Throughout his works Philip Larkin shows the ‘emptiness that lies under all we do.’ The way we travel through life riding a wave of superficialities, too caught up in the moment to see what is really going on. Larkin aims to alleviate the blindness created by our deep involvement, attempting to draw the reader out to see the big picture. In Ambulances he acknowledges death as a device powerful enough to allow people to see beyond themselves and the things surrounding them. The thought of their impending demise, “so permanent blank and true” allows them to ‘get it whole’ and see the truth, the sheer vastness of death pales to insignificance the things that worry about in everyday life. But this realization is a curse, as once you see it whole, see life for what it is, it ‘dulls to distance all we are.’
Things that used to matter loose their importance. It is this that Larkin struggles with throughout his works. It can be seen within Larkin as he strives to fill the gap left by his separation from life and society. Ambulances is really a chronicle of a realization, not a work that stands up by itself but rather supporting evidence created to reside with the messages generated in his other works. Though it does evoke a reaction within the reader, as they begin to realize the truth they whisper “poor soul … at their own distress.”
It is this use of inarguable truths that makes Larkin’s work so powerful. He creates a situation where the reader is forced towards a realization by making them see something within themselves. He does not propose a fully formed interpretation, as that would be just as ‘reprehensibly perfect’ as the closed interpretation presented by the society that he hates. Instead he alludes to an understanding without stating explicitly what it is. This means that the interpretation is dependent on the reader and it is because of this that Larkin’s works relate to so many people. He bases his works on the things that make us essentially human.
The ambulance itself is no more than an object, representative of death, this interpretation could be seen to show Larkin’s pessimistic outlook on life as an ambulance could also be said to represent hope, life, rather than death. However, his reasoning is undeniable, there is a grim fascination with ambulances that can only be described through a fear of death. The knowingness that someone, at the moment of seeing an ambulance pass, is facing their own mortality. Larkin takes this and applies it to all people, ‘all streets in time are visited,’ by doing this he makes the reader see their own mortality, the fragility of their life and in doing so allows them to see the farcical nature of the life they have been living.