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Chapter Four

A study of a book by GK Chesterton.

Chapter Four

Postby The Bigsleep J » 16 Feb 2006, 06:11

There's a lot to discuss in this chapter, more than I first thought of when I started. Well, here goes...

In this chapter we get a lot of backstory. It tells the tale of how the young policeman Gabriel Syme was borne into a family "of cranks where the oldest people had the newest notions." Finding some of distaste in the erratic nature of his parents and their friends he soon begins to rebel against them and rebels into conservatism.

One day he was minding his own business when he was caught in a dynamite blast, and although he escaped unscathed the event cemented his dislike against anarchism. Being a poet he began writing pamphlets against the people whom he declared "Holy War", only to slip into poverty. He mostly went unnoticed for his trouble. One day while walking along the Embankment he strikes up a conversation with a policeman. The policeman turns out to have been educated in Harrow, an expensive boarding school. It strikes Syme that alumni from Harrow don't tend to become police constables.

Soon Syme is informed about new "secret" developements in Scotland yard and decides to join after a long debate about weeding out cold intellectuals who seek only to destory mankind. He follows the policeman to Scotland Yard where he is shortly taken to a dark room where "the greatest detective in Europe" is waiting for him. He is engaged immediately after only a few seconds. Upon objecting to his sudden promotion he is informed that he is willing and "that is enough." The great nameless detective then informs him that he has been condemned to death. "Good day."

After the end of the flashback that describes briefly how Syme descended upon Gregory and Saffron Park we go back to the tugboat steaming up the Thames. Soon Syme gets off at the designated spot, knowing not what to expect. From here on out things get freaky, but I'm getting ahead of myself. ;)

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Warning: Many Spoilers follow in this chapter’s discussion if you haven’t read the whole book

In this chapter we learn where Syme comes from and how he came to be on Saffron park that fateful evening when he infiltrated the ranks of Anarchists. However as I said in the synnopsis he's a conservative. We also learn what branch of the police he came from, a secret branch called "The Last Crusade". I do not however believe at this point that Syme is a Christian in the strictest sense of the word; he seems to be a Christian out of principle rather than belief. I believe that in a way The Man who was Thursday chronicles Syme's spiritual growth from a fiery revolutionary against revolution (akin to a fanatic) towards a more mature, orthodox belief in God.

I'm going to admit off the bat that there is something about the chapter that I'm not entirely comfortable with, but I admit that I could be wrong. The nameless policeman and Syme discuss several things that strike me as borderline Gestapo. Their way of weeding out people who don't agree with them reminds me of the tactics used by Nazi Germany to seek out dissenters. The fact that they are looking for educated intellectuals also reminds me of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia who killed everyone who was even remotely educated. These parts reminds me too much of those incidents, but I wonder if this is really meant to be Chesterton's worldview? As far as I know Chesterton opposed Adolf Hitler (and especially his policies against Jews) openly and publicly and that he never advocated censorship. The problem I've always found with Chesterton's fiction is that sometimes its hard to discern the author from his characters because he is so fully present in his writings. Many people today consider Chesterton a Nazi (just check out some of the negative reviews for Thursday at Amazon.com if you don't believe me) although I sometimes think they confuse him with his cousin AK Chesterton, who was a very open anti-semite, fascist and Nazi sympathizer before and long after World War 2 ended. That said, although I don't believe Chesterton is an anti-semite, I've always sadly detected a vein of xenophobia in Chesterton's writing, some of which is found in Thursday, although that could be something of a window into the general climate of pre-WW2 London. Off course I could be wrong, but that's my take. But I digress: would Syme at the end of the book still think like the Syme at the beginning of the book, or will their views remain the syme? Off course Chesterton might not approve of this himself – he said after all that Syme had ‘too conservative an attitude’. What do you think?

(quick note: Chesterton has his Jewish defenders against the charge of Nazism - a Rabbi once said in a link that I lost that "When the time came he proved to be a friend rather than an enemy" and Neil Gaiman the fantasy and comic-book author is Jewish himself, yet considers GK to be his favourite writers, so much so that in his Sandman comics there appears a character called Gilbert who is so much like Chesterton its scary. Also Dale Alquist, president of the US Chesterton Society, said that most anti-semetic arguments against Chesterton come from quotations pulled out of context of his non-fiction works)

Also could it be that the constable is exagerating his views on the lawless intellectuals? His speech seems to be somewhat propagandistic in style. Either that or I'm reading too deep between the lines. ;)

What also do you think is the significance of the Great Detective sitting in the darkness (other than a plot device in order so that Syme would realize that he and Sunday, President of the Anarchist Council?

Some thoughts & side thoughts:
Considering that the constable is a well-educated constable, was walking up the embankment part of his normal duties, or was he something akin to a recruiter who went out looking for new recruits? If so, was he informed that Syme would be there and that he should engage him with a good evening?

When the policeman greets Syme he gives a long outburst upon how cruel the police is towards normal petty criminals, he ends it with the sentance: "You police are cruel to the poor, but I could forgive you even your cruelty if it were not for your calm." This is, in a way, very similar to the outburst of the Secretary in the final chapter, in style and in structure, although the meaning could be different. "Oh, I can forgive God His anger, though it destroyed nations; but I cannot forgive Him His Peace." Both are uttered by men who, at that moment in time, do not understand why those who should do something do nothing. The Policeman informs Syme that there is an answer to their silence - but Sunday's answer is only silence. Why do you suppose that is? Or are we getting ahead of ourselves?

Also in some way Syme's plight of writing pamphlets that go unnoticed remind me of Turnbull from Chesterton's "The Ball and the Cross", the editor of an atheistic newspaper who feels delighted when McIan challenges him to a duel for blasphemy because, finally, someone is taking him seriously.

