Enduring Love

by

Ian McEwan

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Enduring Love: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
“For the second time that afternoon,” Joe finds himself sitting in a police station, waiting to be interviewed, a coincidence he attributes to the statistical phenomenon “random clustering.” He reflects on the fact that the incident in the restaurant is already providing “headlines in the evening paper,” and he and the other witnesses to the shooting gather around a copy that a waiter has procured. From the newspaper, Joe learns that Colin Tapp is “an undersecretary at the Department of Trade and Industry” and that Parry, who has not yet been identified, is being credited with saving Tapp’s life.
Joe makes much of the fact that what is only his second trip ever to a police station has occurred in such close proximity to his first trip, going so far as to assign scientific language to that coincidence. Because of the way his mind works, Joe is unable to stop himself from applying scientific ideology to what is an inherently emotional event: someone has tried to murder him but has shot another man by mistake.
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Clarissa is the first in Joe’s party to speak to the police. As she returns, she warns Joe to “just tell them what [he] saw” rather than “go[ing] on about [his] usual stuff,” his concerns about Parry. Because Joe knows that Clarissa didn’t recognize Parry in the restaurant, he determines not to argue with her.
Because Clarissa’s own knowledge of what has happened is incomplete, she is forced to rely on her intuition: that Joe will compromise his testimony and make a nuisance of himself to the police.
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When Joe is finally shown into another interview room, the police officer with him this time is Detective Constable Wallace, whom Joe describes as a “polite young man.” Joe begins talking even before Wallace has taken his seat, confessing that the bullet was “meant for [him]” and that Jed Parry is responsible for the shooting. Looking at Joe without “any great surprise,” Detective Constable Wallace asks him to “go from the beginning.” He listens and takes notes as Joe delivers his story.
Once again, Joe must undertake the challenging business of fitting seemingly unrelated events into a coherent narrative—work that tests his ability to speak reasonably and calmly. That Joe is both correct about the events at the restaurant and treated warily by authorities is an irony that underscores the difficulty of Joe’s task.
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As was the case during Joe’s previous police encounter, Detective Constable Wallace occasionally steers the conversation “toward irrelevancies,” asking Joe to clarify seemingly unimportant details. The two men quibble over when Joe first recognized Jed Parry, and Wallace eventually asks Joe to remain at the police station for a while so that he can be questioned again. Because Joe believes that the events themselves will “do the work” of verifying his concerns about Parry, he determines not to “press the police too hard.” Despite this confidence, however, he feels his “isolation and vulnerability” as he sits at the station by himself. Nursing this sensation, Joe recalls the sense of loneliness that a friend, “wrongly diagnosed with a terminal illness,” once described to him. Joe feels similarly now, believing himself to be totally alone in his fight against Parry.
Joe’s inability to convince Detective Constable Wallace of objective facts sends him into an emotional tailspin. Joe’s desire is to communicate rationally—to lay out information in a convincing, logical manner. Yet Detective Constable Wallace’s interest in “irrelevancies” and the repetition of minor details reveals that he is rejecting Joe’s logical construction of a narrative. As a consequence, Joe experiences the emotion of “isolation.” His inability to work properly in the realm of logic and reason condemns him to inhabit the darker realm of feelings, at least for a few moments.
Themes
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Detective Constable Wallace returns bearing Duty Inspector Linley’s notes. The two men have spoken to one another on the telephone, and Wallace asks Joe to repeat his story from the beginning. Joe refuses, and Wallace begins to ask him a series of questions instead. Rather than answering, Joe continues to insist that the police investigate Jed Parry, who, Joe maintains, is “not going to stop at one attempt” on Joe’s life. Irrelevantly, Detective Constable Wallace insists on talking about the Keats-Wordsworth story that Clarissa told in the restaurant. After a while, however, he comes to his point: the scholarly debate over the story’s accuracy leads him to the matter of inaccuracies in the eyewitness testimonies of Joe, Clarissa, and Jocelyn Kale. As he finishes, Wallace shares with Joe that “there was an attempt on [Colin Tapp’s] life eighteen months ago” that was most likely related to his official work.
