The Sea Summary and Analysis: John Banville

Read our complete notes on the novel “The Sea” by John Banville. Our notes cover The Sea summary, characters, themes, and analysis.


The novel “The Sea” is written by Irish writer, novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter John Banville. William John Banville, who sometimes penned by Benjamin Black was born on December 8, 1945. He is considered as one of the most imaginative literary writer and novelist; such imagination is proofed by his novel “The Sea”.

Long Lankin was his 1st collection of short stories published in 1970. He wrote three trilogies: The Revolutionary Trilogy was the first one focusing on science and the great man. The second trilogy was Frames discussing divine forces and power of works of art. The third trilogy concerns with the charms of Cass cleave and Alexander the great.

Literary critics consider Banville’s writing style as “perfectly crafted”, “beautiful” and “dazzling”. Moreover, his writing style is also regarded as “one of the great stylist writing in English today”.

The novel “The Sea” receives two awards: Booker Prize award, Irish Book Award Novel of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Irish Book Award, author of the year.

The Sea Summary:

The story of the novel “The Sea” is about an Irishman named Max Morden, a sixty years old man. Max has just lost his wife Anna to cancer and decided to return to his native town, along with the seaside, where he has spent his childhood and youth. The novel comprises two chapters, each chapter having short entries that allow the novelist to shift from present to past and vice versa. We see the writer’s illustration of the quick shift in emotions, thoughts, and experience.

When the novel begins, we see Max standing looking at the sea. The author introduces the readers to a family that will predominantly play an important role in his future. Max- the 1st person narrative of the play describes three settings of the play. The first setting is “Cedars” – a house that a wealthy middle class rented in his childhood. The second setting is of a month in which his wife Anna died. While the third setting is of the present “Cedars” house in which he is living now after the death of his wife.

Max describes his final days with Anna as awkward as his wife was soon going to be dead and he does not know how to act. The scenes that Max describes on Anna’s death are less actual details and more commentary. It is because of this commentary that we get know about Max Decision to return to his native town, his cottage “Cedars” that is filled with his childhood memories. He confirms the availability of room on his visit with his adult daughter, Claire.

The narrator tells the readers about Miss Vavasour, the current housemaid of the cottage and a tenant who is a retired army colonel. At the start of Max’s residence, we see that the colonel has a crush on Miss Vavasour. Max, moreover, suspects that Miss Vavasour might have been entertained Colonel’s love before his arrival.

The present-day setting of the novel is Cedars house however, it is his childhood memories, a setting that has tied the novel. Max narrated the story in an unorganized, unreliable manner that it is through the repetition of various incidents that we come to know the names of Grace’s family. The family includes a wild daughter named Chloe; a muted brother, Myles; a mother, Connie; Carlo, the father; and twins’ nursemaid named Rose. After some time, with brief encounters, Max falls in love at first sight with Connie Grace after seeing her relaxing at the beach. This made him get acquainted with Chloe and Myles, to that he can get entrance to Cedars; hence nearer to Mrs. Connie Grace. And finally, he succeeds in getting entrance to the house. Later, Max was invited by Grace’s family at a picnic with them at summer. Max, over there, clasps his constant glances at Connie’s pelvic area. The picnic day reaches its climax when, in a game of hiding and seek, Max was dragged to the ground, nuzzled nearly with Rose and Connie.

In the second part of the novel, Max illustrates his other half of the memories of that summer. In this part, Max story revolves around his uncomfortable relationship with Cloe, a girl having convulsive personality and blunt behavior. Max describes Cloe as the one with volatile character; for instance, she deliberately kissed Max in cinema, acting in a violent manner with her brother, Myles. Moreover, she is shown as hypersexual by Max in the early part of the novel, yet is confirmed at the end of the novel.

Rose, a nursemaid of Chloe and Myles, is young, however shy and fearful who is bullied by Chloe and Myles, who like to tease her. One day Max found her crying while climbing at the tree in the yard at Cedars house. Soon, Mrs. Grace appears and consoles Rose. He overhears their conversation or the keywords of the conversation like “Mr. Grace” and “love him”, assuming that Mr. Grace and Rose has an affair; he goes and tells everything, he overhears, to Myles and Chloe. Max links the death scene of Cloe and Myles to that of Anna’s death. Cloe and Myles drown themselves in the sea, while Max and Rose watching them. When he was done with his childhood memories, he illustrates his own near-death memories when he was drunk. The colonel found him knocked by a rock, unconsciously and took him to the hospital. At the hospital, his daughter, who was told that he nearly killed himself, yell at him and take him to the home with her. It is then revealed that Miss Vavasour is actually Rose who was, in fact, love with Mrs. Rose. Max ends the novel, standing at the sea.



