A Study of “The End of the Party” by Graham Greene
The dichotomy within each of us doesn’t have to be so clearly defined as being simply good and evil. Any positive feeling and any negative feeling could act as one of these two parts in this dichotomy. In “The End of the Party” written by Graham Greene, we are introduced to two, superficially identical individuals. One personifies confidence and the other who personifies fear.
In the literal sense, Peter and Francis Morton are identical twins with “the same eyes, the same lips, and line of cheek.” The “older” and more confident of the two, Peter, acts much like Sigmund Freud’s ego, guiding and doing his best to protect his fearful, younger brother. Francis, who represents a deeply troubled id, is very much similar to a frightened animal. Francis has a phobia of the dark, and he lacks the capacity to think it through logically.
Peter is the elder brother by a matter of minutes. The author informs us “that brief extra interval of light, while his brother still struggled in pain and darkness, had given [Peter] self-reliance and an instinct of protection towards the other who was afraid of so many things.” The mention of this instinct solidifies Peter as a personification of Freud’s ego. This is the part of the personality that does its best to safely, effectively satisfy and protect the id. In this case, the id that is being protected is very fragile.
Francis’ extra time in the womb could at first seem to be one possible source of Francis’ phobia of the dark. This is known as Lygophobia, the fear of being in dark places. However, we learn that there is a recent event involved. A year before the events of this story, the Morton brothers were invited over a house owned by a rather rich lady known as Mrs. Henne-Falcon.
There, among numerous other activities, they played hide-and-seek in the dark. While Francis wandered around the stately house in his search for a hiding place, one of the girls at the party, by the name of Mabel Warren, touched him on the shoulder, and he screamed quite loudly in response. This event caused, but maybe only in part, his Lygophobia.
In an attempt to avoid facing his phobia at the party, Francis tries to call upon a psychosomatic symptom. In this case, it's a nasty cold. Francis convinces the personified ego, Peter, to find a way to get Francis out of going to the party. It seems like a perfect excuse: Francis is sick, so the logical reasoning would be that he would not have to go. Nevertheless, neither Francis nor Peter ends up having much luck in trying to get out of going to this year’s party.
Their mother could represent a dominant superego: the part of the personality that tells both the ego and id what is morally right and wrong. It acts a conscience, if you will. Still, those morals may not always make sense. “Don’t be silly,” the Mother says to Francis, “There is nothing to be afraid of in the dark.”
Francis’ thoughts on the matter put it best: “But he knew the falsity of that reasoning; he knew how they taught also that there was nothing to fear in death, and how fearfully they avoided the idea of it.” Of course, the id, driven almost purely by animal instinct, isn’t known as having such a complex reasoning process. Apparently, the mentioning of these thoughts reveals to us that Francis truly does have his own ego. But, his own ego is too weak to guide his overpowering id, which is overwhelmed by his fear of the coming events of the night.
Francis is almost wholly dependent on Peter’s dominant ego. But Peter doesn’t do a good job of protecting Francis. It's possible that Francis’ weak ego could simply be an imprint of his brother’s more dominant counterpart. Whatever the case, acting as the dominant ego that Francis lacks, Peter cannot sufficiently protect his brother’s deeply troubled id. He chooses the wrong words to say to the host when Mrs. Henne-Falcon gives the children the agenda for the night, which unfortunately does include hide-and-seek in the dark.
(Aside: It does seem rather ridiculous that children must be made to follow so strict an agenda, especially in play. As in, we will play this at this particular time, and that at another particular time. And this really does happen. But that is for another discussion.)
“Please, I don’t think Francis should play,” Peter pleas to Mrs. Henne-Falcon, “The dark makes him jump so.” This weak attempt at coercion just causes the other children to just call Francis a coward, and leaves Peter simply powerless.
Of course, the game is played anyway. When the lights turn off, Francis is mortified and swiftly disappears. Quickly, Peter figures out Francis’ hiding spot, and he is unsurprised with the quickness of the response. The author tells us that this is because “Between the twins there could be no jargon of telepathy. They had been together in the womb,” it is written, “and they could not be parted.”
That word “parted” has great significance. To Peter, Francis’ fear feels very much to be his own. Peter stays with Francis to make sure he stays all right. Peter brings no comfort to his brother. “Francis’ fear continued in spite of his presence.” Thus, the story ends in tragedy.
The final words of the tale sum it up: “[Peter’s] brain, too young to realize the full paradox, yet wondered with an obscure self-pity why it was that the pulse of his brother’s fear went on and on, when Francis was now where he had been always told there was no more terror and no more darkness.”
That place, with no more terror and darkness is, of course, death. Confidence and fear could not be effectively balanced, and the fear wins. Peter now feels what was formerly only Francis’ fear, but it is as if the fear were always his own, and perhaps they always had truly shared it. Even in death, Francis and Peter cannot be parted.
One possible view of the story, as in the sense of the Morton brothers, is that Peter projects his alter ego onto his brother. Some will wonder if it was actually Peter’s fear being projected onto Francis. The other explanation was Francis projected the confident part of himself onto Peter because he couldn’t express it on his own.
But, perhaps, the story should be taken much more literally. These two are actually reflections of one another. In effect, they are the same person, but with the strengths of their egos and ids reversed. This is made a possible interpretation because of one of the greatest quotes in the story, “As a twin [Francis] was in many ways an only child… To address Peter was to speak to his own image in a mirror.”
Peter was what Francis wanted to be. Whenever you see a reflection, whatever is reflected is reversed. It is as if Francis and Peter were the same person, but with the strengths of their ego and ids reversed. Francis had the recessive ego, and dominant id. Peter had the dominant ego, and recessive id. When Francis dies, he now lacks the presence of his brother’s dominant id. Peter no longer can stand alone as the confident counterpart.
Now, because of his recessive id, Peter may spend the rest of his life really not knowing what he wants. The desires of his id won’t be strong enough for Peter’s ego to respond. He could in effect, become more like his brother. Except in his case, he would most possibly become too overconfident, with no true fear of anything. But most likely, with the way the story is ended, Peter may live with Francis’ fear forever within him.
In this way, Peter may find himself a much more balanced individual, possibly becoming a “whole” person. It also wouldn’t be out of the question that Peter most likely will in the future do anything to get out of going to another of Mrs. Henne-Falcon’s parties. And, of course, perhaps Francis never truly existed at all, except in Peter's own mind.
The open-ended ending of “The End of the Party” leaves us a wide berth to expand upon our wonderment of Peter Morton’s future. While it is a sort of creepy story, it is one that well illustrates the role of alter ego not only in literature, but in our own lives, as well. All of us live with an alter ego, but in many cases, individuals do not always express it, never mind personify it.
Many individuals feel complete in their ego, and see no conscious need to project a certain inner duty, such as the role of the ego, onto another person, object, or imaginary entity. Some individuals, on the other hand, create their own alter egos, oftentimes because of the feeling that they lacking some important thing in themselves, such as confidence.
Still, it is far from uncommon to manifest our alter ego personas in numerous ways. But, in many cases, we aren’t aware of it. Young children often use an imaginary friend; though most would think it only has to do with companionship, there is often an ego deficiency involved. One such example of deficiency could be the aspect of self-image and self-worth, and the individual creates this imaginary person to “like” them.
Alter egos are much like our reflections in the mirror. When we look in the mirror, do we see only a simple superficial reflection of ourselves? On the other hand, perhaps, there is more in that reflected image that we don’t always realize that subconsciously we do realize.