Could anyone help me with the novel The Third Man by Graham Greene? I'm looking for a critical analysis of the novel and its themes.

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mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The novella, The Third Man written by Graham Greene, was intended to be seen as a film but not read as a novella.  The story, set in Vienna after the end of World War II,  shows a city divided by the four occupying powers of France, Britain, America and Russia.  Vienna is a "smashed, dreary city" with the rusting iron of smashed tanks decorating the landscape.

The dark mood and tone of the story are set at the very beginning with the city itself, the penniless Martins confronting the mysteriousness of Harry's death, and the depths of depravity and menace of the differing laws among the French, British, American and Russian sections which lurk in the background.

The main character is Rollo Martins, who is both a friend who worshipped Harry Lime and a believer in friendship and loyalty. Written in first person point of view which makes the observations more immediate for the reader, the narrator is a British police inspector Colonel Calloway who first meets Rollo at Harry's "funeral" in Vienna's Central Cemetery.

In classic foreshadowing, Calloway makes the observation that it is Rollo's belief in friendship which makes what happens later so awful for him. When Martins stays in Vienna to prove that Harry Lime was the hero he believes in instead of the murdering racketeer Calloway believes him to be, the die is cast for the twists and turns in the plot.  

Harry is proven to be a despicable racketeer, murdering children by stealing penicillin and selling it on the black market in a watered down and ineffective version, who isn't actually dead but who has been hiding in the Russian sector of Vienna. Rollo is the one who must hunt Harry down in the Viennese sewers and kill him, making Rollo Martins another of Graham Greene's characters who must face complex moral dilemmas.

When at the end of the book Anna Schmidt, Harry's girlfriend, rejects Rollo even though he is clearly the better man, the collapse of Rollo Martins' beliefs is nearly complete. The racketeering illustrates another of Greene's beliefs about the immorality of capitalism with profit at all costs as its base.  

Greene was a socialist who in World War II served in the Foreign Office in intelligence which gave him first hand knowledge of espionage and the seamy side of war.  His themes of betrayal and the cruel falsity of capitalism are clearly part of this dark novel in both mood and tone, illustrating his beliefs for the reader through his characters and what happens to them.

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that "The Third Man" was not originally written as a novel but as an extended treatment and then a script for the excllent movie "The Third Man," starring Joseph Cotton, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard and directed by the great British director Carol Reed. Greene originally wanted the hero to be English, but the American backers of the film demanded an American star, which necessitated changing the story slightly to make the hero a writer of pulp westerns. The movie was released in 1949. It is a classic. It is frequently listed as one of the best movies of all time. You should certainly watch it if you haven't seen it. It is readily available on DVD. Grahan Greene probably published a version of the story in book form after the movie. These books are generally called novelizations. It is common to make novels into movies, but not so common to make movies into novels.

Joseph Cotton plays Holly Martin, an American pulp fiction writer who goes to Vienna right after World War II to join his friend Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles. It appears that Harry Lime has just been killed by a hit-and-run driver. Holly suspects foul play and decides to investigate. The British Major Calloway tries to prevent Holly from interfering in police matters, but Holly persists at the risk of his life. In the meantime he falls in love with Harry Lime's ex-girlfriend, who believes Harry is dead.

If you start by reading up on the movie, you can get all the information you want about plot, characters, theme, etc. You can refer to reviews on microfilm in the New York Times and Weekly Variety. But the easiest first step would be just to get a DVD from your public library or Netflix or a video rental store and enjoy the great movie. You could also read about it in biographies of Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton at your college library.


user3521318 | Student

Thanks a lot,but  i really i am looking for critical analisis of the novel,themes,characters,i have read the book.

user3521318 | Student