A Handful of Dust Themes

This Study Guide consists of approximately 46 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of A Handful of Dust.
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Every main character trusts someone, depending on that individual to act in a certain manner or facilitate something particular. In every occasion the trustee fails the one who trusts; leaving them in strange and desperate positions.

Tony's character trusts the most, starting with his wife Brenda. It is mentioned on more than one occasion that Tony had fallen into the habit of trusting Brenda. The first implication of this statement is that the trust is misplaced, but also rare among marriages for this group of people. As a result, Tony is the last to know about Brenda's affair with Beaver and has become too naive of her nature to understand how far she will go. Brenda uses Tony's trust to try to take everything he loves and pushes him to seek a drastic change in his life. Tony is good natured so he trusts again when he meets Dr. Messinger. He knows very little about the man but leaves his safety and livelihood in the doctor's hands. Again the trust isn't reciprocated, and Tony is taken advantage of.

Brenda trusts without realizing that in that act, she has gives up the hand of power. It is clear that power rather than weakness is important to Brenda. She is manipulatively charming and uses her charm for access to anything she wants. This all changes when trust becomes her weakness. She trusts that Beaver will remain with her despite his actions and lack of feeling for her. She gives up everything she has with Tony for Beaver and ends up with nothing. Beaver manipulates Brenda's weakness and trust to climb the social ladder. Once he has reached as far as her popularity can carry him, he leaves her at her lowest moment.

This is a novel that offers and mocks a mindset of a group of people who live life as they know how. In a plot such as this, there is always the question of which characters' actions the reader has been led to deem right or wrong. In this social group the only occupations mentioned are politics and archeology mixed with politics. Every other aspect of these characters is socially based. It therefore becomes harder to determine right and wrong as the concept becomes relative.

Nonetheless, starting with Tony and Brenda, the reader is clearly encouraged to sympathize with one over the other. They then become representatives of sensibility over superficiality, or right over wrong. Tony, although thought of as a snob due to his lack of social skill, is the most levelheaded character presented. He lives based on his feelings and understanding of humanness. It is human for him to love, trust, and honor those he has chosen for his own circle—mainly consisting of Brenda. He becomes the character with heart and the reader sympathizes. As a rational thinker, the reader believes the sensible characters to be right in their personalities, actions, and choices.

Therefore Brenda has become the clear choice to represent the wrong characters. Brenda is believed at first to be the charming and good-natured counterpart to Tony. Her charm is soon overcast by her cold manner. It takes one weekend with another man to transform her facade into a shallow socialite. As Brenda reconnects with the ladies of the upper class London, the reader sees her behavior as doing wrong. Strangely however, it isn't easy to write Brenda off with Polly and the rest of the group. She is judged more harshly because she is directly contrasted with Tony. Overall, "right" behavior is needed in these characters but is the least dominant description.

The most significant homes mentioned in the novel are the Hetton Estate, the Beaver home, Brenda's flat, and Mr. Todd's hut. Estate is used as an identification of power and understandably so in a class driven society. Those who possess the domain have the power.

The novel opens in Beaver and Mrs. Beaver's home. They are the poorest characters introduced and this is how their house is described: "There was little in it to suggest the austerely elegant interiors which Mrs. Beaver planned for her customers. It was crowded with the unsaleable furniture of two larger houses, without pretension to any period least of all to the present" (p. 4). These two characters are at the bottom of the social ladder trying to make their way up.

Brenda's flat leaves Brenda powerless. It seems for a while that the small room offers her freedom and unpredictability, but her lowest scene is set in the flat, hungry and alone.

The second most powerful estate is Mr. Todd's hut. Like the Beaver's home, it isn't financially valuable, but even in a delirious state Tony notices it's power. "Architecture, harmonizing with local character . . . indigenous material employed throughout". This home has given Todd the power over the village around him, and in the end, over Tony. It is where Tony is defeated and spends his last days a prisoner.

On the other end of the scale is the Hetton Estate, the most wealthy mentioned in the entire plot and the last spoken about. Many characters piggyback on the power offered by this estate. It is only when Brenda threatens to take Hetton away that Tony finds his voice and stands up against her. Hetton has given Tony his best moments, it has given employment and residence to many and it is the only estate that outlives every situation in the novel.

This section contains 905 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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