The Final Phase : The Smaller Sky
THE SMALLER SKY tells the story of a scientist - Arthur Geary a middle-aged man. He is dedicated to his work, his family and a few friends. His family means his wife - Elizabeth Geary, his son - David Geary and the daughter Angela Geary. Elizabeth Geary has never been pretty. As a girl, she was what people called handsome, and this handsomeness is scarcely impaired at forty. Her face is almost entirely free of wrinkles and the plumpness of her hips only gave her a pleasing maturity in keeping with her air of unruffled authority. Angela is fifteen who earnestly desires to be in London. David, a lad of ten only, is more attached to his father than mother.
The turning point in Geary's life comes when he "suddenly finds himself being driven beyond endurance"1 by a mental tension that he cannot stand. He has no peace of mind. He unexpectedly gets it on Paddington Station. He takes refuge there as he finds "perfect anonymity".2 To Geary it appears that "there seems something else in life"3 that will give him solace at the station itself than in home though it is something unbecoming of an intellectual"4 like Arthur Geary to behave that way. In the eyes of his friends Geary remains :
A quiet researcher with his eyes down on his work. No interest in the wider scene, and, no private life. Then suddenly ups and leaves his wife and children. Disappeared in the blue.5
Accidentally, one day, Geary is discovered by his friend Philip Robinson at the Paddington Station. The cause of Geary's stay at the station is evident from the dialogue :
'I think', said Robinson slowly, 'that you've been under great emotional strain and you must be very exhausted and you probably aren't in a position to judge what's best for you.
'In other words, mentally ill', said Geary.6
The news of Geary's behaviour quickly spreads. Some friends like Philip Robinson pity his condition. When Julian, his son, asks Robinson to tuck him up before going to bed, he is at once reminded of Geary whom he had met on the Peddington Station.
When a scientist of the repute of all at once leaves his home and decides to live at the station, it is no doubt a matter of great concern; though to Geary it is a solace. He wants isolation, away from any show-off publicity. He wants to be left in peace at the station. It looks to him "a logical way of holding on to his sanity."7
David, the son of Geary, during his play time, is told by one of his mates that his father has gone mad and that at the moment lives at the Peddington Station. The small boy, only ten years old, makes for the station and meets his father. For a moment Geary is moved. He has with him lunch. He is successful in avoiding David's question - "Why are you living on the station?"8 Without giving any proper reply he gives him money sufficient to return. He asks him not to talk to Dr. Maurice Blakeney traveling by the same train. This is just to avoid publicity which might be there in the air had Blakeney met David and put question to him about his father.
But what Geary wanted had not materialized. Through David all know about him. Adrian Swarthmore with "resources of publicity"9 (having one chief cameraman and his three assistants) is after Geary who runs from the platform and reaches central metal strip, between the two arches. Afterwards he runs from one place to another on the roof with a view to avoiding the cameraman. When he shifts his weight on to a fresh pane, unfortunately there is a crack that gives way. Consequently Geary falls down and dies.
THE SMALLER SKY and HURRY ON DOWN are similar in that the protagonists of both the novels - Geary and Lumley - are "inner-directed".10 The characteristics of an "inner-directed" man are enumerated in the following words of Colin Wilson in his book THE AGE OF DEFEAT :
The inner-directed type of man is the man with pioneer qualities. He can, in an expanding and changing society, cope with the confusion because he possesses the self-discipline to drive towards a goal he has himself chosen.11
When Geary finds unexpected peace of mind at Peddington Station and takes shelter there, he decides to stick to this place. He had self-discipline to stand and turn down the persuasions made by Philip Robinson and David that he must go back home. When Robinson tells him that it looks irrational to live at station, Geary replies :
If every large railway station had a hundred people living on in permanently, and you'd always been used to the idea, it couldn't seem irrational at all.12
Geary is firmly resolved against being swayed away by arguments pressing him for the return to home. The following conversation between Geary and David shows how cleverly Geary avoids a direct answer to David and decides firmly to live on Paddington Station. Also, this reveals his "inner-directed" character :
'Will you ever come home?' David said in whisper. 'David', said Geary. His voice was dry; the name sounded in the room like the creak of a shed door. 'I promise you here and now that I will make every-thing all right.13
No doubt the passage shows Geary's firm determination to live according to his own life style, unruffled by others' pressures for adopting a country course. In other words, he remains as "inner-directed" character rather than "tradition-directed" one. Besides, this helps him come up as an isolate, thus resembling the hero of Satre's NAUSEA
