Instructor: Prof. Cecilia Liu  



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Selected Bibliography in Postmodernism


Graham Greene "The Basement Room"

The Basement Room

Themes, Motifs


Symbols & images

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The Basement Room 

Summary of  ¡§The Basement Room¡¨

¡§The Basement Room¡¨ is one of Graham Greene¡¦s short stories, told from a third person narrator about a seven-year-old boy Philip¡¦s traumatic experience in his childhood which influences his rest of life till his dying hour at the age of sixty-seven.  Philip Lane lived in Belgravia with his parents, the butler Baines and his wife.    Without nurses¡¦ restraint, Philip walked in this big house and enjoyed his real life. (In the text he usually thought, ¡§This is life.¡¨)  He took a walk on the street, went window shopping, went to the zoo, and tasted ginger-beer and Dunkee cake.  However, when Mr. Baines had an affair with Emmy and asked Philip to keep the secret for them, Philip began his nightmare.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Baines also tried to coax Philip to tell her Mr. Baines¡¦ extramarital relations.  Philip involved in this delicate and complex dilemma.  In the end of the story, Mrs. Baines was dead in an accident while Philip still wondered who the girl was sixty years later.

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Themes, Motifs

¡¯ expectation and disillusionment

¡¯ the result of the emotional trauma of the child

¡¯ a physical and psychological journey

¡¯ the sense of guilt 

There are two worlds in ¡§The Basement Room,¡¨ which Philip must recognize and choose between, separated by a green baize door, an image Greene used elsewhere to separate the world of innocence from the world of knowledge, the world of love from the world of hate, the world of the child from the world of the adult. 

The sense of guilt is the essential theme of all Greene¡¦s fiction¡K. The protagonists . . . are essentially decent and haunted human beings who are led into sins of violence and despair by the unexpectedness of some human attachment.

    From the third person narrator, we come to see what happened to Philip.  For Philip, Mr. Baines is not only a butler, but also a hero, a friend.  For example, Mr. Baines tells him about his past life on Old Coasters, gives him snacks between meals.  Philip wants to escape from his nurse and nursery to lead his joyful life.  At this moment, Mr. Baines treats Philip as a man, not a child.  So, Philip is willing to help him and keep the secret.  Nevertheless, when he learns from adults¡¦ responsibilities and hypocritical lives, he gets frightened.  The disillusionment is inevitable.  Here is the foreshadowing that implies his unfortunate life in the near future, ¡§¡Khe was less sheltered than he had ever been; other people¡¦s lives for the first time touched and pressed and moulded. He would never escape that scene¡¨(p. 465). He cannot handle it.  He becomes angry with himself for revealing Baines¡¦ secret unintentionally.  He is disappointed that adult¡¦s world is not as wonderful as he thinks.  ¡§Philip was angry and miserable and disappointed because he hadn¡¦t kept Baines¡¦s secret¡¨(p.469). Emmy¡¦s doubtful identity and Mrs. Baines pressure make Philip loose his world of innocence.   Mr. Baines¡¦ kindness and loyalty to Philip, their journey to the zoo, on the square and street those keep Philip far and far away from his nursery, his protection.  This is both physical and psychological journey: a journey from his nursery to the street, a journey from a kid to a man.  When Philip understands, it is too late to go back to his naïve age.  Moreover, he becomes an isolated person, separated from this society, and cannot face his obstacles in life.  ¡§He never opened his Meccano set again, never built anything, never created anything, died the old dilettante, sixty years later with nothing to show rather than preserve the memory of Mrs Baines¡¦s malicious voice saying good night, ¡K¡¨(p.470).  ¡§He was divided by the fear and the attraction of life¡¨(p.471).  When he died, only his secretary kept him company (p.488). 

The failure of the man may be explained psychologically as the result of the emotional trauma of the child.  But theologically Philip was responsible; and when he found himself getting involved and retreated from relationships by extricating himself from life, from love, from Baines [responsibility] with a merciless egotism, he led a loveless life and damned himself for eternity.

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Philip¡¦s parents¡Xabsent in the story

Mrs. Baines¡Xthe housekeeper of the house

l          Getting everything in order, meticulous, loveless, but dutiful

l          Changeable (servile/ authoritative)

l          Witchlike  (p. 286)

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