Pinkie, having grown up a witness to his parents’ Saturday night love-making ritual, views sex with revulsion and disdain. At seventeen, he cherishes his “bitter virginity,” and avoids for as long as possible bedding Rose out of fear and disgust. Ida Arnold, on the other hand, sees the sex drive as nothing more than a healthy part of human nature. For Rose, sex with Pinkie is a mortal sin. Therefore, it is a deadly serious business. Once the sin has been committed, though, Rose is surprised by how free she feels.
Pinkie’s dislike of sex is founded on a hatred of women. He and his gang’s habit of referring dismissively to women as “polonys” (sausages) or “buers,” a kind of demon, shows that they view women not as three-dimensional, thinking humans but as a) vaguely off-putting pieces of meat and b) forces of evil sent to earth to torment them.
Pinkie’s Catholic faith augments his disgust with the sex act. Having been taught that sex is for procreation and is to be performed only inside the safe parameters of marriage, Pinkie learned to judge harshly his parents’ weekly assignations, and, as usual, he blames the woman in the scenario, assuming that his mother’s insatiable animal appetites made such repugnant displays necessary.
Pinkie is actually terrified of sex. He is scared of making himself vulnerable to a polony and of living in sin ever after. When he meets Spicer’s girl in a road house the night after Spicer’s death, he experiences real sexual desire for the first time, and the feeling is as exciting as it is foreign. At his urging, she comes with him “to the cars,” but then he’s too anxious to perform, and he ends up slipping into the road house pool instead.
When he finally forces himself to make love to Rose, his fears disappear. Far from finding sex distasteful, he actually rejoices in his newfound power and manliness, and he even feels a shred of tenderness for Rose who, much to his relief, saw him naked and overcome by passion and did not laugh at him.
Ida thinks hunting Hale’s killers is a fun diversion from the mundane obligations of everyday life. Sex is much the same. It is merely an opportunity to enjoy herself, and Ida rarely turns down a chance to indulge her hedonistic side. As a nonbeliever, Ida eschews the idea that sex is in anyway dirty or sinful. Made briefly rich with her winnings from the racetrack, she suggests to Phil Corkery that they allow themselves one night of unbridled fun. “It doesn’t do anyone any harm that I know of,” she says. “It’s human nature.” When Phil suggests later that they’ve sinned against God, Ida scoffs at such a notion. It’s not like murder, she argues. Sex never hurt anyone.
Ida prides herself on knowing what men like. She flirts with strangers and toys with her male acquaintances, wielding her large breasts like a weapon, and they’re almost always effective. It might be her singing that first draws Hale in, but it’s her full figure that seals the deal. He is convinced by her fertility goddess-like proportions that she can protect him. Ida’s body, though, like so much about her, is an empty promise.
For Rose, sex is not hollow fun. Nor is it nasty or vile. Instead, it is an act that, if enjoyed between two married people, is sacred. Neither she nor Pinkie considers their brief, municipal-building marriage legitimate in the eyes of God, so when they have sex later in Pinkie’s room in Frank’s boarding house, Rose believes they are both now living in mortal sin, but the state doesn’t scare her. No longer a virgin, Rose finds herself freed from the obligations of the church and the attendant feelings of guilt and shame. She is damned right along with Pinkie and she likes it. Not having to worry constantly about how she might step out of favor with the church and with God, she is now charge of her own life.
The difference in Pinkie, Ida, and Rose’s attitudes toward sex is due in part to their belief systems. Catholicism has taught Pinkie to think of sex as shameful if it takes place outside the bonds of wedlock. Rose worries less about shame and more about her immortal soul. Ida, who worships herself, has no such hang-ups. She wants to have a good time and, if possible, exercise a little harmless power over men while doing so. The truth about sex, Greene suggests, lies somewhere in between Pinkie’s fraught visions of buers and damnation and Ida’s masturbatory desire for fun. Rose discovers that truth for herself when, in the final chapter of the novel, she confesses to a priest that she might be pregnant with Pinkie’s child: “She had a sudden conviction that she carried life, and she thought proudly: Let them get over that if they can; let them get over that.” Sex has not damned Rose. It has freed her from guilt and given her a future.
Sex and Shame ThemeTracker
Sex and Shame Quotes in Brighton Rock
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.