Philemon is dominated by a need to be in direct command of his own environment; in popular terms, he is a “control freak”. He is unable to cope with any threat to his version of “the goodness of life.” Tilly’s affair occurs outside Philemon’s self-imposed boundaries and he is not equipped to react to the crisis.
Philemon removes chance from even the most commonplace activities. His shoes and socks are at hand to be picked up as he sneaks out of the bedroom in the early morning. That “he did not like to wake his wife lying by his side” could indicate consideration, but the addition of “- just yet -” to the sentence reveals that he wants time to organise himself to a state where he is most comfortable. A “serene” wife of “pure beauty” is a requirement for his ideal world. It is unclear whether Tilly is aware of these expectations, but it becomes apparent that she is either unwilling or unable to meet them. This inconsistency ultimately destroys Philemon.
Philemon appears genuinely happy within his idea of heaven as an “even, unperturbed … passage through days and months and years.” While his pursuit of consistency leaves little space for exception, it results in a state of contentment. He hums a tune while he makes the fire and checks his list of things he needs for the day. Philemon’s joy in appearing with the breakfast in his “supremest immaculacy” emphasises the stage-management of his existence. This desire for order is carried over to the bus-stop where Philemon is “sorry to see that jovial old Maphikela was in a queue for a bus ahead of him. The use of “daily bulletin” underlines the idea that routine is important.
Although Philemon appears content, his immediate acceptance of Maphikela’s piece of gossip reveals an underlying insecurity. Philemon’s priority is not an angry confrontation with his wife or her lover, but a swift return to his artificial status quo. The crisis of confidence that Philemon is experiencing is underlined by his first visit to the beerhall and not saying grace at the dinner table. His routine has been fractured, albeit momentarily.
It is important to note that there is no suggestion of Tilly being thrown out; she is an integral part of Philemon’s routine. Philemon needs to retain complete control of the situation and so cannot tell anyone in Sophiatown what has happened. He sees the suit as the lever he needs. A situation develops where Philemon is quite reasonable provided that his rebuilt schedule is observed. Tilly is permitted to attend the Cultural Club and Philemon even gives her extra money to organise a party. If threatened however, he reacts viciously. He forces Tilly to take the suit for a walk and to serve it a meal in front of her friends at the party. He continues to use the suit to secretly punish Tilly, while maintaining outward normality. His actions are more to reinforce Philemon’s “heaven” that a punishment for adultery.
Philemon’s cry on discovering Tilly’s body is not that of a man who has lost his wife, but that of a man who realises that his control has been taken away. In a very real sense, Philemon’s world has collapsed.
Philemon's character changes throughout the story. Can Themba takes us on a journey to see why he transforms. At first Philemon is a devoted husband. And then as a hard working man and a fine friend. The news of his wife's adultery makes him become a detached, controlling and rancorous husband. He turns into a cruel man, taking pleasure in humiliating his wife. Philemon's actions cause his own remorse and pain. We note that the language in the story and Philemon's actions are related to religion, which can be linked to the common belief that Lucifer was an angel cast out of heaven because he wanted to take over heaven or the throne of God.
At the beginning of the story there are warnings that all is not as it seems. (80) A word such as frown and persitalsis sets a tone to the story. Philemon describes his wife as a 'sleeping serenity,' and a 'mututinal miracle.'
(80) Philemon is happy 'grinned.' (80) He smiles at the 'odd caprice of the heavens,' not aware that an odd caprice will soon befall him. (80) He embraces his, 'mood of contentment' (81), erroneous outlook. He has a superior view of himself, 'supremest immaculacy,' and of his life. (82) He believes his wife is in absolute awe of him, 'comes out of ether to behold him.' (82) Philemon's descriptions of himself and his wife are narsisstic. In a life filled with poverty, overcrowding and inadequate facilities Philemon has altered his perception so that it accords with his desired world. Men were superior to women, but Philemon helped his wife with chores. The happiness in the beginning of the story contrasts the sadness to come. His seemingly harmless ritual shows he likes to have his life ordered and controlled. He believes his wife...