Looking at the social comments Arnold Bennett makes. Examine his use of language and literary devices to convey his point.
In the story news of the engagement Arnold Bennett makes several social comments. He uses different types of language and literary devices to convey his message to the reader. Throughout the story Arnold Bennett shows the nature of the character Philips relationship with his mother. As the story progresses Arnold Bennett uses different techniques to convey Philips behavior and attitude towards his mother. At the end of the story his message is shown to the reader and from this point onwards my focus will be on Philips journey throughout the story, how he changes and his sudden realization of how poorly he has inwardly treated his mother
The first significant phrase in the story appears early in the first paragraph. The phrase used is ‘preparing for me’ and it is a very important quote as it reveals Philips viewpoint towards his mother. The reader can infer immediately that Philip is appearing to be sarcastic or even patronizing. The word ‘preparing’ is deliberately placed between inverted commas by the writer. This is an extremely effective method of revealing to the reader Philips tone of voice. It can be perceived that Philip is talking in a tone of disrespect towards his mother and that he is sure that his mother has no other plans which exclude him. The text in itself is very informative.
It is used to convey that Philips mother has little other activities to engage in other than ‘preparing’ for him. Seeing as Philip is speaking about his own mother, even at this early stage in the story it is clear that Philip is disrespectful towards her and seems to think negatively about her preparations for his arrival. The inverted commas also carry the suggestion that Philip is not at all surprised at his mother for ‘preparing’ for him. He might even be suggesting that his mother’s behavior is predictable or even boring.
In the 3rd paragraph Philips innate selfishness discloses itself to the audience. The sentence used by the writer to display this was ‘I was the only son of a widow’. The word ‘widow’ is not only to inform the reader of the passing away of Philips father but to imply that his mother was totally alone both in terms of family and in terms of social communications. Since his mother has no other person of any significance in her life (according to Philip) he believes he is the top priority for his mother and that his mother’s life revolves around him. He is not only stating the fact that his mother is alone but also that she could not possibly have anyone else in her life. The phrase ‘all that my mother had’ is an ideal piece of writing to prove this. ‘All’ means everything and as far as Philip was concerned he was everything to his mother and anything else in her life was secondary to him. As mentioned previously Philips selfishness is innate and this is because he is a product of his environment. Society at this time period would generally
Share the same views as him if they were in a similar situation. In his eyes he is acting in a conventional and very orthodox manner. Further on in the story there is a piece of text written by Arnold Bennett which is constructed using descriptive language. It has an important role in the story and it further develops the readers understanding of Philips attitude towards his mother. The quote is ‘my little plump mother in her black silk and gold brooch…’ The reader can instantaneously realise the fact that Philip is describing the physical appearance of his mother. In that time period and even in modern day times when you are asked to describe your mother. Her appearance is not the kind of description you are likely to say. What you describe is her character and her personality.
The reader can infer that Philips views his mother as an object or slave to him. He doesn’t value her life and doesn’t appreciate her in the correct manner. In this quote Arnold Bennett uses one single simple word to great effect. The word ‘my’ is used and it shows that Philip firmly believes that his mother’s life revolves around him and that she is almost some kind of possession reserved only for his personal use. ‘Little’ and ‘plump’ are 2 words which people would rarely use to describe their mothers. This use of language further emphasizes Phillips innate selfishness and poor conduct towards his mother. Also these words are disrespectful and negative so it is clear that Philip is selfish and hurtful toward his, mother and that he doesn’t realize it at this point.
Arnold Bennett uses a simile in the next paragraph. The sentence he used this technique on was ‘she hovered around me, like a sea-gull round a steamer’. This can be instantly perceived by the reader as Philip analyzing the outward reaction of his mother to his presence. It shows the audience Philips supreme confidence in terms of how his status and character are seen so positively by his mother and also how he thinks of his own importance. ‘hovered around me’ shows the reader that Philip is sure of his mothers excitement and joy as she is constantly coming close to him and showing her appreciation or gratitude that he has come to visit.
The actual comparison was very informative about Philips attitude toward his mother. ‘Like a sea-gull around a steamer’ is showing that Philip may be disgruntled by his mother’s behavior. It is an unusual method of describing the event as it suggests that his mother is pestering him or even frustrating him by her actions. Referring to his mother as a sea-gull around a steamboat harbors the suggestion that he is unhappy at her relentless movements towards him and it also questions if he has any sort of respect for his mother at all. This type of comparison is certainly not conventional when talking about your own mother and although society at the time may feel Arnold Bennett’s use of language is slightly strong they would generally agree with his message as they are all products of the environment.
