The Theme of Morality in "Sunflower" - Part 2

The Eternity Ring (July 1946); The Cage (August 1946); Sunflower (Aug/Sept 1946)

The Theme of Morality in "Sunflower" - Part 2

Postby starlight » Mon Mar 03, 2014 7:10 pm

Me again, as threatened :computerwars:

The Theme of Morality in Sunflower.
Part The Second
:ugeek:

Did you miss Part 1? Awww. Here.

Moving on from Strasser to the other plotlines....

Creeping Unease

When Foyle steps off the boat in Series 8, it’s into a Britain far less wholesome than its wartime “Blighty” image—not that Foyle’s wartime Britain was ever as untarnished as the myth. But somehow, now, the atmosphere’s uneasier, and by the time we get to Sunflower, it’s relentlessly grim.

In post-war Britain, government is struggling to reconcile conflicting social and political demands. Tensions in society are surfacing; the status quo is toppled, government has changed and must confront the urgent need for social reform; national security is under threat from former allies, and the old alliances have fragmented as the interests of individual nations have diverged.

In such a climate, integrity is the first victim. Trust in national institutions is a natural casualty; and for Sam and Foyle, for whom the machinations wrought inside the corridors of power are all too visible, that trust has worn extremely thin. Sam confides to Foyle that she trusts no-one any more. When questioned by her boss as to whether she includes him in that sweeping statement, she qualifies:
You and Adam—about the only people I do trust

And neither does Sam feel trusted. She has a sense of being under close, unwelcome scrutiny:
These days I feel as if... if I opened my mouth I’d get carted off and arrested.

Society is suffering under the effects of prolonged austerity and upheaval. Families temporarily or permanently fatherless have spawned a disaffected generation. For all the energy and manpower that Whitehall is ploughing into espionage and protection of the nation, out on the street, things are disintegrating. Sam’s highly principled husband, Adam Wainwright, listens to a constituent complain that she no longer feels safe to walk in her own neighbourhood for gangs of bored, disgruntled youths:
The trouble is, nobody has any respect any more.[...]Nobody’s doing anything about it

Adam respectfully disagrees with the complainant. Something is being done: Dame Myra Curtis is preparing a report (the reference here is to the 1946 Care of Children Committee, formed to look into the prevailing conditions for children deprived of a normal home life). But Adam’s constituent scoffs: reports are all very well!

Adam listens with concern, and wonders whether an increased police presence would help to ward off trouble.

What emerges clearly from this scene is Adam’s touching and persistent faith in institutions and in process. His idealism is preserved—in spite of travesties already witnessed in The Cage. His is an outlook which, as the episode progresses, casts him as a more naïve thinker than his wife.

The RAF Mutiny in India

Meanwhile out in the colonies, disaffection also plagues the Royal Air Force. Its men are feeling abandoned by the country they have served so faithfully. Impatience to be shipped home has resulted in a bout of unrest from RAF personnel in Delhi and Karachi. Stern voices fearful for the status quo are branding it a mutiny, and angling for an armed crackdown.

Government minister Charles Roper argues to Adam that the term “mutiny” is absurd and he will speak against it. This is a strike, he insists, and the grievance of the men is real.
You can’t go shooting members of the Royal Air Force.

He observes that
The problem is one of perception.

The real reason for retaining them in India—to protect British regional interests as the Indian Independence Movement in India ramps up—cuts little ice with battle-weary men stuck on the Indian subcontinent, under siege from malaria and dysentery while they watch ships being loaded with GI brides and supplies for the East Indies.

Roper instantly impresses as one Whitehall denizen who stands for what is fair and reasonable. But clearly he has underestimated the effort required to implement reform. He jokes to Adam:
No wonder the Tories prefer the status quo. It’s more relaxing.

Two upright and fair-minded men, Adam and his minister seem to have the Integrity Market cornered. All the more unsettling then, when the Helliwell land scandal erupts, and implicates Roper.

