At the heart of Brighton Rock by Graham Greene is the unconventional love story of Pinkie and Rose, whose shared Catholic faith shapes, illuminates, and ultimately dooms their love. Though both characters are devoutly (if imperfectly) Catholic, Pinkie focuses more on Hell and damnation, whereas Rose focuses more on Heaven and redemption. Ida Arnold, meanwhile—intent on making the brutal Pinkie answer for his crimes—believes most in common superstition, and in her own sense of right and wrong. These warring belief systems, when pitted against one another, prove explosive and deadly. In the end, although Pinkie himself dies a terrible death, it is Pinkie’s vision of damnation that triumphs.
On their first date, Pinkie and Rose discover that they’re both “Romans.” Their rearing in the Catholic faith becomes a touchstone for them, something they have in common that binds them from the beginning, but their unique perspectives on the way God works in the world could not be more different. Pinkie’s Catholicism is one of damnation and flames and torments. Rose has hope. She believes in Heaven and forgiveness and it is her steadfast, optimistic belief that allows her to fall in love with Pinkie and eventually become his wife.
Pinkie’s faith has been formed by his upbringing, of which Greene gives only glimpses. Those glimpses, though, are telling. Pinkie remembers his childhood in the downtrodden Brighton housing project of Paradise Piece primarily as a series of Saturday nights during which his father would mount his mother and both parents would forget they even had a son. On such nights, Pinkie felt dead, invisible. When he returns to the home of his youth, it has collapsed completely. It looks like a bomb has fallen on it. In reality, it was always cheap, shabbily built, and poorly maintained, barely fit for human habitation. Pinkie’s belief in a God bent on punishment makes sense when taken in this context, as does his inherent inability to love. Pinkie’s God is vindictive and ruthless; Pinkie is a reservoir of hate, much of it aimed at himself. He models his behavior as the head of a crime syndicate on that malicious God, reflexively turning to murder to solve his problems: “He trailed the clouds of his own glory after him: hell lay about him in his infancy. He was ready for more deaths.”
Rose’s homelife is equally bleak, but her faith takes her in a different direction. Born to a mother and father prone to black moods and having spent her first fifteen years in a dirty and depressing basement room, she looks to God to provide an escape. Later, when it’s Pinkie who frees her from the bondage of a joyless poverty, he becomes her god. She enters in to what she considers mortal sin by marrying him in a fake ceremony and even sleeps with him out of wedlock. If Pinkie is damned, she is ready to be damned also. She places all of her faith in him.
On the surface, it would seem that Rose and Pinkie’s Catholicism contrasts directly with Ida Arnold’s free-wheeling spiritualism and her belief in herself as an agent of justice. Convinced that “poor old Fred” Hale has been killed by Pinkie and his gang, she makes it her mission to solve the case on her own, not necessarily because she cares deeply for Fred (she only knew him for a few hours; also, his name is really Charles), but because doing so sounds fun to her, like “a bit of life.”
Ida doesn’t believe in God. Instead, she turns to her Ouija board for guidance when she’s in a quandary. She’s rarely in a quandary, though. To Ida, the world is a very simple place. There are good people and there are bad people; the good people should be saved and praised, the bad brought to justice and summarily punished. This is where her views and actions overlap with those of Pinkie. Her overly simplistic view of human nature shares much in common with the strictest tenets of Catholic doctrine which suggest that hell is reserved for sinners and heaven for those who repent.
Pinkie’s Catholicism is fatalistic. Convinced that he has been damned since birth, he kills and kills again because hell isn’t going to get any hotter. Rose’s faith is all about redemption, and therefore it makes sense that she would fall in love with Pinkie, who is more in need of redemption than anyone. Ida’s faith in the occult and her unshakable confidence in herself invest her with a frightening amount of power. Dallow tells Ida that she’s the reason Pinkie and Rose end up on the cliff above the sea, locked into a suicide pact, and he is, to a certain extent, right. It is the combination of Ida’s life philosophy of an eye for an eye, Pinkie’s morbid fascination with death and damnation, and Rose’s guileless belief in a merciful God, that results in the kind of blood bath Pinkie had anticipated all along.
Catholicism Quotes in Brighton Rock
The imagination hadn’t awoken. That was his strength. He couldn’t see through other people’s eyes or feel with their nerves. Only the music made him uneasy, the catgut vibrating in the heart; it was like nerves losing their freshness, it was like age coming on, other people’s experience battering on the brain.
The inhuman voice whistled round the gallery and the Boy sat silent. It was he this time who was being warned; life held the vitriol bottle and warned him: I’ll spoil your looks. It spoke to him in the music, and when he protested that he for one would never get mixed up, the music had its own retort at hand: ‘You can’t always help it. It sort of comes that way.’