It seems specially strange that John Wain, a defender of human dignity against writer of alienation and the void, should create in THE SMALLER SKY a novel so close in form and spirit to the classic novel of NAUSEA. The similarities are so glaring that it seems almost certain that Wain in 967 was consciously drawing on Satrej's 1938 model. The heroes of both novels are isolates. Roquentin has occasional sexual intercourse with Francoise the cafe owner, Geary is married to Elizabeth : but we do not hear of these relationships. The happiness of conjugal life is missing in the lives of these heroes. Robinson has a senses of the strained family relation of Geary immediately when he first sees him at the Paddington Station :
He had promised to be home in good time. Not to leave his wife with everything to do. And here was Geary mooning about, presenting him with this unmistakable challenge. For Robinson was a decent man; he could not blink the fact that all was not well with Geary. And if all was not well, then Geary must be helped.14
Thus the emotional lives of the two men are equally barren. Both suffer from an agonising sense of boredom and weariness, a disgust for life. Geary feels he is all right so long he is aloof from his friends and publicity. And for this he wants to be lost in the crowd so that Maurice Blakeney would not see him. Only then, he feels, would be safely be in bed :
If he was simply spending a working day in London and going home for dinner, he would be back on the station at about six. If, on the other hand, he stayed in town for a dinner party or a theatre, he would not turn up again until nearly midnight, by which time Geary would be safely in bed.15
Both the heroes are men of repute, but are unable to continue their work. Requentin, an amateur writer, does not act purposefully while he writes a journal; Geary has completely given up the idea of making any contribution to the realm of science. Roquentin walks, eats, thinks and so does Geary. The only difference is that the latter occasionally drinks as well. Around them they see a fragmented and trivial environment. Roquentin sees disjointed hands, cards, teeth, hears pieces of fatuous conversation; and as for Geary :
It's utter fantasy... I'm staying here because it's a comfortable, well-run hotel and because I still have a number of things to clear up at the institute.16
Geary like Roquentin, wonders who he is. Roquentin feels he is :
No one Antoine Roquentin exists for no one. That amuses me. And just what is Antoine Roquentin? An abstraction. A pale reflection of myself wavers in my consciousness. Antoine Roquentin....and suddenly the 'I' pales, pales and fades out.17
Roquentin wants to know if there is any self. The more he writes about Rollebon, the more he finds it is he himself who creates this character. Rollebon seems to have no fixed ego. Reports of his conduct do not seem to be about the same person. Geary "suffers from a feeling of stangeness, of not quite belonging to the world, of living under a cloud and looking up at it".18 So, naturally, when he "sees anyone he knows on Paddington Station, he covers his tracks at once".19 He looks at himself and suggests to himself :
You are claim. You are balanced, you are under complete control.20
This is again repeated a few pages later when he muses :
Geary stood up. Why was he permitting himself these disquieting thoughts? 'You are in complete control', he said quietly to himself, folding up his paper into a neat parallelogram.21
This is definitely not the same old self of Geary, but it shows that Wain life Satre would question the consistency and unity of self. How strange for a writer committed to the defence of the individual !
Geary and Roquentin are separated from the world. Geary, though an "alienate"22 has many friends and well wishers. Robinson cancels his scheduled programme to take care of Geary. Not only this : he does it against the wish or his wife Jennifer. The following dialogue between Robinson and Jennifer confirms this :
'Look Jennifer, let me get one thing straight. I'm ringing you because I'm not going to get on the six o'clock.'
'I must see that he gets to a doctor or something; or at least talk to him and find out what it's -'
'Philip, for God's sake, if you run now you'll catch the six o'clock and I need you, don't you understand?'
'You're married to me, not Arthur Geary, 'his wife hissed between clenched teeth.'23
So Geary is not only alienated : he alienates himself. He is filled with guilt. So he heaps suffering and indignity on his head. Sometimes "he finds it difficult to make an extensive study of the problem".24 He fails to convince Robinson firmly about his purpose of staying at the Paddington Station :
'Look, let me get this straight', said Robinson. 'You spend your nights in the station hotel and your days walking about on the platform?'
'Well, let me just ask this', said Robinson. 'Is it part of a survey or something? I mean, is there some purpose behind it?'
If you mean did somebody ask me to do it, no. It's purely personal decision.'
'And it isn't for the snake of gathering information of anything?'
Not in the sense you probably mean.'25
Thus Geary deliberately suffers. He is a moral (social) masochist. One can easily meet his literary ancestor in the novels of Destoyevsky.