Charles Roper and the Helliwell Land

Adam later reels at the exposure of his boss’s involvement in the dishonest over-valuation of a large tract of agricultural land.

We learn that the land originally belonged to a businessman named Helliwell, and was compulsorily purchased for RAF bombing practice during the war. Helliwell was assured he would be allowed to buy it back afterwards, only to discover the value of the land had doubled in an unreasonably short time, preventing him from buying it back.

The issue is further complicated when Helliwell, having complained bitterly of this to Adam, is badly beaten on the street and ends up in hospital. Helliwell believes he’s been the victim of intimidation. Adam hardly knows what to think.

As it turns out, Roper had nothing to do with the beating. Furthermore, his motives aren’t venal, but social. He defends his actions: the priority must be to keep the nation fed, and the land in question is under cultivation. No contest in his mind:
The single, greatest challenge facing this country is food production. Practically an emergency.

For this reason, he has been prepared to sacrifice the rights of one individual. Roper sees his action as keeping the land from a “grasping profiteer”.

As an approach to morality, Roper’s motivation falls under the principle of “common good”. It is a utilitarian approach, whereby the needs of the many outweigh the rights of the few. By Roper’s lights, his choice to break the law was difficult, but he believes it was a moral one.

Does he deserve censure? Since Roper is allowed his say, at length, it’s reasonable to assume that viewers’ opinions are intended to polarise on this issue. He says in his defence:
I put my country first

In exasperation, he lectures Adam, first in political reality:
...sometimes you have to make uncomfortable decisions

and then on his harsh judgement:
It sickens me that you should think I was in it for the money.

This explanation appears to confuse Sam’s principled husband, who has seen it as his clear duty to expose dishonesty, and has not considered nuances of motive. Suddenly, and to his immense shock, he finds himself on the back foot with Roper, and altogether less sure of himself than he imagined.

Just Deserts

RAF “mutineers” apart, a number of other threads in Sunflower explore the theme of fair treatment for the individual who has suffered in the call of duty and been short-changed by the State: Tom Nelson, injured in service, and unable to resume his career, dependent on his sister for financial support; Parry-Jones and his Polish sidekick Tchorek, former SOE agents who have suffered under torture but are now fending for themselves, dealing badly with their demons.

It seems to us unfair that these men should be “cast off” in this way. Their treatment seems abominable. But what then should our reaction be to Helliwell? Though he is the least sympathetic amongst them, he did his duty nonetheless, only to be cheated by a broken promise. And what of Roper? Does he deserve to be exposed? After all, he, too ‘put his country first’.

It seems that, for every apparently clear moral position, exceptions are introduced into the episode to hold "straightforward" moral assumptions up for question.

Foyle and Sam

I’ve been eager to analyse what Sunflower teaches us about the relationship between Foyle and Sam; but first I looked up the academic definitions of a few moral frameworks, and discovered the term consequentialism:

Consequentialism refers to those moral theories which hold that the consequences of one's conduct are the true basis for any judgment about the morality of that conduct.


Hold that thought.

The strong surviving trust between Foyle and Sam is highlighted early in the episode. Trust doesn’t, however, mean that there is always total honesty, and Sunflower goes on to explore this interesting dynamic of their relationship.

Two situations presented in the episode invite us to assess how important honesty is. When are lies admissible in a relationship?

We all tell lies to save people’s feelings or avoid embarrassment, and it is clear that Sam has told a lie when Foyle inquires about her trip to the dentist; the truth is that she’s been off to submit herself for pregnancy testing. But that’s a sensitive and personal matter, and not one that impinges on their work. Under the circumstances, no-one with a consequential attitude to morality would brand the lie immoral, since nobody is hurt by it.

But how about Sam’s bigger act of dishonesty—the one that does impinge on work, and potentially damage Foyle? She omits to tell him that she’s used his name and gone behind his back to trace, then institute a tap on the phone line of the land-valuer, Gibson, whom she and Adam suspect of deliberately over-valuing Helliwell’s land.

