“The Basement Room”: Graham Greene’s Perspective
Like many other things in our world, society is comprised of two different aspects: free will and constraints. As Americans, we experience the former daily and seem to take it for granted. We simply live and maintain our daily routines monotonously, completely oblivious to the fact that we are exercising our rights of freedom, doing whatever pleases us. However, if one uses his or her free will corruptly, they will come to experience the latter aspect of society – constraints, or punishments. Laws are the foundation of all constraints in society. They aid us in maintaining order when people, or groups of people, seem to foray into the world of questionable decision-making. For example, if somebody feels the need to rob a bank or murder another human being, laws are there to reprimand that one sour apple in society and protect the freedom of everyone else collectively. What I have said above pertains only to the real world and everyday situations. What if someone were to create their own world? Imagination is a very powerful thing and should be used with caution. Graham Greene reflects on this very question in his short story “The Basement Room.” Using the character Philip, a young lad who’s being left at an estate while his parents are away, Greene effectively depicts a surreal world through the boy’s eyes. The estate represents an entire new realm of possibilities for Phil. Greene also utilizes Mr. Baines and Mrs. Baines to represent the free will and constraints of this new and foreign society.
Philip immediately feels a new sensation as soon as he sets foot into this new, foreign world. Simply put, he feels “alive.” Philip anticipates exploring the large Belgravia house, with all of its empty rooms and corridors. Simultaneously, Philip hopes that he may learn something about the adult world.
Philip is quite fond of Mr. Baines. He always seeks the butler out in the basement room. A green baize door separates the family rooms from the servants’ quarters. The color green is almost always associated with life. With that in mind, we can return to Philip’s sensation of liveliness. The hue of the door that one must pass through to enter the basement room signifies what Philip experiences every time he enters the Belgravia estate – especially the basement room itself. The green baize door through which the boy passes to the basement room serves as a Freudian device to distinguish between the conscious and the subconscious. With Philip being a fan of Mr. Baines, he is also a fan of free will. His love for the man is intensified within the confines of the basement room. His hate of Mrs. Baines is also strongly intensified in the peculiar room. His fear of the wretched woman is only reaffirmed as he watches Mr. Baines efface himself in her presence. Philip begins to appreciate the conflicting claims of adulthood in a world he yearns for yet fears to enter. He begins to understand fear and coercion and to perceive the meaning of evil. Philip suspects that undiluted joy – his feelings for Mr. Baines – can be threatened by the very presence of those such as Mrs. Baines. In other words, free will is hindered by the constraints of society. This, in turn, hinders true happiness.
After supper, Philip asks Baines to take him for a walk. Mrs. Baines, I what seems to be a reoccurring theme, interferes and will not allow such a thing. Feeling both dejected and frustrated by these constraints, Philip escapes into the world beyond the Belgravia estate. While wandering aimlessly, Philip encounters Mr. Baines in a tea shop. Baines is not cowering under Mrs. Baines as he was when Philip last saw him. Contrarily, Baines is now depicted as concerned and affable lover who is enjoying time with his niece, Emily. A new theme is now introduced – secrecy. Baines asks that Philip keeps Emily a secret from Mrs. Baines. Philip fails to do so, however, when Mrs. Baines bribes him with a Meccano...
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