometimes they don't. Sometimes they just take root and stay right where they are. But it makes no difference. Once they're through the barrier they're through it. Man, that's what I mean about the two kinds of people there is in the world. That's why I'm good to white folks. I went all you white people to come along up to me, after I get finished making my address, and you'll find that I'll treat you real good-talk to you and all just as if you were as good as I am.
Now some more about this barriers. I want you all to get what I'm saying. You know when a man's real friend? Someone who stands by you when you need him? Well, I'll tell you. It's when he can come to you across barrier. Now just to make sure you all understand me, I am gonna show you, a real, living, walking examples. And here he is - yes, Jeremy, I mean you, son. Come on up. Step right up on to the platform and let all these people see you shaking hands with President Brett. Because you did it, white boy. You came across it to you. Shake, boy, shake. But easy on that arm - it hurts.46
The ending of the novel STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD is not happy. It is complex and ambiguous. Percy, though humiliated by the people, moves on to play again though he knows there is none to hear him :
Percy began to tap his foot to show the rhythm he wanted. I (Jeremy) listened for a moment, looked up at him and nodded. Then he put his lips and we started.47
The end may lead to being partially hopeful, pointing to a future Jeremy, who is not an individual but a person, linked up again with his childhood-self. Jeremy decided to remain not only with Percy but with the human race as time has matured him.
Now STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD and Sartre's NAUSEA look close to each other - both superficially and significantly. Each book attacks a separate ego. The sacrifice of self is demanded by Wain, as it is demanded by Sartre, in the interest of creating a more human person though sometimes the problem of "the sacrifice of self demanded by social circumstances"48 may come up. STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD seems to follow the pattern of NAUSEA in revealing "an innocent mind coming in contact with the absurd and portrays the effect it has."49
Jeremy is the subject to the social absurdity officialdom when he is asked to learn Greek grammar which he cannot do inspite of his best effort. He sees the world as real by a human agreement. Like the existentialist, he contrasts the concrete man with the ideal constructor and agrees that the ego is a created object defending the person from reality. Jeremy seems to have some ingredients of the existential hero as defined by Glicksberg :
The existential heroes, despite their manifest desire for commitment, are handicapped by a radical inability to act. Though they search for authenticity they are without a self they can call their own; they are a potentiality without content....50
Nevertheless, it would be an exaggeration to say that there is a complete resemblance between STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD and NAUSEA for there are some essential differences. Both Sartre and Wain attack the self from different perspectives. Sartre's attack is metaphysical, whereas Wain's is moral. Wain's morality combined with his attack may well be perceived in the following three different paragraphs when Jeremy seeks God's grace as he has the fear of his self being broken and wants to get rid of Lucille, his first dance partner
1. O God, I prayed, lift me up, don't leave me down here where promises don't come true and everything's cheat. Take me up into the mountains and show me your truth.51
2. O God, I prayed, give me strength not to listen to take promises, cleanse me, please cleanse and release me from Lucille, and I'll be your servant and listen only to you.52
3. I felt as if every moment of the day must be devoted to something that bore directly on penitence and salvation. Learning Greek grammar wasn't sufficiently holy.53
Unlike Sartre, Wain does not deny the reality of self. He may agree but is not concerned; rather he is concerned with denying the importance and moral worth of the self cut off from other people.
Sartre is less concerned with community, the relationship of person to person. Both heroes lose themselves in the contemplation of a piece of music jazz. But where as for Roquentin this is a moment outside the world of existence, a point of metaphysical freedom, for Jeremy it is an experience from which he can learn how to live as a whole being. He often played :
"Life can be so sweet", I sang. On the sunny side of the street.54
Like Roquentin, Jeremy faces pure existence. But the contact produces not nausea but serenity. Wain does not point to a void at the heart of life. He knows "the universe is more important than our recognition of the universe. When we believe this deeply we lose the self in a silence before things.....55
To conclude, Wain attempts to affirm the possibilities for the individual to live a meaningful life in our civilization. He attacks the literary tradition of despair and alienation of self. But he himself despairs, both because of what he sees in the culture and because of his own temperament. Wain sees elimination of selfhood as leading to the "redemption of the individual".56
STRIKE THE FATHER DEAD is a case in point.