The principle Themes of the novel “The Sea” is grief and expression of it. The tide of the grief is beautifully documented by the author. At one moment, the grief roars and hits while is calm and quiet at other moments. Banville artistically expresses himself to convey his essence of suffering spirit just as pot seafaring on the sea of grief and memory. The author uses a strong metaphor of ship, comparing himself and his daughter as “vessel of grief” seafaring in the long, dark autumnal night. His suffering spirit is sometimes caught in writing about his deceased wife Anna. Banville demonstrates the idea that when someone dies, we carry his/her memories with us until, we, too, die and our memories are carried by “other” like a sea of memories transport us toward infinity. Banville, the author, actually apprehends the essence of grief in this novel. He illustrates that how grief moves, spears, and intrudes the day and all of its triviality. His details and illustration of his grief are like a movable feast of his memory. The audience likes him and joins him in his feast. However, the readers, sometimes, are interrupted by abrupt waves and pounds of sufferings. While watching TV program regarding great elephant masses, Max encounters a particular episode of his memory, and suddenly overwhelmed by a fit of anger for his wife, a fit of anger for his current situation, and anger towards his inability to confront his suffering and most importantly himself. Emotionally overwhelmed and frustrated, he describes his deceased wife Anna in harsh terms of the female framework. However, his sudden pangs of rage and grief is disappears, as they appear, under the surface, and starts realizing that the place, and the very room in which he is placed now, is the same that he lived in his childhood when his life was beautiful in the form of Mrs. Grace and her daughter Chloe. The sea occupies a special place in his memories as it is, for him, a journey back to the roadways of to his past memories. The memorization and describing of the past events not only helps Max to heal and remain viable but also aids him to paint past events for his readers. As Max is an art historian, his life experiences become his tool for sketching his portraits comprising grief, redemptions, suffering, and emotions. His painting would be better understood by the one who can see and understand but can’t speak it.

Youth, growth, and innocence:

The other major themes of the novel “The Sea” are youth, growth, and innocence. The novel is based upon the memories of Max at Cedars, a place where he lived his childhood. It is at the seaside that Max encounters his first unrequited infatuation with Mrs. Grace, who, paradoxically, is the mother of his youthful pal and then his girlfriend. The other significant part of his youth is Chloe, and a relationship with Chloe takes him to a time of realization: a realization of the necessity of the female counterpart to satisfy the basic need of man. At a picnic with Grace Family, he imagines romance with Mrs. Grace but feared that his emotions would be revealed to somebody, particularly Mr. Grace. However, later, he suddenly realizes his feelings for Chloe. Remembering his childhood experiences, Max realizes that he loses his childhood innocence soon through the love incidents and stormy experiences, and grows into maturity. For instance, intentionally looking at Mrs. Grace, forcefully kissing Chloe and imagining himself under her swimsuit. Banville, in the novel “The Sea”, documents all those influential first moments that contribute to the development of an adult. He mentions the strange fanatical feelings for the 1st time, the attraction for the opposite sex, the tempestuous relation etc. it is through these relationships that he discovers himself. The man’s growth is all dependent upon his relationship with the women in his life. In this novel, Max growth is seen through these women: his mother, Mrs. Grace, Cloe, Anna, and finally Claire, his daughter.

Character Analysis:

Max Morden:

Max Morden, the only main character of the novel, around whom the story revolves, is an aged art-historian. He recently underwent the loss of his wife Anna. Max is the first person narrative of the novel; he describes every incident of the novel as he has seen them. Max is preoccupied with the memories of his deceased wife, Anna; moreover, he is haunted by his early youth memories at Cedars house. He soon loses his innocence while stealing glances at Mrs. Grace at a picnic, kissing Chloe and imagining himself under her swimsuit. The way he describes Graces is as if he is describing the “gods” of the Roman and Greek mythology, overwhelmed by their stories, even called Chloe, his childhood friend as “Pan”-like. Max sometimes appear as frantic, sometimes depressed, representing very unstable narrator. He only wants to express himself through words. He wants to show his miserable life that has been profoundly affected by his loved ones, particularly by the love of two main women in his life and the life he spent near them.


The recently deceased wife of Max Morden, with whom he met at in hot summer’s afternoon party in London. As Max described her, she is a woman with a large proportionate body. Her dark hair and her body scent were what the strikes Max. Max illustrates his relationship with Anna and her father in legendary and fantastical terms like there was nothing disturbing between them, an ideal relationship. However, while describing his marriage life with Anna, Max seems to be quiet unsatisfied with it doesn’t provide him the chance to accomplish himself a fantasy.

Chloe Grace:

The first sweetheart or girlfriend that max had. He shared his first kiss with Chloe. Chloe had a twin brother named Myles; both of them look alike to a greater extent and would go out bare feet in shorts. Max and Chloe would swim together, play together and their relationship, with the passage of time, grew more than that of friendship. The simple beginning of the friendship, for Max, turns into a strong attraction for the female sex.


