Tyres by Adam Thorpe
In Tyres by Adam Thorpe we have the theme of responsibility, tradition, love, pride, helplessness, guilt, control and grief. Narrated in the first person by a Frenchman called Raoul Paulhan the story is a memory piece and after reading the story the reader realises that Thorpe may be exploring the theme of responsibility. Both Raoul and his father take great care in their work and consider it their place to ensure that everything is done correctly and that no corners are cut. An example of how serious Raoul’s father takes his job is noticeable by the fact that when Mme Renouvin is killed in a car accident. Raoul’s father does not eat for three days blaming himself on the accident. If anything not only are Raoul and his father dedicated to their jobs but they also feel responsible should something go wrong with any of the tyres that they have fitted. It is also noticeable that both Raoul and his father take great pride in their work. Something that dates back as far as Raoul’s grandfather which may suggest that Thorpe is highlighting to the reader the continuation of tradition by the Paulhan’s.
There is also no doubting that Raoul is very much in love with Cécile and that she is Raoul’s first love. A love that he has never forgotten despite the passing of time. What is also interesting about Cécile’s character is the fact that Raoul may have assisted in her death. It is assumed that the car carrying Cécile crashed due to a defective tyre. A tyre that Raoul had deliberately manipulated before putting it on the car. However at the time Raoul was not to know that Cécile would be travelling in the car. This may be a contributing factor as to why Raoul still places flowers at the spot where the car crashed. Though others have long forgotten what has happened and the war is over. Raoul himself has never let go of the past and how he felt for Cécile. It is also possible that Raoul feels guilty about Cécile’s death. Having after all inadvertently contributed to it. The incident with the tyre was Raoul’s first attempt to sabotage the Germans and he appears to have paid a heavy price. Something that Raoul is not able to forget.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. The tyres which Raoul personifies may represent life and a livelihood to Raoul. Though ironically one tyre has cost him his happiness. Having never married out of respect to Cécile. Similarly tyres are circular in shape and Thorpe may be using the shape of the tyre to symbolise the circle of life. The fact that the story is set in an occupied France during WWII could also symbolise man’s control over man. Cécile’s loose chain may also act as foreshadowing. She has to get off her bike to fix the chain. She in reality is no longer moving forward which would mirror what happens Cécile moments later when she is in the car and it crashes. Just as she had to stop cycling so too has Cécile’s life stopped and come to an end. Raoul also by manipulating the tyre thinks that he is taking control. That he is doing something to resist the Germans. However he is left helpless by his actions when he realises that Cécile has been killed.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader realises that despite the passing of time Raoul is still grieving the loss of Cécile. France may have recovered from the war however this is not the case for Raoul. His mind is still reminded of what has happened to Cécile. There is a sense that when Cécile died Raoul not only lost his first love but lost some of his innocence too. Anybody who was involved in the war or who had the war forced upon them will have lost something and Raoul is no exception. He was broken as a young teenager by Cécile’s death and he has never really fully recovered. He might be running the family business but something changed for Raoul the day that Cécile died. Hopes he may have had of spending the rest of his life with her did not come to fruition. Instead like the cars passing by Raoul’s yard; life too has passed Raoul by. The fact that Raoul also thinks that his job has changed since tyres went tubeless is also interesting as previously Raoul had considered the tube to be like a person’s soul. If anything Raoul like the tubeless tyres may be going through the motions in life. He has never married. Has no immediate family and the one true love that he did have has died. It is as though Raoul lacks a meaningful connection with another human being. However his connection to Cécile remains strong though it is also tinged with grief and sadness.