In these paragraphs, McEwan briefly calls into question the accuracy of the conclusions that Joe has drawn. Though Joe is correct to assert that Colin Tapp’s luncheon party was composed similarly to Joe’s own, such a similarity does not, on its own, prove that Joe was himself the intended target. The failure of Joe’s tablemates to agree on eyewitness details, meanwhile, contributes to this work, as well. If Joe’s attempt to construct a rational narrative is based on his mastery of objective facts and his ability to add them together, then it is highly relevant that Joe’s understanding of those facts may not be correct, after all.  
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Annoyed at this “meaningless coincidence,” Joe argues further with Detective Constable Wallace about the particular details of the restaurant meal. He feels “a familiar disappointment” that “no one [can] agree on anything” and wonders if the “prism of desire and belief” inevitably warps all recollections of the past. He thinks again of the evolutionary necessity of “convinc[ing] [our]selves” from time to time of “half-truths,” and he thinks, too, what “startling inventions” metaphysics and science are to rescue humans from such illogic.
For Joe, the failure of his tablemates to agree on details is an illustration of the tension between reason and emotion. Joe trusts his own recollection of the past, yet he believes that others’ recollections have been warped by the inherently emotional phenomena of “desire” and “belief.” Joe’s inability to see that his own desires may be affecting his memories represents a weakness in his thinking.
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Related Quotes
As their interview draws to a close, Joe and Detective Constable Wallace argue further over the flavor of the ice cream served at the restaurant, the respective weight and height of the two gunmen, and whether either wore a ring. Though Wallace assures Joe that “Parry isn’t behind this,” he suggests that Joe might nevertheless need “help” and offers him forty milligrams of Prozac. Joe hurries away, experiencing once again the “shrinking, isolated feeling” that tells him that he is on his own.
The absurdity of Detective Constable Wallace’s behavior underscores once again the impossibility of perfectly logical communication, as does the fact that he attempts to medicate Joe—to regulate Joe’s emotional life through the use of drugs. This sends Joe into a troubled emotional realm once more.
Themes
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Joe arrives home in darkness, the day having passed at the police station, and finds that Jed Parry is nowhere to be seen. Clarissa has left a note saying that she has gone to bed, and Joe pours himself a drink and goes into his study. Looking through his address books, Joe finds the names of acquaintances who have fallen out of his life and reflects on how financially successful they have all been. Though he does not yet tell the reader what he’s looking for, he makes it clear that he doesn’t expect to find it among his reasonable, responsible friends. Finally, however, Joe finds in the “W” section the name of Johnny B. Well, a harmless drug dealer whom Joe once knew and who is “as extensively connected as a neuron.” From him, Joe can presumably get what he is looking for.
By going to bed before Joe returns home from the police station, Clarissa denies Joe the opportunity to construct once more a Parry-related narrative from the events of the day. Instead, Joe must find relief among his acquaintances, and even this work is undertaken in Joe’s methodical, logical way. Joe knows which of his friends might be counted on to break the law and which are likely to be too successful, these days, to do so. Joe’s metaphor about Johnny B. Well, meanwhile, is yet another example of the scientific terms in which he thinks.
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Joe reflects on his long-ago acquaintance with Johnny B. Well and on the economic forces that gradually altered the man’s drug-selling career. Johnny has been “obliged to extend the range of his contacts” over the years, and Joe now believes that someone in Johnny’s circle will be able to help him. Staring at Johnny’s name in his address book, Joe wonders why he didn’t think of him “instantly.” “The answer,” Joe reflects, “was that I had not seen him in eleven years.” Additionally, Joe has long since given up illicit drugs for the “infinite, ingenious” and “tasty” pleasure of alcohol.
Joe is unable to think about even the career of a London drug-dealer without defining that career in rational terms—in this case economic ones. As always, Joe remains curious about his own thought processes, as well, criticizing himself for not having asked Johnny B. Well for help much earlier in his struggle with Jed Parry. Before Joe can move on, he must find a rational excuse for this lapse: he hasn’t seen Johnny in years.
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Sitting with his telephone in his lap, Joe realizes that he is at a “turning point” and that “one action, one event, would entail another, until the train was beyond [his] control.” Nevertheless, he picks up the phone and calls Johnny B. Well. What he needs, he tells his former friend, is a gun.
Joe continues to think in logical terms, understanding the fact that actions are inter-related and that it is not always possible to anticipate the chain of events that one’s initial gesture might begin.
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