Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Refusal to Adapt

McEwan begins the second section of Saturday with a quote from Darwin’s The Origin of Species: “There is a grandeur in this view of life…” The rest of Darwin’s quote continues: “…with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are begin evolved.” Darwin describes a world in which the new built upon the things that came before it; a world that began as one thing and continues to grow and change, incorporate and adapt. This idea is echoed in he world that Henry Perowne inhabits in Saturday.

Physically, we see that the buildings around him have been converted from one thing into something else. He parks his car in the “mews” which were once stables to house horses and have been converted into garages for residents to park their cars. The club where he plays squash “is in Huntley Street in a converted nurses’ home…”, “Cleveland street used to be known for garment sweatshops and prostitutes[, n]ow it has Greek, Turkish and Italian restaurants…” and so on (76). The London that Perowne inhabits has evolved and adapted from the London of 10, 50, 100, and 1000 years ago and everything is still in motion, still changing.

Perowne acknowledges that these changes in geography have taken place, and yet he seems reluctant to admit any changes in his own day or his life in the present world. Following his encounter with Baxter, Perowne is shaken up, and yet he stubbornly refuses to admit to himself the potential and continuing danger the encounter poses to him. When he fancies he sees the red BMW behind him in traffic, he feels almost nothing. Then he sees the car again and muses that “he’d like to see Baxter again, in office hours, and hear more and give him some useful contacts” (149). Henry doesn’t feel anger or fear at the prospect of Baxter’s reappearance, and takes lackadaisical stance on the whole business, a position he also takes towards the growing threat of Terror from Islamic extremists. For Henry, “the world has not fundamentally change… There are always crises, and Islamic terrorism will settle into place, alongside recent wards, climate change, the politics of international trade…” (76). Henry is of the view that his world has not changed and that the threat of Terror will recede, that he will not have to adapt his world to accommodate the change. McEwan constantly places both of the things that Henry refuses to acknowledge the severity of in the background of his day. The news of the peace rally and the Russian plane follow him from home to the fitness club to the nursing home, and Baxter’s car keeps popping up nearby Chances are, by the end of the day, Perowne will have to face both of these things and make the necessary changes, for in a world where only the fittest survive, those who fail to adapt will die.

1 comment:

Erin Sells said...

Excellent post, Nick--and thank you for being the first to ante up!

The inclusion of Darwin's biography into the day is one of the many symbolic gestures McEwan is known for incorporating so gracefully into his novels. Evolution can take generations, centuries--will one day be enough to change Henry? One ordinary day--maybe not. But as we've already seen in the first half of the novel, this may not be an ordinary day after all...