The Axe by Penelope Fitzgerald
In The Axe by Penelope Fitzgerald we have the theme of dedication, fear, injustice, acceptance, responsibility and guilt. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Fitzgerald may be exploring the theme of dedication. The narrator though he has been forced to dismiss Singlebury still feels some attachment to him. Attached enough to possibly feel guilty about the fact that Singlebury has been dismissed from his job. It is also interesting that Singlebury comes across as an everyday type of man. He is the exact person who may be diligent in work, dedicated to the task at hand and never one to rock the boat. Which may be the point that Fitzgerald is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that Singlebury is like so many dedicated people who end up losing their jobs in order for a company to maintain its profit margins. If anything Singlebury is a disposable asset to his employer. However this is not how the narrator feels about Singlebury. Though it is noticeable that the narrator has no problem carrying out his employer’s instructions when it comes to the matter of dismissing Singlebury.
There is also a sense that Singlebury’s routine has been disturbed and as such his mental health may have declined. His attempts to persuade the narrator to keep him on fail when he brings the narrator to his home. Something which may leave some readers to consider that the narrator is being heartless. As mentioned Singlebury has been a diligent and dedicated employee who appears to value his job more than other employees might. As to whether the narrator really sees Singlebury return to the office is also something which may be interpreted in several ways. It is of course possible that Singlebury has killed himself and roams the office building as a ghost. However it is more likely that the narrator is beginning to feel guilty about his actions towards Singlebury and is imagining he can see Singlebury. In reality Singlebury was a harmless type of individual. He may have been considered strange by others due to his repetitive wearing of the same clothes but this is not enough to judge Singlebury’s mentality. Though there is no disputing that Singlebury has been given a raw deal by his employers and in turn by the narrator.
It is also possible that the fears shown by the narrator when he sees Singlebury come into the office after been let go are driven by the fact that he is aware that Singlebury has faced an injustice. An injustice that the narrator himself is responsible for. He may consider that he was only doing his job when it came to letting Singlebury go but at no stage in the story did the narrator fight for preserving Singlebury’s job. If anything the narrator like his employer accepted that Singlebury was surplus to requirements and as such had to be let go. At no stage in the story does the reader suspect that the narrator and his employer feel responsible for the direct change in Singlebury’s life. Again Singlebury comes across as a harmless soul who was never late for work. Liked worked and liked working a routine. All of this has been taken away from him and it is clear that when the narrator sees Singlebury in the office he thinks that Singlebury is seeking revenge. Though in all likelihood how the narrator is feeling is all in his mind. Singlebury is not in the office nor is he out to get the narrator. It simply is not part of Singlebury’s character.
The end of the story is also interesting as the narrator appears to have lost his mind. He completes his report and mentions that he will not leave the office till Singlebury is removed. Though again Singlebury is not outside the narrator’s office. Driven by guilt the narrator is no longer able to think clearly. Which is somewhat ironic considering that he has a responsibility to others in the office and as such a duty to be level headed. If anything the narrator may have realised that his employer’s instructions with regard to Singlebury were unfair. However inevitably the narrator due to his allegiance to his employer felt the matter was out of his hands. He may have felt that he simply had no option but to follow his employer’s instructions. Heartless though they were. Which does lend the narrator some sympathy with the reader suspecting that perhaps the narrator is caught in the middle. Though he liked Singlebury he may have felt pressurized to let him go. However mentally the narrator has never let Singlebury go. As far as the narrator is concerned Singlebury is outside his office and his intentions are not really known. Something which adds an element of suspense and terror to the story.