Analysis

Arnold's death resolves the tension between Arnold and Bradley. Although the book may seem to be about Bradley's experience of love, his competitive relationship with Arnold plays a prominent role that affects all of his decisions. Bradley's struggle to reconnect to his creativity stands in contrast to Arnold's ease at constantly being creative. Even Bradley's love for Julian can be seen as a competitive reaction to Arnold. By possessing her, he takes her away from her father. Furthermore, Bradley's ability to love Julian relates to his ability to create art. By loving Arnold's daughter, he is inspired to create the art that challenges Arnold's art.

The desire for Julian deeply relates to the issue of aesthetics. When Arnold takes Julian back, Bradley takes revenge upon Arnold's books. Arnold's death will finally end the tension and Bradley himself plays an important role in the murder. Although Rachel physically wields the poker, Bradley's efforts push her to do kill Arnold. Many critics suggest that the competition between Arnold and Bradley is a modern retelling of the Greek story of Apollo and Marysas. The two once competed to see who was the better musician. Not surprisingly, Apollo won and punished Marysas by flaying him alive. Murdoch frequently discussed this myth in her other writings. She also refers to Apollo through the character of P. Loxias in the novel.

The end of the novel is both surprising and expected, since it has been foreshadowed. Rachel's final telephone call to Bradley mirrors Arnold's initial call to Bradley. This time, however, the fireplace poker has killed its victim. Beginning and ending the novel with the same scene creates a structural mirror. The final scene is Murdoch's definitive comment on the institution of marriage. Since the scene involves the death of one of the married partners, it seems fair to say that Murdoch views the possibility of marriage skeptically. Arnold's sudden death provides an ironic contrast to the opening domestic quarrel after which he argued that his marriage had the strength to sustain any blow. With the opening and closing domestic quarrels, Murdoch uses the novel in between to articulate the often-difficult dynamics of married life.