Graham Greene has created a carefully poised series of juxtapositions which allow him to develop individual characters in terms of a central concern of the novel: personal and political commitment. Rivas, the former priest who is now a revolutionary prepared to kill, has a capacity for belief which contrasts with Plarr’s lack of belief. The strength of the love which Fortnum, an elderly drunkard whose first wife left him, feels for the new wife he found among the prostitutes of the local brothel is an ironic measure of Plarr’s own cynical and egotistical rejection of such love.
Like so many of Greene’s heroes, Plarr is an isolated man. His father was an English political activist in Paraguay, who left his wife and young son in order to face the dangers of his life alone. Although he does not remember his father, Plarr still misses him. Love is something the son has learned to find in brothels, and his experiences with women have made him highly suspicious of emotional involvement. His medical training has exaggerated his cynicism, imparting to him an air of clinical detachment.
Yet Plarr does not lack empathy for the suffering of others. He is a physician who treats the poor, although he says that he does so only because he thinks it is something his father would have liked him to do. In his conversations with Rivas about the Church and God, Plarr often means to goad him but finds himself moved by the spectacle of his old friend driven from the Church and into rebellion by his compassion and sense of...
(The entire section is 625 words.)