Given the seriousness of the problems they face during the course of the novel, it’s easy to forget that Pinkie and Rose are teenagers. Until, of course, they act their age. Both Pinkie, whom Greene often simply refers to as “the Boy,” and Rose want desperately to have access to the adult world, but they’re too young to understand what such access actually entails, and so they make disastrous choices that give Ida control over their destiny. Ida, of course, considers herself a very wise woman, when in fact, she only knows enough to be dangerous.
Pinkie’s grand ambition is to be another Colleoni, but the latter is an old man with vast reserves of wealth and power and experience, whereas Pinkie is the seventeen-year-old leader of three hapless, low-level criminals. Colleoni himself, as well as the Brighton police inspector, warn Pinkie that he cannot possibly take on Colleoni and win. Even Pinkie’s own men wish he would get out of the game. Pinkie takes each warning as an insult, and his defensiveness is a symptom of his youth and credulity.
Pinkie’s main experience is with killing, which he confuses with manly action. Anytime someone suggests he might be in over his head, his instinct is to start a massacre. Furious with Spicer for daring to question his shaky authority, Pinkie throws his former friend down the stairs, killing him. That act, witnessed by Dallow and Prewitt, dooms Pinkie as well. It gives Cubitt the motivation to open up to Ida, who then uses both Dallow and Prewitt to corner Pinkie on the cliff at Peacehaven.
Pinkie’s best shot at achieving some level of maturity is in his marriage to Rose, but he only enters into the union out of gross cynicism, knowing that, if Rose becomes his wife, she won’t be compelled to testify against him in court. Again confusing corruption with manliness, he congratulates himself on outsmarting both Rose and the law. When they are finally married, though, he can’t help but be moved by Rose and the commitment they’ve made to each other. They stand together on the Brighton pier, feeling “as if they were shut out from an Eden of ignorance.” Really, though, they still know nothing of what marriage and family life are all about.
Rose thinks of her marriage to Pinkie and her subsequent deflowering at his hands as a ticket to a whole new world of womanly understanding. The morning after her wedding, she wanders around Frank’s boarding house, catching Dallow and Judy, Frank’s wife, in an adulterous embrace. Rose isn’t fazed. What might have shocked her a day before no longer does: “Pride swelled in her breast as she came up from the basement…She had experienced as much as any woman.”
For all her newfound feelings of sophistication, though, Rose is still only a girl with a girl’s romantic fantasies and unrealistic dreams. When Pinkie drives her to Peacehaven again, this time for the purposes of going forward with a suicide pact, Rose goes along with him, thinking that she would rather be damned with Pinkie than saved and alone. She is ready to die for love, a love that Pinkie only values for selfish reasons of his own.
Rose’s biggest mistake is engaging herself to a man she knows is a murderer. She thinks that because she grew up on the mean streets and in the dingy houses of Nelson Place that she knows the worst the world has to offer, but her essential goodness does not allow her to conceive of Pinkie’s level of brutality.
The souvenir recording Pinkie makes for her on their wedding day is a symbol of her naivete and his wickedness. Rose wants very much to have a recording of Pinkie’s voice saying something sweet to her. What he says instead is foul and cruel, but he’s not worried about her ever hearing his message; they don’t own a gramophone. In the concluding chapter of the novel, though, Rose decides to take the record to a nearby news agent and use his player to listen to the beloved voice of her dead husband. Greene suggests that a loss of innocence awaits Rose in the form of that record; she will soon know a great deal more of the world than she ever wanted to.
Ida is older than Pinkie and Rose, but her experience is of the shallow, beer-soaked variety. She has never had to face the consequences of her actions. Rather, she goes from day to day, drinking in pubs and singing for her supper and admiring her own reflection in bar mirrors. She likewise admires what she thinks is her own cunning and righteous mind. Ida, though, is impervious to wisdom. She cannot acquire knowledge because she is, at heart, incurious. She made a lucky guess when it came to the circumstances of Hale’s death; after that, she learns nothing.
Pinkie’s violent actions are those of an immature, hot-headed boy, not the measured, calculated scheming of a grown man. Rose confuses marriage to and sex with that hot-headed boy as entry into the realm of womanhood, while Ida goes through life so certain of her of her own intelligence and powers of insight and observation that she is caught in a never-ending cycle of self-congratulation. She ends the novel where she began: bent over her Ouija board, waiting for answers to arrive from the ether. Greene suggests, through the trials and tribulations of Pinkie and Rose and Ida’s utter obtuseness, that true experience is hard-won. Knowledge is accessed only from a place of acute pain, and, even then, it’s arguable whether or not such knowledge is even that useful. In Brighton Rock, human connection and understanding is elusive at best. Life, according to Greene, is a long struggle, a balancing act between love and hate, good and evil, life and death, and trading in innocence for experience mostly means coming to terms with the fact that death will always win out, no matter what.
Innocence vs. Experience ThemeTracker
Innocence vs. Experience 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.
They lay on the chalk bank side by side with a common geography and a little hate mixed with his contempt. He thought he had made his escape, and here his home was: back beside him, making claims.
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.
She was sixteen, but this was how she might have looked after years of marriage, of the childbirth and the daily quarrel: they had reached death and it affected them like age.
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 smelt of soap and wine: comfort and peace and a slow sleepy physical enjoyment, a touch of the nursery and the mother, stole from the big
tipsy mouth, the magnificent breasts and legs, and reached Hale's withered and frightened and bitter little brain.
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.”
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.