THE SMALLER SKY has even closer affinities of spirit to Dostoyevsky's fiction than to Satre's. By making a reference to these affinities it may be shown that Wain is close to the underground tradition he attacks. Like the underground Man, Geary is a self - alienated moral masochist :
But what can a decent man speak of with most pleasure?
Answer : of himself.
Well, so I will talk about myself.26
So the underground Man talks about himself, as does Geary. He does so from Paddington Station. Like the underground Man he is filled with self - hatred which reveals itself in his imagining or enlarging offenses against him. Geary is sure Elizabeth disregards him. He is sure David, his son and Robinson, his friend are disgusted with him. All these lead to the feeling of self-hatred in Geary. If his self-hatred is revealed, the also demonstrates it by explosive scenes very much like those the Underground Man indulges in with his friends from school.
Just remember that I'm not your....... 'Geary was just about to say 'patient', when he checked himself. Not in front of David. The whole situation was threatening to engulf him. 'Blakeney, please leave me alone with my son', he said in a calmer tone.
'Certainly', said Blakeney. Nodding pleasantly to David, he left the compartment.27
Thus, self-hatred is just another side of the gigantic idealism that characterises both Geary and Roquentin. Both trying to be more than human, are less. The Underground Man wants nothing more than to be good. He has the noblest, loftiest sentiments. He is full of loving-kindness. Although he is the first to recognize his baseness, he feels superior to those who ridicule them. Geary, too, is a moral idealist. He sees himself as the thoughtful, good man. He rebukes Robinson with : "Don't I see all right?"28 In spite of his recognition that he has changed, that he is not so mild as he once was, he is terribly righteous. He feels his friends like Robinson and Maurice Blakeney are responsible for his failure in getting mental peace and anonymity. For seeking anonymity he secretly plans to lie down on the platform :
Where was safety? He thought of the hotel, then shuddered briefly. Not till night. It was all right at night, when he could lie down and sleep, knowing that all around him eight million others were lying down too. But he stayed on the platform he was wide open to Blakeney's appraising, probing eyes.29
And perhaps it was because of this that he always liked the satiation. To take his own words :
It was not trains he liked, it was stations. And not just any station : only this one, or one very like it. The Gare du Nord would do, but only if he could transport himself there by magic. And only for a month, at the outside.30
It is the anonymity Geary feels Blakeney will rob. He gives a hint about it to his son David asking him to be off Blakeney :
'Listen, old son', said Geary. He wondered if the two women were listening. They seemed to be talking to one another.' Don't bother to try to sort it all out just now. For the time being, just do as I ask you. Keep away from the men we've just seen, and if by any chance he does talk to you, don't tell him a thing.31
Geary seems to keep "the stance of the moral man in an immoral world"32 Guilt and self-hatred play a dominant role in Geary's scheme for the self imposed ordeal. The effect of his suffering is twofold. It expiates guilt and forms stance of moral superiority. If it is taken to be true, Geary does not openly delight in suffering as the Underground Man does (who goes into a tavern hoping to be thrown through the window). Still Geary secretly seeks suffering. And whenever he suffers, he has an inner tension, a fear that his anonymity would be snatched. He, then, has queer feelings in the form of drumming sound :
(He feels as if he were) listening to the drums start up again inside his head and chest.33
These drums are nothing but Geary's feelings of suffering. About these drums he says :
He might have told David about the drums. But he did not, instead, he shrugged out and said, 'Oh, just details. Where I'm going to be, what I am going to do.34
He again suffers when he meets his son David and feels :
He wanted to explain to David about the drums. He wanted to promise David that he would leave the station hotel within a week and find a place to live where David could come and stay on every school holiday. Beyond all these things he wanted to say something that would lift the cold weight from David's heart, and not from his own.35
When Geary sees David off and gets down the train, he feels the drums. This is the projection of his coming suffering when he fears Blakeney might talk to David and publicize it - he is so much hated. What is striking is the fact that the same drums stop as he reaches the station. It is so perhaps because he is on the station and his hope has won over fear and suffering :
He hoped, he feared, he hoped, he feared. But at least he was on the station. He listened : the drums had stopped.36
Naturally it the anonymity Geary has been looking for that enables him to free himself from the inner tension and for which he secretly suffers. For this he has come to the world, with a desire not to achieve. He prefers sticking to the Paddington Station to getting a good position in the society. He prefers poverty to luxury. He would rather die on the station than lose his anonymity. As he died on the station, "two good things happened. The drum ceased, and the snow went to falling."37
