A complex and compact study of the nature of love, hate, desire and loss, Graham Greene's "The End of the Affair" places the most basic human emotions under a microscope. The motivations and thoughts of the story's protagonist, Maurice Bendrix, are among the most interesting aspects of this classic.
An Inability to Love
Maurice Bendrix, the narrator of The End of the Affair, proclaims that the story he unfolds will be “a record of hate far more than of love." In fact, the novel underlines the fundamental truth that hate and love are not all that different in the first place. Both emotions involve a certain degree of obsession, of removal from the normal flow of life and feeling. The progression from love to hate is accelerated by insecurity, a fatal flaw of which Bendrix owns a surplus. His inability to trust and to love is his own fault and lead inevitably to the tragedy of the novel. Therefore, any End of the Affair analysis must begin and end with Bendrix himself.
The Actions and Feelings of Maurice Bendrix
Maurice Bendrix is smug. He knows he’s smarter than the next man, and he believes he can get what and who he wants simply through charm. His intellectual and verbal skills are his defense mechanisms, though just as often they become weapons for attack. In Book Five of the novel, a lunch meeting with the critic Waterbury demonstrates just how caustic Bendrix can be when he wants.
He verbally assaults the man, leaving him to pick up the pieces – and probably write a nasty review as retaliation. That smugness, though, is really just a defense mechanism against his own creeping sense of insecurity. Bendrix is unsure of himself on more levels than one; he doubts his work, his body and his mind. He inflicts his doubts on those around him, eventually destroying what at the time has seemed the most meaningful relationship of his life.
At the beginning of the novel, we learn that Maurice Bendrix “hates" Henry and Sarah Miles. We also learn that in the past he had an affair with Sarah, and Henry was none the wiser.
The reader is left to ponder how such intense hatred has come to manifest itself. Gradually, the whole story reveals itself as the narrative moves back and forth through time. It becomes increasingly clear that Bendrix’s emotions are more self-generated and primal than externally influenced. Sarah’s presence is calming and quiet, while Henry is the picture of blandness.
Sarah's Point of View
Secrets, lies and misunderstandings make up the fabric of The End of the Affair. Of course, the fundamental secret is the affair itself. Sarah and Bendrix boldly carry on a lengthy romantic relationship with apparently little difficulty in keeping the secret from Henry.
It is neither the first nor the last extramarital affair for Sarah Miles. Her nature impels her to seek a kind of spiritual fulfillment that her husband has never supplied. She is a hopeless romantic, and in her mind, her husband is a bore.
Bendrix has a lot in common with Sarah, but their relationship changes him in a fundamental way. He becomes possessive, jealous, petty and insecure. He describes his state as one of being in love, but really the emotions he feels are too base to be called love. His jealousy leads only to mean-spirited outbursts and pointless arguments, all of which he later regrets.
Even when the affair is long over, Bendrix’s obsession encourages him to undertake one final nasty act. He acts upon the suggestion of Henry and hires a private investigator to follow Sarah and learn her habits, and especially learn who she meets when she goes on her walks. Bendrix enjoys a bitter satisfaction in having Sarah hounded like an animal. The man doing the hounding, Parkis, feels uneasy about the situation. As the investigation reveals the truth about Sarah and why the affair ended, Bendrix is overcome with intense feelings of remorse, anger and hope.
During the V1 bombings, Bendrix and Sarah are together when his dwelling is struck by one of the rockets. He is knocked over and trapped underneath a door downstairs, and Sarah believes that her lover is dead. She’s too mortified to feel his hand or try and lift the door off him; instead, she prays that his life be spared, promising that she will terminate the affair. When he appears at the door alive and well, her feelings are mixed; part of her wishes that he was “safely back dead again under the door." She feels compelled to keep faith with the prayer she made, and therefore, end the affair with Bendrix. Book IV of the novel is excerpts from her private journal. Bendrix doesn’t know the truth of the matter until years later, when reading Sarah’s secret thoughts.
The tragedy of Graham Greene's most famous novel, The End of the Affair, is that Maurice Bendrix is always discovering the truth too late, and Sarah forever keeps her inmost thoughts hidden inside her quiet exterior. One of the novel's great ironies is that Bendrix is a novelist by trade, and yet he shows great ignorance of his own feelings and motivations. He is completely baffled by Sarah. His inability to ever understand her contributes to his driving her away in the end. Her untimely death is the shock which, perhaps, breaks through Bendrix's self-absorbed exterior and begins the process of making him a better person.