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The Character Of Henry Perowne In Saturday English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1085 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Ian McEwan’s Saturday is a novel that introduces the present-day world to readers through the perspective of its protagonist, Henry Perowne. Throughout this novel, readers are exposed to an impressive evaluation of what makes up life in this modern century, in which the future appears unpredictable for anyone. By reading every detail about this particular Saturday in the life of Perowne, readers begin to appreciate elements of life that may go unnoticed, the aspects that make each day unique. Perowne ends up interacting with all his family members on his one day off from work. His day is filled with thoughtful reflections and evaluations of the fine points of human behaviour in the modern life. McEwan’s portrayal of Perowne and his thoughts and actions are what drives this novel from beginning to end. Perowne is a model of a comfortable, contemporary man who lives in a present-day age of uncertainty. All he longs for are “possession, belonging, and repition” (McEwan 40). However, this uncertainty of the future causes even content men such as Perowne to be thrown off into a world of chaotic events and brings out their strengths and weaknesses.

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The entire novel takes place in London on February 15, 2003. As Perowne, a man in his late forties, gets out of his bed at four o’clock in the morning to look out his window, reader’s begin to sense some foreshadowing of the uncertainty that is waiting ahead of him. He watches a plane on fire fly over London during a post-9/11 time when “words like ‘catastrophe’ and ‘mass fatalities,’ ‘chemical and biological warfare’ and ‘major attack’ have recently become bland through repetition” (McEwan 12). But Perowne is not fully shaken by the event he witnesses. He comprehends that this obligation to the news adds to the unease of people in the contemporary world:

It’s a condition of the times, this compulsion to hear how it stands with the world, and be joined to the generality, to a community of anxiety. The habit’s grown stronger these past two years; a different scale of news value has been set by monstrous and spectacular scenes. The possibility of their recurrence is one thread that binds the days. The government’s counsel – that an attack in a European or American city is an inevitability – isn’t only a disclaimer of responsibility, it’s a heady promise. Everyone fears it, but there’s also a darker longing in the collective mind, a sickening for self-punishment and a blasphemous curiosity. Just as the hospitals have their crisis plans, so the television networks stand ready to deliver, and their audiences wait. Bigger, grosser next time. Please don’t let it happen. But let me see it all the same, as it’s happening and from every angle, and let me be among the first to know. (McEwan 176)

However this 21st-century apprehension of a catastrophe about to happen fails to let people see the casual details that affect lives at a deeper and personal level. Perowne is surrounded by people that need his help. His mother is a dementia patient who cannot identify any of her friends or family. His patients at work come to him to rescue them from a sickness or mishap that they couldn’t evade or control.He is determined to use science and his skills to better others’ lives, as well as his own since God chooses to afflict people with these tragedies. He never held a belief in destiny or providence, or in creationism. In its place, he believes that at every instant, a trillion possible futures are possible. To him, the unpredictability of possibility is more real than a God who is in control of the universe and everyone’s life outcomes.

Perowne is introduced in the novel as a man who is happy and satisfied with his life. He lives in an enormous house in London, and leads a prosperous, upper-middle class life. He is content with his work as a respected neurosurgeon, his family of four, and particularly his successful wife: “What a stroke of luck, that the woman he loves is also his wife” (McEwan 38-9). Readers are then introduced to Perowne’s unease as a man. He observes the “adventures” that his married friends have with younger women and begins to think he may be lacking “an element of the masculine life force, and a bold and healthy appetite for experience” (McEwan 40).

Perowne is very self-aware and is a “habitual observer of his own moods” (McEwan 5). He is a “dreamer sometimes” and lets “a shadowy mental narrative…break in, urgent and unbidden, even during a consultation” (McEwan 20). He mocks at known postmodern suspicions: “If the present dispensation is wiped out now, the future will look back on us as gods, certainly in this city, lucky gods blessed by supermarket cornucopias, torrents of accessible information, warm clothes that weigh nothing, extended lifespans, wondrous machines” (McEwan 77). Perowne is so aware of the present that he even continues his amusing evaluation of contemporary life in the shower.

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The more time the reader spends with Perowne, the more one can see a man who is dedicated to doing the correct thing instead of doing the practical thing. McEwan portrays Perowne as a man who in some ways has got it all: happiness and success. However, in the end Perowne sees something in Baxter’s character that he himself has not got. He realizes through encountering the random yet chaotic events with Baxter that “there has to be more to life than merely saving lives” (McEwan 28). Baxter is gifted in something that Perowne is not-appreciating the meaning of poetry. It may have been love that changed and touched Baxter, not the scientific activity occurring in his brain.

Perowne’s frame of mind changes throughout the course of the novel, and therefore throughout his Saturday. He goes from being cheerful to cross to optimistic. Schrodinger’s cat could either be alive or dead in a box, the war could either happen or not happened. Whatever the case may be, the world continues to go on anyway. As this particular Saturday in the life of Perowne unfolds itself, he demonstrates to readers that uncertainty of the future will always exist. It is something that cannot be predicted but can only be responded to.


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