Study Guide

The Doorbell Rang

by Rex Stout

The Doorbell Rang Themes

Themes

The dominant theme of The Doorbell Rang is that the FBI has become the enemy. Stout does not question the need for such an agency, or call for its abolition. As he repeats throughout, however, the Bureau seems to have lost sight of its purpose and blurred its ideals. Every operation it carries out in the novel is for its own defense as an institution; it persecutes people whose only crime is daring to criticize the FBI. Federal agents tail Rachel Bruner and her associates, bug their homes and workplaces, tap their telephones, and interrogate anyone who will answer. Archie sees the purpose of all this at once: "They're not just riding her; they're after something that would really hurt, and that would take a lot of sting out of the book." The Bureau gets involved in the murder of Morris Althaus because three agents have been sent to his apartment to do a "bag job" — that is, to steal material he has gathered for an article on the FBI. Wolfe gains the upper hand by trapping two agents who have been dispatched to his home to do another "bag job." Stout wants the point to be absolutely clear: These are not the proper activities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A related theme involves the reactions of honest citizens to these abuses. It is appropriate for Al Capone to snarl at the very mention of the FBI in old television shows, but in this book everyone hates it. Lon Cohen, a canny newspaperman, supplies Wolfe with unpublishable information...

(The entire section is 488 words.)