Students of Sam’s character will meet this departure from ‘loyal subordinate’ behaviour with degrees of surprise and even displeasure. Sam reacts with just the merest flick of conscience when she gives Foyle’s name to Charlotte as the authorisation for her interest in Gibson, and she does so with no more apparent compunction than if she were lying about going to the dentist. But the potential impact of the lie for both herself and Foyle could turn out to be huge.

Her motive, as she later explains to Foyle, is to protect Adam’s reputation:
If Mr Roper’s up to no good, where does that leave Adam?

More intriguing still is Foyle’s reaction once Sam’s actions are revealed to him by Myerson: without missing a beat, he covers for her. Though afterwards, he’s tetchy with her, and entirely blunt about the awful legal ramifications of her actions for both of them, he is not incensed. He listens to her motives, and praises them, before remarking:
Commendable, but not nearly a good enough excuse.

His use of the word “excuse” reveals Foyle’s attitude as that of a survivalist, rather than a moralist. Interestingly, his reaction to Sam’s initiative differs materially from Adam’s, once her husband discovers what she has done, (more on which below).

Foyle opts for damage limitation, proceeding to implicate himself more deeply by pursuing the investigation Sam has begun. It’s as sure a departure from duty as his maverick actions in The Cage, and a more dangerous one as regards his own position. I’d go so far as to say that he appears to be setting himself up to take the blame on Sam’s behalf. In spite of what he says:
Trying to save my own skin as well.

it is hard to believe, considering the unblinking and unhesitating way he covers for her with Meyerson, that Foyle would allow the blame to devolve on Sam. He sticks his neck out for her in the same way she has stuck her neck out (and, actually his too) for Adam.

Personal loyalty and fairness are what motivate Sam here. She breaks the law to expose wrongdoing that might put Adam’s reputation at risk. In turn, Foyle’s response to Sam’s behaviour places personal loyalty to Sam above duty—a capitulation that is all the more interesting for the way it contravenes his professional instincts. Nevertheless, it connotes trust in her moral judgement and a shared sense of what is the right thing to do.

In this matter, the differences between Sam and Foyle’s behaviours are simply those of style. Sam’s impulsiveness contrasts with Foyle’s more thoughtful and considered approach (the Myers-Briggs personality-type discussion comes in here!) But morally, the pair of them are of a similar mind: they conspire as consequentialists, to do what’s necessary for a just outcome.

Sam and Adam

It isn’t just illegal, it’s unthinkable.

This is Adam’s appalled reaction on discovering what Sam has done to obtain evidence. Sam is somewhat annoyed with him, but Adam is incredulous. How can it ever be ethical to eavesdrop on people’s conversations? His moralistic tone is an interesting contrast to Foyle’s irritated-survivalist response, and marks Adam out as a different moral “type” from either Foyle or Sam.

In this regard, then, Sam appears closer to Foyle in her moral reasoning than she is to her husband. Though Adam’s political and social ambitions are for reform, his instinctive attitude to ‘the rules’ is, ironically, more conservative than his Churchill-voting wife’s. But when the evidence obtained by unethical means exposes Roper, he is forced to question his own instincts. The more general lesson to be gleaned, it seems, is that idealism can’t survive without the protection of benevolent pragmatists. In Adam’s case, the pragmatist is Sam.

Though Roper’s self-defending statements fail to sway Adam, in that he responds:
It’s still a fraud

Adam’s dilemma does not end there. As a card-carrying, rule-respecting idealist, he then has to confront the painful consequences of Roper’s exposure, and learn the bitter lesson that acting out of high moral motives doesn’t necessarily guarantee the most beneficial results. A furious Glenvil Harris enumerates the outcomes of his actions for him:

    • Roper has resigned and will not stand again, meaning that a champion of reforms the country so badly needs is lost
    • Adam is out of a job as private secretary
    • Adam’s career in government is likely to be in ruins since he will be perceived as a whistle-blower
    • The country will have lost 1000 acres of agricultural land

At home with Sam, Adam begins to doubt his high-minded decision to confront Roper:
What did I achieve?