She is the daughter of Max, in her twenties. She is very tall, yet plain, and her unkempt rusty color hair usually placed around the speckled face. Max confesses that his daughter is not very beautiful, however, she has a strong will and in fact is very bright. Max believes that his daughter Claire would have been more prosperous and successful if she has been not accosted by her ex-boyfriend. Her boyfriend had kept aside her scholarships for the one with more charitable nature. It is Claire who has kept Max grounded and take care of him.

Other minor characters:

Rose, Myles Grace, Connie Grace, and Mr. Grace are the other minor characters of the novel. The appeared for the short interval of time and then leave. Myles, Max beloved’s brother and his other playmate when he visits him at sea, is a web-footed, an allusion that Max made to the Roman and Greek gods and goddesses. Mrs. Grace, with whom Max first fall in love with, is a sensuous lady. Later, Max started loving her daughter Chloe and presents Mrs. Grace as another goddess of the mythologies.


The sea in the novel “The Sea” has symbolic and literal importance. The sea, in most of the literary circles and psychological theories, is a symbol of literary inspiration, unconsciousness, and innate and creative freedom. It doesn’t only affect the atmosphere and mood by also it is an important part of the setting of the play. The spiritual, psychological, and intellectual levels, in the novel, are represented by the sea. As demonstrated in the novel “The Sea”, the sea is an ironical object that has the power of both healing and hurting. The sea itself and the memories it has in itself also illustrates safety and security. Max travels to the sea three times in his entire life. The first time in his childhood, the second time during the illness of his deceased wife, and a third time after the death of his wife Anna. The final visit to the sea is with his daughter Claire. For Max, a sea is a place where his enormous healing occurs along with the growth, except for his visit with his ill wife Anna. While recalling the memories related to the sea, Max often finds himself in the womb warmth, where he can shy away and hide from the coldness of the sky and any other problems of the life. When Anna passes, at the end of the novel, the nurse in the hospital arises him from his disruption outside, the way he enters the hospital was as if he is entering in the enormity of the sea.

The other predominately figures in the novel “The Sea” is time and its passage. There are various moments and scenes of self-realization and self-validation in the Banville’s novel, where he abruptly fells into awful disclosures. For instance, the swimmer encountering the hard sea waves. How the time and its passage can affect an individual is illustrated through his compilation of the Dead of sorts. Time, memories and remembrance of the past memories, in Banville’s novels, are illustrated as moving figures and sometimes illustrated as the collective events consumed by the memories of the dead and deceased people. Evolution, erosion, and change are central elements of the novel. Everything in Max’s life changes from the shingles of time, no matter if it is viewed through his boyhood outlook or through adulthood.

Looking at the reviews for this novel from various critics, most of them are positive. David Grllys referring to the allusions to the Greek and Roman mythologies, in the novel, comments on the “intense phrasing and strong observations of human frailty” in the novel, however, look at it as disappointing. Banville exhibits a skillful mechanical control of his writing. The plot in the novel moves in a dignified manner from the past memories of Max to his daydreams. The Grace’s family were a source of fascination in his childhood. They were rich, refined and belonged to the upper class of society. Max intentionally crawls himself with the family by befriending the two non-identical twins, Myles and Chloe. Mrs. Grace, the mother of two children, with whom Max first fall in love with, is a sensuous lady. Later, Max started loving her daughter Chloe and presents Mrs. Grace as another goddess of the mythologies.

As the novel settles reflectively on the youthful hunts that controlled his summertime, Max’s reminiscences of the Graces also act as a foundation for more extensive memories about the problems of his wedded life, the destined affiliation of his paternities, and the meandering loss of his wife, Anna. So far it is not only the actions themselves which are chiefly remarkable nonetheless Banville’s capability to mock out, in a text that is certainly not less than intricately fashioned, the characters in the everyday resonates with enlarged implication during an entity’s lifetime.

Banville’s novel, like works of many other authors, is also apprehensive of the existential seclusion of an individual. On the death of his wife, Max is highly sad and tries to reunite his past existence with the present existence. He splatters his memories on the piece of paper, in hope that such an act of writing can conceal his suffering that may lead towards the healing of his burns. Sometimes, Max would struggle against the concept of being alone and the concept of existentialism: questioning the purpose of his living. The concept of self and self-perception must be reformulated by him after his wife’s death. He is no more the old Max, he must struggle against the dead person inside him and must start a new life with an awareness of himself.

By applying psychological criticism to the personality of Max, we see that Max is dexterously portrayed as erratic and inconsistency, a desolate widower who undergoes nostalgic attacks, agitation, fury, and solaces. Psychoanalyst considers the reveries of his travels and winter night, his lure to the sea, and why he feels so womb warmth of its existence close. We can apply Freud’s theory of that may include Max sexual attraction that he feels like a boy, first for Mrs. Grace and then for her daughter Chloe Grace. Considering Mythical criticism, we see Max fall from grace after his wife Anna’s death- a heroic journey, and then executed from his homeland; Max’s attempt to regain his past life for his survival.