“You are wasting your time, my child,” Mr. Colleoni said. “You can’t do me any harm.” He laughed gently. “If you want a job though, come to me. I like push. I dare say I could find room for you. The World needs young people with energy.” The hand with the cigar moved expansively mapping out the World as Mr. Colleoni visualized it: lots of little electric clocks controlled by Greenwich, buttons on a desk, a good suite on the first floor, accounts audited, reports from agents, silver, cutlery, glass.
He watched her with his soured virginity, as one might watch a draught of medicine offered that one would never, never take; one would die first—or let others die. The chalky dust blew up round the windows.
Driven to her hole the small animal peered out at the bright and breezy world; in the hole were murder, copulation, extreme poverty, fidelity and the love and fear of God, but the small animal had not the knowledge to deny that only in the glare and open world outside was something which people called experience.
She was good, he’d discovered that, and he was damned: they were made for each other.
It was said to be the worst act of all, the act of despair, the sin without
forgiveness; sitting there in the smell of petrol she tried to realize despair, the mortal sin, but she couldn’t; it didn’t feel like despair. He was going to damn himself, but she was going to show them that they couldn’t damn him without damning her too. There was nothing he could do, she wouldn’t do: she felt capable of sharing any murder. A light lit his face and left it; a frown, a thought, a child’s face. She felt responsibility move in her breasts; she wouldn’t let him go into that darkness alone.
While Pinkie found the money, she was visited by an almost overwhelming rebellion—she had only to go out, leave him, refuse to play. He couldn’t make her kill herself: life wasn’t as bad as that. It came like a revelation, as if someone had whispered to her that she was someone, a separate creature—not just one flesh with him. She could always escape—if he didn’t change his mind. Nothing was decided. They could go in the car wherever he wanted them to go; she could take the gun from his hand, and even then—at the last moment of all—she needn’t shoot. Nothing was decided—there was always hope.
An enormous emotion beat on him; it was like something trying to get in; the pressure of gigantic wings against the glass. Dona nobis pacem. He withstood it, with all the bitter force of the school bench, the cement playground, the St. Pancras waiting-room, Dallow’s and Judy’s secret lust, and the cold unhappy moment on the pier. If the glass broke, if the beast—whatever it was—got in, God knows what it would do. He had a sense of huge havoc—the confession, the penance and the sacrament—and awful distraction, and he drove blind into the rain.
She came out of the crematorium, and there from the twin towers above her head fumed the very last of Fred, a thin stream of grey smoke from the ovens. People passing up the flowery suburban road looked up and noted the smoke; it had been a busy day at the furnaces. Fred dropped in indistinguishable grey ash on the pink blossoms: he became part of the smoke nuisance over London, and Ida wept.
“Of course it’s true,” the Boy said. “What else could there be?” he went scornfully on. “Why,” he said, “it’s the only thing that fits. These atheists, they don’t know nothing. Of course there’s Hell. Flames and damnation,” he said with his eyes on the dark shifting water and the lightning and the lamps going out above the black struts of the Palace Pier, “torments.”
“And Heaven too,” Rose said with anxiety while the rain fell interminably
“Oh, maybe,” the Boy said, “maybe.”
He trailed the clouds of his own glory after him: hell lay about him in his infancy. He was ready for more deaths.
That was what happened to a man in the end: the stuffy room, the wakeful children, the Saturday night movements from the other bed. Was there no escape—anywhere—for anyone? It was worth murdering a world.
The shadow of her sixteen-year-old face shifted in the moonlight on the wall. “Right and wrong. That’s what she talks about. I’ve heard her at the table. Right and wrong. As if she knew.” She whispered with contempt, “Oh, she won't burn. She couldn’t burn if she tried.”
He stood back and watched Rose awkwardly sign—his temporal
safety in return for two immortalities of pain. He had no doubt whatever that this was mortal sin, and he was filled with a kind of gloomy hilarity and pride. He saw himself now as a full grown man for whom the angels wept.
Again he grinned: only the devil, he thought, could have made her answer that. She was good, but he’d got her like you got God in the Eucharist—in the guts. God couldn’t escape the evil mouth which chose to eat its own damnation.
Freedom again in the early sun, freedom from the silent prayers at the altar, from the awful demands made on you at the sanctuary rail. She had joined the other side now forever. The half-crown was like a medal for services rendered. People coming back from seven-thirty Mass, people on the way to eight-thirty Matins—she watched them in their dark clothes like a spy. She didn’t envy them and she didn’t despise them: they had their salvation and she had Pinkie and damnation.