Apparently, doing the honourable thing can do more harm than good.

And even heroism comes with fallout. However heroic Sam’s protective instinct towards her husband might have been, it’s nevertheless an instinct that spared no thought for Foyle.

This mêlée grants an insight into the hierarchy of protective attitudes between Foyle, Sam and Adam. Sam takes Foyle’s tolerance for granted while protecting Adam. Foyle instinctively protects Sam. They make an interesting pile of shielding bodies :wink: with Adam at the bottom, struggling to catch his breath. (Oh dearie me. One hopes he isn’t squashed too flat, so that they have to write him out... :evil: )

But Sam has always been in love with integrity. She hero-worshipped it in Foyle throughout her wartime stint as his driver. Now, with her attentions focussed on her idealistic husband, she applies the wisdom of acquired maturity, seasoned with a dose of ‘worldly-wise’ picked up since joining MI5, and her instinct is to protect the thing that she admires.

Still focussed on the moral health of her immediate family above all else, she comforts Adam when he expresses doubts about his part in Roper’s downfall:
Can’t have politicians lying and breaking the rules just because it suits them

What you’ve achieved is everything I married you for. Stayed true to your beliefs. Didn’t let anyone bully you into turning a blind eye.

Then we discover the real source of her added zeal: Sam is expecting a child, and the instinct to protect her own is all the stronger for it.

She asks, rhetorically:
What kind of a world are we trying to create?

Sam’s solution is to focus on things close to home—an outlook amounting to the moral equivalent of “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”. It’s not a sophisticated vision, but as far as she is concerned, it’s the best that she can do to make things come out right.

Sam is allowed this moment of insight, but in the general maelstrom of perspectives afforded in this episode, her outlook has its limitations and can carry only partial weight. No one answer is the truth in Sunflower. Every path chosen is, in some way, flawed or open to question. And everybody—even the amoral sociopath Strasser—gets his moment and his say.

So, for the last word, I’ll leave you with nasty Strasser’s spurious view that war suspends the normal moral rules:
It was war. I make no apology.

And. sad to say, there’s an uncomfortable grain of truth lurking even inside that distasteful argument: by absolutist standards, war, any way you look at it, is an ignominious theatre in which to argue right and wrong.

So, back to the original tweet:
“The theme of morality could not have been argued/analysed any better than on Sunflower”
Tweet from @ramprana to @AnthonyHorowitz ]

Spot on, I’d say. The episode’s a veritable moral finger-buffet.

I re-read the tweeter’s Twitter profile—this time properly (because the first time I was sidetracked by the Portuguese poultry). @ramprana identifies himself as a Tamil living in Australia. A member of a stateless nation, I bet he values reliance on like-minded individuals over loyalty to any state. Also, he had the solid sense to say his piece in under 140 characters.

:lol: Unlike some other obsessives :awkward:
Do I need to remind you...how much you can trust me?
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Re: The Theme of Morality in "Sunflower" - Part 2

Postby Sunshine » Tue Mar 04, 2014 5:15 pm

Again.....great reading, Starlight! :thumbsup:

And again, I look at much of this in context of what we've seen earlier throughout the entire series, at least with regard to Foyle and Sam. Throughout the WW2 years, they'd been in a similar area in terms of right and wrong. (I remember the scene in "The White Feather" when Milner mentioned that Nazi sympathizer Guy Spencer had "some interesting ideas" and Sam gave Foyle a look that indicated concern with Milner's statement.)

Sam actually starts diverging from her former and future boss in Series 7, when she's trying to help Adam with the boarding house. Priorities are already going in different directions for our 2 favorite characters. Thus, by Series 8, now a wife and soon-to-be mother, she can never again be quite the carefree in-for-all assistant to Foyle that she's been in the past.

Hope that made sense. :puzzled:
Just looked over the chapter on "Horse Racing and Illegal Rambling."

I haven't got the requisite capacity for deceit.
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