Later on in the story Philip is shown to make even more assumptions about his mother when he says ‘more excited than my arrival ordinarily made her’. His firm beliefs are that his mother thinks that he is the most crucial part of her life and his life is the most important thing to his mother. We have already established these points and this are the reasons why he is suggesting that whenever he is visiting his mother she is filled with joy and excitement. On this particular occasion though, Philip senses and is in fact convinced that his mothers joy is even greater than when he usually visits. His immediate response to this was to not even consider that his mother may have some positive or intriguing news of her own but that ‘she may have got wind of my engagement’.
This again reiterates Philips belief that his mother doesn’t have a life beyond him but it also introduces to the reader the concept that Philip is self engrossed. All he is thinking about is Agnes and how his mother has come to realize that he is engaged. All of this is a repetitive chain of events where Philip considers himself above everything and is immersed fully into his own private life. Another phrase which provides strong evidence for this point is ‘supper for three’.
When Philip realizes that the dinner table is organized for three people he yet again assumes that his mother could not possibly have anyone come at her request. So his explanation is Agnes must be coming. He is totally dismissive of the idea that his mother could have another important person in her life other than him. Immediately after this phrase Philip exclaims ‘she hasn’t breathed a word’ again this is further evidence that he is totally consumed in his selfishness and that he believes his mother is again putting his life as the priority. The exclamation mark in the phrase is very effective. It puts great emphasis on all the points above and it presents a clear and accessible message of Philips conduct to the reader.
As we know later on the story Philip realises the nature of the relationship his mother is experiencing with Mr. Nixon. Prior to this though there are many key events which take place and are significant to the outcome of the story. Just before the arrival of Mr. Nixon, Philip was anticipating excitedly the arrival of Agnes. He was also very pleased inwardly at his belief that his mother had concocted some sort of plan to unite him and Agnes. Previously he believed that Agnes and his mother have had no previous connections and he also thought that Agnes was staying in London. Philip says ‘she had delightfully fibbed’ when referring to this fact.
He was now convinced that Agnes and his mother are involved in a surprise reserved for him and it is clear that he is fully immersed in this direction of thought. It is almost as if he is looking at this situation through a tunnel where there is only one way, which in this case is a plan made between Agnes and his mother. Of course the reader can quickly realise that Philips excitement is short lived. After ‘trembling with expectation’ instead of Agnes greeting him at the door it was Mr. Nixon. Philip did not instantaneously express his frustration and annoyance at this new development. Instead he described a bit of background information about Mr. Nixon and revealed his wealth and prosperity.
He also revealed that Mr. Nixon was his ‘mother’s trustee’. He was completely unaware of the true nature of the relationship as he was blinded by the views shown by society as a whole at that time period. Philip was completely dismissing the fact that his mother could have a life involving anyone but him and he was also failing to acknowledge his mother as a fellow human being with the same rights as him. Again society plays a role in this because at the time women were seen as inferior to men and reiterates that Philip is a product of his environment and was born into this method of thinking.
After the arrival of Mr. Nixon, Philip expresses his anguish. He says ‘not too well pleased by this information for I wanted to talk confidentially to my mother’ From this sentence it becomes very apparent to the audience that Philip is not in a good mood as he wanted to tell his mother about his engagement to Agnes. He still did not have any awareness about his mother’s intentions as he was too absorbed in his own situation with Agnes. When Philip eventually thought about the purpose of the visit he did suspect something was going on. ‘suspicion… something had gone wrong with my mothers affairs’ is the phrase used by Arnold Bennett to convey Philips ‘suspicion’. But of course instead of suspecting a relationship between his mother and Mr. Nixon he came to the conclusion that his mother was in some sort of financial difficulty.
He believed that this is the only reason why a man would visit his ‘widow’ mother. Even though he suspected his mother to be in financial difficulty he dismissed the problem by saying ‘I could easily afford to keep my mother and a wife too’. This sentence was carefully constructed by Arnold Bennett to show that Philip was the male playing the conventional stereotypical role of the provider and the protector of female family members. The reader can see that society is the main influence on the way that Philip acts and it is the reason for his behavior being the way it is. As he has done on countless occasions previously Philip is again showing his selfishness toward his mother. ‘I was still preoccupied in my engagement’ were Philips words and they again showed how selfish and ignorant towards his mother he was being.
