Study Guide

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand Literature and Writing

By Helen Simonson

Literature and Writing

The Major was miserably confused. He was tempted to climb in the car and go right now. It would be early enough when they got back to invite Mrs. Ali in for tea. They could discuss her new book. (2.32)

The Major knows that one of the best ways to get to know people is to discuss the books they read. And if someone doesn't read, well, that's not a person worth getting to know.

"I'm sorry, let me just move these," she said, and scooped two or three plastic-covered library books out of his way. (4.17)

Seeing these books pretty much acts as an aphrodisiac for the Major. For him, a well-read woman is the sexiest woman of them all.

"There's nothing useless about reading the classics," said the Major, weighing the books in his hand. "I salute your continue efforts. Too few people today appreciate and pursue the delights of civilized culture for their own sake." (4.33)

The Major's traditional nature extends to his love of books. As an old white guy, he loves the old white guys of classic British literature, and Kipling is about as old and as white as you can get. It's a good thing Mrs. Ali likes Kipling, showing that she, too, has a thing for old white guys. (More importantly, it shows that she has an open and unconventional mind.)

"I wanted so much to share with him the world of books and of ideas and to pass on to him what I was given." (5.54)

Mrs. Ali is talking about Abdul Wahid here, but it seems she wasn't able to actually impart her love of books to him. She sees that as a personal failing. The Major doesn't seem like he made Roger feel as passionate about reading either, so they have this in common.

"You are right, of course, but I tell myself that it does not matter what one reads—favorite authors, particular themes—as long as we read something. It is not even important to own the books." (5.64)

This statement explains Mrs. Ali's love of libraries. While she also loved her father's personal library, she has had to come to terms with losing it. Now she is happy possessing a book even if it's only temporarily.

Mrs. Ali had marked many pages with tiny clips of orange paper and, after some prompting from him, she had agreed to read from the fragments that interested her. (8.67)

Mrs. Ali isn't just a reader—she's a close reader, marking her favorite passages. And since these are library books, she isn't writing in them, either. She respects the book. We're falling in love with her, too.

"How amazing is it that we ever planned to read it indoors," said Mrs. Ali. "It has so much more power out here where it was made." (14.16)

Reading isn't just a pastime to do inside a dusty old room. Mrs. Ali brings her love of reading outside and shares it with the world.

"Life does often get in the way of one's reading," agreed the Major. (14.86)

The Major seems like the type of guy who might sit around and read all day, even if he is just reading the same books over and over again. Since he marries Mrs. Ali in the end, we see lots of hot reading sessions in their future.

Would Don Quixote or Sir Galahad have been able to maintain his chivalrous ardour for the romantic quest, wondered the Major, if he had been forced to crawl bumper-to-bumper through an endless landscape of traffic cones, belching lorries, and sterile motorway service areas? (21.1)

The Major's major romantic ideals are literary characters. No surprise, coming from a man so literary.

"Sometimes you can't fix everything," said Amina. "Life isn't always like books." (25.84)

Amina says this, and it may apply to her, but it doesn't apply to the Major at all. His life turns out exactly like a classic romantic novel, probably because Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a classic romantic novel, in a modern sense.