Thus we find that the defender of the dignity and freedom of the individual, is none other than an alienate. He is a masochist similar in a number of ways to Dostoyevsky's anti-hero, the Underground Man. One scene in THE SMALLER MAN reveals with particular clarity a Dostoyevskian psychology from which emerge behaviour patterns associated with figures like Raskolnilkov and Velchaninov. This scene occurring towards the end of the novel shows the conflict between Geary and Maurice Blakeny when he latter follows the former vigorously with the squad of T.V. cameramen and Geary runs away from one place of the station to another. Finally Geary tells down from the roof and dies. Throughout his attempt to avoid the cameramen Geary suffers as he has the drums beat again :
It was the cameras that made the drums beat so loudly. He had to get away from the cameras because of the way they started at him and drew human eyes after him, so that he was being questioned, questioned, questioned of the time.38
Frederick R. Karl has charged the novelists of the fifties (Wain, Amis, Peter Towry) that they fail to maintain "an ironic distance"39 from their heroes. To my mind Wain is successful here in having the separation, but in doing so, he makes it difficult for us to see Geary as "the responsible defender of Western Values".40 When Julian asks his father Robinson, while going to bed, to come and "tuck me (Julain) up",41 the latter is at once reminded of Geary in isolation :
He thought of Arthur Geary, sitting on a bench in the hooded twilight of the station : alone, drifting rudderless on the cold see of time, and suddenly finding himself compelled to hang on desperately to the impersonal, unwelcoming spar of rock that was the station. Arthur Geary had once been nine years old like Julian.42
This passage affirms the possibility of communication and of human nobility in the face of suffering. What Robinson feels about Geary is certainly not to negate the truth of what he finds, any more than the wisdom of Dostoyevsky's Underground Man is negated by his masochism. But Geary as we see him is isolated from others gaining by his suffering self-justification, the reduction of guilt. If goodness is achieved not in vacuum but in the company of other man attended by love, Geary is not achieving it. He removes himself from others. He isolates himself from Elezabeth, his daughter Angela and his son David along with his friend Philip Robinson. He tells Robinson "I was just bringing to your attention a case in which rational behaviour, as you call it, doesn't seem to have helped much."43. Yet it is Geary's irrational behaviour that was responsible for his death. We find, therefore, a schism between Geary the spokesman and Geary the character. The defence is qualified by the defender.
There is much resemblance between the defender and the Underground Man, who also longs to love and to have faith in men, but whose pride leads him to scorn men and hate himself. Of course Dostoyevsky does not negate man. His characters are likely Geary, alienates with souls. Wain, like Dostoyevsky, does not want to plunge us into the void but to guide us away from it. Both authors have ambivalent attitudes towards life. Much of Wain's sympathy lies with Geary, the masochistic sufferer, despairer, alienate, just as Dostoyevsky's sympathy is partly with Raskolnikov and Ivan. But as we say this, we must also remember that Raskolnikov and Ivan and Geary are themselves divided characters. Geary represents a happy example of Wain's desperate affirmation - his longing to affirm, but his inability to do so fully.
In spite of his desire to be affirmative, Wain's depressive tendencies are seen in this novel. One would expect in a writer who wishes to affirm human life and to defend the individual the ability to create characters with strength, grace, and even nobility.
But Geary is lonely, despairing, cut off not only from society but also from friends and wife. Moreover, he is a "pathological social masochist",44 needing to suffer and to fail. Besides, as a masochist, Geary gets positive awards as well as guilt reduction. Suffering comes to mean being "worthy of love".45 And when one suffers and people are not even sorry, it means one does not deserve their affection. Geary's worthiness of pity is in itself rewarding - whether or not he actually pitied. It makes him feel morally superior to others. He looks like the typical heroes of Saul Bellow viz. Augie of AUGIE MARCH. Geary, like Augie, cannot accept success. Geary may be like Augie rejecting high position, insisting on a loser's role. As Augie is "unable to accept"46 the love of Thea or to stay with Sophie, so is Geary at Paddington Station, away from his wife and son. One is reminded of the hero of Bellow's HERZOG running from the Sisslers, "not able to stand kindness at this time."47
Thus there is a closer similarity than meets the eye between Saul Bellow's "overtly masochistic heroes"48 and Geary. The latter is, therefore, not typical of fifties. Wain produces enough "drumming sound"49 now and then to give impetus to and also sometimes to mask alienation, self-hatred, and masochism.
What is true of Geary seems also to be true of John Wain. Wain, like his protagonist is life-affirming, love-affirming, individual affirming. But underneath his belief in the individual and in the possibility of community is alienation, masochism, despair.