Historical Notes: Harrow School is noteable for delivering from among its ranks Lord Byron and Winston Churchill as well as other famous British people. It is a very old school possibly founded around 1572 although some dispute that it may have been a refounding of an older institution from 1324.
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A Harrow-ing experience

Postby Kanakaberaka » 20 Feb 2006, 03:19

You answered my question about what the police officer was refering to when he mentioned "Harrow". It's not as famous an institution as Oxford or Cambridge on this side of the Atlantic, so I did not understand. The education of this mysterious policeman should be a key as to how "The Last Crusade" plans to deal with those who would threaten humanity with inhuman ideas. The anarchists are a threat to the lives of all people. But their inner circle is even more of a threat because as scriptures say, they threaten not the body in this world but the soul in the next. I would hope that this special police force would be dedicated to counteracting evil thoughts rather than "liquidating" the opposition.
Syme's abrupt interview in the dark is the most mysterious part of this whole chapter. Dispite the fact that he is in total darkness, Syme somehow knows that the Great Detctive has his back to him. This could have simply been because of the way his voice sounded, but it reminded me of how Moses was only allowed to see the back of God on Mount Sinai. As to whether or not Syme was a Christian, I feel that when he goes into the tomb like darkness it is like Baptism. Especialy since the mysterious detective declares that Syme is comdemed to death after mentioning the role of the martyr. Could there be a hint of resurrection in Syme's emerging from the dark room and into his new vocation?
so it goes...
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Re: A Harrow-ing experience

Postby The Pfifltrigg » 21 Feb 2006, 04:13

Kanakaberaka wrote:I would hope that this special police force would be dedicated to counteracting evil thoughts rather than "liquidating" the opposition.


:shocked: Big Brother is watching, through the plastic eyeballs of my vintage G. I. Joes!

Kanakaberaka again wrote: Syme's abrupt interview in the dark is the most mysterious part of this whole chapter. Despite the fact that he is in total darkness, Syme somehow knows that the Great Detctive has his back to him. This could have simply been because of the way his voice sounded, but it reminded me of how Moses was only allowed to see the back of God on Mount Sinai.
Curious parallels, but I chalked it up to the way the voice echoed in the room (you'd be able to tell he wasn't looking dead-on at you, even in total darkness, I think.)

Kanakaberaka once again wrote:As to whether or not Syme was a Christian, I feel that when he goes into the tomb like darkness it is like Baptism. Especialy since the mysterious detective declares that Syme is comdemed to death after mentioning the role of the martyr. Could there be a hint of resurrection in Syme's emerging from the dark room and into his new vocation?
One has to wonder if the chalk-poisoning victim was also a cop, and really, what good the Governing Counsel (composed entirely of spies from Scotland Yard's department of Grail-hunters--oops, wrong Last Crusade!)actually ever did the real anarchist movement, and how effective they were against it. I think Chesterton overdid the Ironic Allegory bit on Thursday, and the story, as a story, suffers for it. If it's going to be a wierd story, that's cool. I think he drowned the "story" part in the "wierd" part, though.
False ideas may be refuted indeed by argument, but by true ideas alone are they expelled. — Apologia Pro Vita Sua: Cardinal Newman
Freedom lost and then regained bites with deeper fangs than freedom never in danger. — Cicero
You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. — Ray Bradbury
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Re: A Harrow-ing experience

Postby Kanakaberaka » 24 Feb 2006, 22:52

The Pfifltrigg wrote: I think Chesterton overdid the Ironic Allegory bit on Thursday, and the story, as a story, suffers for it. If it's going to be a wierd story, that's cool. I think he drowned the "story" part in the "wierd" part, though.



Sad, but true. I must agree that the allegorical elements of Thursday are rather clumsy and obvious. However, to a person like myself who has no appreciation for subtlety and loves pulp fiction type yarns, this is a theological epic. It's amazing that Chesterton keeps up this same level of obviousness throughout the whole story. Which could explain why he called it a "nightmare".
so it goes...
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Re: A Harrow-ing experience

Postby magpie » 01 Mar 2006, 18:37

The Pfifltrigg wrote:One has to wonder if the chalk-poisoning victim was also a cop, and really, what good the Governing Counsel (composed entirely of spies from Scotland Yard's department of Grail-hunters--oops, wrong Last Crusade!)actually ever did the real anarchist movement, and how effective they were against it. I think Chesterton overdid the Ironic Allegory bit on Thursday, and the story, as a story, suffers for it. If it's going to be a wierd story, that's cool. I think he drowned the "story" part in the "wierd" part, though.


This was exactly my own reaction to this chapter. I questioned whether, aside from Gregory, there actually were any real anarchists. And at the risk of running ahead to a future chapter, I immediately made the connection between Sunday and the "huge" man sitting in darkness. Maybe it's just that my mind works in the same devious way, but much of what was supposed to be mysterious seemed to me so predictable (and I had never read the book before).
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Re: A Harrow-ing experience

Postby The Pfifltrigg » 01 Mar 2006, 21:41

magpie wrote:I immediately made the connection between Sunday and the "huge" man sitting in darkness. Maybe it's just that my mind works in the same devious way, but much of what was supposed to be mysterious seemed to me so predictable (and I had never read the book before).


You too? I'm glad it was only a Nigtmare, and not a Detective Story like the Father Brown tales. (Much better reading!)
False ideas may be refuted indeed by argument, but by true ideas alone are they expelled. — Apologia Pro Vita Sua: Cardinal Newman
Freedom lost and then regained bites with deeper fangs than freedom never in danger. — Cicero
You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. — Ray Bradbury
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