For the majority of the story Philips poor attitudes and beliefs have been the main focus. Now however Philip is about to learn the truth about his mother and Mr. Nixon. The focus now will be on his sudden realization that he has been going along with society’s stereotypical views and his treated his mother with such disregard. The other key points will be his reaction to the news and what he realises he has done wrong.
When Philip first hears of the marriage proposal from Mr. Nixon he instantly is caught by surprise. This is recognizable due to Arnold Bennett’s decision to give Philip a certain tone of voice and because of the language he selected. The first words spoken by Philip after hearing this surprising revelation were ‘I was struck’ this evidently told the reader of the obvious state of shock Philip was in after hearing this news. His tone of voice was easy to understand even without any punctuation surrounding the words. Philip says ‘I stammered’ and this is clearly showing that he was finding it difficult to find the response to this piece of news and that his tone of voice sounded extremely surprised. At this point the audience cannot perceive whether Philip is pleased or unhappy at this news. But after an important section of writing written to display Mr. Nixon’s view on the matter it is clear that Philip is pleased with these developments.
Just before Philip talks about his realizations that his views were incorrect and just before he expresses his joys on these new developments Arnold Bennett uses the technique of irony. The example of this is when Philip and Mr. Nixon use a similar phrase when discussing in which type of manner should their secrets be revealed. Philip said ‘you can’t write even to your mother’ and Mr. Nixon says ‘she couldn’t have written like that’. This was a very ironic development because throughout the story the writer has implied how Philip is a product of his environment and how he has hidden such an important fact from his mother.
But now it is clear that both of these 2 people have been hiding secrets from each other due to the dictatorship of society and its strong influence on the actions of everyone. It is clear that Philip could also sense the irony of the situation. In fact it was a very important factor into his change of attitude as he realized that society had stopped him from fully appreciating his mother as a human being with her own personal life to lead. After considering this Philip then responded by laughing. ‘I laughed’ His laugh was one of happiness and he was now at a stage where he grasped the concept that his mother was not created just for him and that she had other purposes in her life.
The next stage was for Philip to reflect on his mistakes and to think about how his attitude should change. He says ‘I never thought of my mother as a woman with a future’. This epitomizes as a whole his previous attitude towards his mother. As far as he was concerned she was only needed by him and that she was of no use to anyone or anything else. This phrase also shows that he is speaking about the past and that now he has differing views than he had previously. Philip also admits that he did not know ‘she was desirable and that a man might desire her’. He didn’t consider the fact that his mother was just like him, Just a human being craving compassion and love.
He thought of her as an object and a slave and only at this stage was he reflecting on how wrong he was. Previously he dismissed the concept that any man would even consider looking at his mother as she was a ‘widow’ and was his to exploit and use. ‘Lonely existence… not all she had the right to demand from life’ at this particular stage Philip is showing empathy toward his mother. He is putting himself in that situation and is now actually thinking of her as an ordinary woman who deserves love and companionship as much as any other person. He now sees that she is not just his mother and she can be anything a wife a sister not just stuck in one role.
What the reader can also perceive from the last paragraph is that Philips selfishness has deteriorated and he has changed rapidly. Philip says very clearly that he is embarrassed about his previous behavior. He says ‘I was ashamed’. This is the ultimate proof to the reader that Philip is definitely aggrieved at his past actions and is looking to put them right. The word ‘was’ is used in order to covey that Philip was like this in the past but now he has changed. Another phrase Philip said was that ‘I would not intrude my joys on her until the next morning’. This was the first selfless act Philip has done for his mother throughout the story. He is now sacrificing a
bit of time to his mother so that she can enjoy a happy and joyous occasion in her life. Instead of trying to overshadow his mother’s news he has kept quiet so his mother can allow herself to relax get composed and he will tell her his news the following day. This phrase also suggests that Philip understands that his mother’s life does not revolve around him and other things could make her equally as happy and equally as pleased.
The message of the story is represented as a whole in the final sentence of the story. ‘We live and learn’. This is a sentence used to show that Philip is pleased with the fact that he was able to change his way of thinking and was able to finally change his views about his mother. It could also be a sentence used to try and influence society as a whole to change their way of thinking just as Philip did. The reader can infer from the last sentence that the writer himself is expressing his own views in order try and make the public notice quickly how they are actually behaving and how they should really conduct themselves. It is almost as if Arnold Bennett wants the reader to undergo their own sudden realization as to what is the truly correct way of behaving and whether or not they should follow some of the trends society has created