A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh and Saturday by Ian McEwan
The novel Saturday written by Ian McEwan primarily explores the question of to what extent it is possible to insulate or include your self against the world’s concerns specifically towards urban life. Is it still reasonable to be involved in a world whose order and system seems unreasonable? The writer in this story depicts and describes a man who is happily married, a proud father and a respected individual who basically lead a comfortable life.
He is completely comfortable with the inner circle of closest family but the world at large that is dealing with political questions, protest and differences especially during the war in Iraq on 2003 makes his life obscure.
When one Saturday London neurosurgeon Henry Perowne sets out within the confines of her patients and family to observe the manifestations of current events, he unconsciously made an inner dialogue between him and the world at large that resulted in many realizations. The pointlessness of human life in this novel is manifested when the morality of the universe at large is already undefined.
The main character whose world only revolves around the circle of his family seems to reject a worldview human attachment founded on connectivity. He is not convinced with the beauty of literature and how literature creates a point of connection to a person and to the world in general. He is the perfect depiction of an upper class and successful family man of the modern age who prefers the scope of their private sphere perhaps to prevent a wider or greater responsibility or, they are just “thoughtlessly content” as the writer describe them.
But on one Saturday, he manages to observe the contrasts in the world around him, people whose lives are different, not because of any inherent difference but simply because of chance–“the currents that alter fates. ” The character’s limited social sphere before “that Saturday reflects pointlessness” since this lifestyle motivates routine. Pointlessness here is synonymous with meaninglessness. To have a meaningful life they say, one must learn to explore the world of others to gain a wider understanding about human nature, their complexities and their relationship with the world.
Moreover the character of Perowne who conforms to isolationism, passivity and upper class complacency freed himself from social, religious and moral clutches. “Having rejected organized religion, he finds some comfort in the conclusions of Darwin, who connects all life in a continuum in which he sees himself a part”. The novel Saturday explains why there is a massive world’s disunity. There are just human beings who approach life half sleep and thoughtlessly not helping others to conquer the human difficulties thus revealing their selfish human nature.
Moreover the tragedy that happened during September 11 that also encourages US and Iraq War, terrorism and political chaos illustrates the inconsistent moral standard of human beings. This undoubtedly coexists with the main protagonist that poses the question of how many humane and civilized men like Dr. Perowne might confront these kinds of terror to protect the things they hold dear. Are they going to stay in their comfort zone of their upper class lifestyle or will they choose to be involved to save other human beings?
The pointlessness of human life is reflected not on Dr. Perowne but on those comfortable people who choose to stay on the boundaries of their conveniences to secure themselves. In A Handful of Dust written by Evelyn Waugh on the other hand, the main protagonist named Tony Last has similarities with the Saturday’s main character Perowne. At the initial part of the novel, his friend Jock Grant- Menzies generalizes Tony’s situation saying “I often think Tony Last’s one of the happiest men I know.
He’s got just enough money, loves the place, one son he’s crazy about, devoted wife, not a worry in the world”. However, the seemingly happy and comfortable world of Tony Last turned upside down when his wife Brenda committed adultery after experiencing the social excitements and fancy life in London. She committed an affair with John Beaver with whom she soon fancies herself in love even without so much personal and emotional investment yet.
Brenda’s desire and fantasy created in her imagination became an uncontrollable force that greatly motivated her sins of adultery. She wanted a new and more exciting life and she is trying to fulfill that through other people. Brenda can not find that new life with Tony who lives a dull life and routines “as the owner of Hetton Abbey, a large Victorian-Gothic house regarded by many as a monstrosity”. “Brenda in the long run was abandoned by her lover though- who is disgusted that she is not going to get fat alimony.
She finally and eventually marries a friend of Tony’s while Tony is still alive in his captivity after going to a trip to the South American Jungle” (Wilson 43). The pointlessness of human life is reflected on how the industrial and modern world approaches the decency of Tony Last. His character, truthfulness and decency are unsupported by the society or deeper structure of society while Brenda’s infidelity is approach with casualness as if it is part of the natural order of things.
Brenda’s infidelity and uncontentment illustrates a corrupt urban society that has lost all hold on traditional moral values. Moreover, the overwhelming feeling of futility and boredom by most of the characters gives threatening effects. It only demonstrates the limits and complexities of human nature when faced with different circumstances. The pointlessness of human life perceived in the story is from the very basic idea that human beings are slowly losing contact to what is morally right and morally wrong.
They can easily be influenced by their impulsive emotions and they can easily conform to the world’s standard. The concept of isolation, war and boredom highlighted in the stories are just but a product of materialism. The selfish human nature of people is becoming apparent because they are trying to find their sense of identity and individuality in the promises brought upon by urban life and industrialization. Both novels play on how characters and their sense of morality creatively adapt to the changing world.