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The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene is a well written, dissection of the emotional plight of the novel’s protagonist, a devout Catholic, Henry Scobie. Greene presents the reader with Scobie, a hopelessly unfulfilled, well-respected British police officer stationed in Nigeria as the Great War rages around the world. Greene describes Scobie’s personality and eccentricities perfectly, and the reader empathizes with his largest problem, he is ruled by his emotions, which lead to sense of responsibility and guilt for the happiness of others. Scobie is blinded by emotions, which stop him from thinking logically about his situation. He is, both relatable and distant from the reader, as it is difficult to fully imagine a life ruled by religion. As the novel progresses, the reader finds he or she identifies with Scobie on a broader level.

Scobie feels responsible for relationships with his wife and his lover, and he sacrifices anything to secure their contentedness. The reader questions his actions and motives: why would Scobie want to remain miserable to please others? His emotions, love, attachment, fear and guilt keep him from considering his own wants and needs. His sense of duty to fix the problems of others, instead of his own, is his downfall. The reader observes that his emotions and desires are governed by his strict religious beliefs.

The reader understands what Scobie does not, that decisions driven by his religion, and therefore, emotions, create rather than solve his problems. Scobie believes he must make reparations to God for his immoral actions through the women in his life. When he makes mistakes, like being unfaithful to his wife, he is driven by fear and guilt. He believes the only way to find forgiveness is to repent by giving up his own happiness, by sacrificing anything tangible or intangible. Scobie reminds the reader how hard it is to think clearly about emotions, religion, and relationships in his or her own life.

The author breaks down a complex process, as the reader analyzes thinking, both logically and passionately, in the life of a human. Greene shows the reader Scobie’s life more clearly than Scobie himself can view it, and in doing so, the reader learns about the broader implications of human emotions and beliefs. Through this fictional tale, the reader can deduce invaluable ideas to apply to his or her own experience.

Final Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5