I believe Tony’s blind ignorance to be caused by his determined subscription to ‘gentlemanly propriety’. This leaves Tony very vulnerable to Brenda’s betrayal and ultimately costs him his marriage. Amongst these regimented goings on is Tony and Brenda’s only child, John Andrew. Waugh invites us to question Brenda and Tony’s suitability as parents. There are two extremes apparent within the family: Firstly, there is Tony, whose strict, traditional upbringing has implanted a belief in him that a child should be raised indirectly, through a nanny.
In contrast to this, Brenda scarcely seems to acknowledge John Andrew at all. Her departure from Hetton was evident in John Andrew’s life as the constant round of “is mummy coming home today” echoes throughout the novel, indicative of Brenda’s abandonment of her son. Brenda’s contribution to parenting (or lack of it) is epitomised by her statement: “You speak to him. Your so much better at being serious than I am”. This brings a certain amount of triviality into her role as mother and degrades the act of having children.
The extent to which Waugh scrutinises Brenda’s morals can be seen in Waugh’s treatment of the death of the tragic death. Brenda initially believes it to be John Beaver to have been killed and not her son. Brenda’s priorities obviously lie with Beaver, and her response when she finds is repulsive: “John… John Andrew… I… Oh thank God! “. Tony is equally neglected by Brenda and is seen to be reclusive in his response to her adultery. Tony protects himself by shrouding his existence within the familiar surroundings of Hetton. It may be this withdrawn dislocation that has caused Tony to be so ‘soggy’ as D.
H. Lawrence so aptly described the bourgeois. The only time Tony ventures into London to see Brenda, he ends up getting rejected, resulting in him getting drunk with Jock in ‘Brat’s’. This may suggest his lack of backbone and resilience, but crucially is evidence of Waugh’s view that London society can corrupt even the most ‘traditional’ of men. Tony’s inability to cope with the obscure situation, puts a ‘new demand on his understanding’ (‘How Beastly The Bourgeois Is’) and makes him travel abroad to try and escape his anguish.
He travels to Brazil with ‘Dr Messinger’ to explore the ironically uncivilised areas of the South American jungle. Waugh uses Brazil as a location to examine a proposition that there are startling similarities between life in London and the dark depths of the rain forest. The Jungle is used as a model to foreshadow what could arise out of the hedonism of London. Waugh appears to believe that civilisation is cyclical, demonstrated by his observation some areas of jungle were: “choked and overrun with wild growth, that had once been a farm”.
This pessimistic view shows that desolation and wilderness can arise out of order. This is reinforced by the quote referring to the jungle is: “all gross now, and reverting to an earlier type”. It also seems apparent that the trivial lifestyles led by those in London were also being executed in Brazil, with no particular point: “All day Tony and Dr Messinger sprawled amidships among their stores… sometimes in the hot hours of the afternoon they fell asleep” This relaxed lifestyle, however, did not seem to make Tony more comfortable about his problems.
Waugh appears to show this by accentuating Tony’s physical, rather that mental, discomfort. Tony’s body ‘was never wholly at ease’ in the jungle, with a constant barrage of bats and insects abusing him. Tony’s “skin was bitten by cabouri fly and they were crawling and burrowing under his skin”. Waugh’s treatment here is metaphoric, relating to the trauma he suffered in England, at the hands of his wife and Beaver, as a parasitic attack. Brenda ‘charms’ her way into getting Tony to attain a London flat and Beaver enjoys her monthly allowance, paid for by Tony.
It is not only Tony and Dr Messinger’s experiences that draw attention to a particular perception of ‘civilisation’, the natives also display startling similarities to those of the self indulging socialites in London. “Men all go hunting. You give me cigarette”. In England (with the exception of Mrs Beaver and her son) the women are seen to live off the men. The quote also shows the selfish nature of the jungle people in the less that subtle imperative ‘you give me cigarette’. People in London are selfish in a more underhand way, for example; Beaver and Brenda’s treatment of Tony.
The ‘Machushi people’ and ‘Pie-wies’ are also said by Dr Messinger to have gone to excesses when socialising, with the natives apparently getting drunk for days on end: “It will take them a week to get sober”. Tony is held captive by ‘Mr Todd’. This seems wholly ironic as Tony has voluntarily isolated himself when back in England, and ‘cocooned’ himself within Hetton. His cowardice and lack of initiative in dealing with Brenda’s appalling behaviour is also demonstrated in the jungle, as no attempt is made to free himself from the restraint of ‘Mr Todd’.
Tony does not seem to have changed and certainly has not escaped his worries and fears about Brenda. Different settings are certainly selected to highlight Waugh’s fears. London is seen to be the hedonistic capital of England, whilst Hetton represents the decline of the landed gentry and traditionalist values. Waugh is seen to sympathise with Tony’s situation, suggesting pity towards the fading aristocracy. Brazil is a very outrageous location, but frighteningly it exposes some pessimistic possibilities. The characters in the novel are seen to be ignorant of the imminent downfall of their dangerously insular society.
The scant mention of any 1930s politics (apart from the measurement of Japanese pigs! ) emphasises this ignorance. I believe an element of tragedy arises from the Tony’s failure to learn or change. Brenda also remains the same and is soon seen to get bored with Beaver and ends up marrying Jock Grant-Menzies, allowing her to live the ultimately dangerous life that she yearned for when with Tony. This tragic lack of reaction to usually heart-breaking events shows Waugh’s utter concern about a society that seems to have a reluctance to amend.