Travels With My Aunt
“Travels with My Aunt” by Graham Greene is the story about Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager, who meets his Aunt after a very long time, at his mother’s funeral. His aunt Augusta later persuades him to leave his dull suburban existence and escort her on an episodic series of adventures: from Brighton to Paris, all the way across Europe and finally to South America. The tale is picaresque in nature and celebrates the indiscreet and infamous in the society. This essay gives a literary analysis of the incipit of this tale, where we are introduced to Henry’s meeting with his Aunt, the prelude of his life transforming adventure. The meeting comes at a time when he is free of all commitments, having recently retired from the banking sector and with a good financial remuneration.
At the beginning of the novel, the narrator, Henry Pulling, describes himself as a middle-aged retired bank manager, who feels secure after his being awarded his pension and is self-satisfied with his garden of dahlias. Henry seemingly lives a prison-like life, from his teller’s cage to his confining cottage in Southwood. He lives a quiet English life and grows dahlias as a hobby. The novel kicks off with his attendance at his mother’s funeral, where he comes across his Aunt Augusta, who unlike him, lives in a world characterized by mobility and personal freedom. From his description, she is in her mid-70s and so full of stories about herself and the narrator’s parents. The reader gets to know a load of information about the narrator through her.
After introducing the reader to his present life, the narrator then flashes back on the past memories with his family. Henry describes his father as a lazy and sleepy building contractor who lacked the motivation to do his job. He vividly remembers one instant where his father was too lazy to get out of the bath. “He was too lazy to get out of the bath and too sleepy, I suppose.” He also documents instances, where his father would bring work to a standstill, just to take a nap: “he would take his catnap in the cabin of the giant crane, and construction would be halted until he woke.” From Henry’s description, his mother is a direct complement to his father. She is an industrious woman who is constantly irritated by his father’s laziness. Henry considered their relationship a happy one, where “their twin roles of the hunter and the hunted probably suited them.” The father is the hunted, whereas the mother is the hunter, which shows that she dominates over him. She is in charge, and this illustrates that the gender roles have changed. Generally, men dominate in the families but in this instance, the opposite is true.
During the service, there is some unusual excitement which is not common in a graveside. The excitement raises anxiety and restlessness in him, which is evident from his concern whether the oven doors will open during the cremation, or if the coffin will get stuck before reaching the flames. He overhears someone behind him talk in an old clear voice, “I was present once at a premature cremation.” This turn of events seems to suggest that the people think that the deceased will defy the cremation in the same way she defies gender roles by dominating over henry’s father. Her character was extraordinary, which may have led the people to think that something extraordinary will occur during the cremation of her body.
Henry describes that his Aunt is dressed like ‘Queen Mary.’ He is evidently amazed by her appearance. This is evidently seen from how he claims that “her brilliant red hair” and “two big front teeth” catch him by surprise. At this instant, it is evident that he does not have any close personal relationship with his aunt. The time they are apart from each other makes them complete strangers in personality, way of life, personality and character.
Henry finally gets to greet his Aunt in his long wait for the ashes as the chimney gently smokes overhead. His much waiting closely resembles his life. He is a retired man and who dedicates the better part of his life to his dahlias. It portrays how he is just waiting for death to come his way. The irony here is that life is only about waiting. Aunt Augusta has a completely different spirit and prospect towards life. When Henry tells her that his mother “died of old age,” she is surprised that he describes his mother as old. Aunt August exclaims that her sister “was only twelve years older than I am.” From this statement, it is evident that although she is aged, she does not consider herself in that manner. She is optimistic and feels that life still holds more in store for her. She still feels energetic and influential. She feels the urge to show Henry that there is more to life than just waiting for death to come his way. Afterward, she convinces him to escort her in the numerous adventures she embarks on.