Although The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene is well written, it was very difficult for me to enjoy reading it, as I struggled to the connect with the plight of the novel’s protagonist, a devout Catholic, Henry Scobie. While Scobie’s personality and eccentrities are recorded with a kind of perfection, his largest problem in life, a sense of responsibility and guilt for the happiness and success of those around him cause extreme despair. I could not fully empathize with the man or his story, thus I didn’t view the novel as a complete achievement.
Greene presents the reader with Scobie, a hopelessly unfulfilled, well-respected and well-liked British police officer who has been stationed in Nigeria for several years as the World War II rages around the world. From the first few lines Green writes introducing the relationship Scobie has with his wife, Louise, the reader finds Scobie’s attitude toward her both comical and sad. He doesn’t love her, but his inner-monologue makes it clear that her every action and emotion is his responsibility. He spends his life forgoing his own happiness to assure hers. His thoughts about how he can secure a position as Commissioner, and earn money for her passage to South Africa, all revolve around his need to do everything she wants and needs. He has no way to secure the money and makes a bad deal to earn it. The need to fix the problems of others is his downfall.
Scobie, a man who has never lied, cheated, stolen, sacrifices what he believes to be his goodness to please a wife he doesn’t love. Soon after Louise leaves for South Africa,he meets a sick young girl, Ms. Holt, and they begin an affair. Scobie is a man who believes that God judges him for his actions. Most of all, the requirements he sets for himself to please the women he cares for become, in his mind, the laws of God. As the affair and his deceit continue, Scobie realizes he has crossed the lines of behavior he believes to be morally correct; simultaneously, he feels he can not turn back. Still, his mistakes are too much to bear.
There are contradictions between Scobie’s actions and his beliefs that make it difficult for a reader who doesn’t experience the same notions to relate. Scobie tears himself apart because he loves and respects the opinions and judgments of God, while he knows he breaks God’s rules. Yet, he attends confession and tells his priest there is no point in promising to stop his sinful behaviors, because he knows he won’t stop and he doesn’t want to. If Scobie’s goal is to satisfy all those involved: his wife, his lover, and God, then his final conclusion, is the wrong way to go about it.
Final Star Rating: 3 out of 5