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Although The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene follows the format of a thriller, replete with spies, secrets, and a major war, it is also imbued with Greene's astute intelligence and sense of moral ambiguities. Especially as it is bookended by euthanasia at the beginning and a suicide at the end, it should be read in light of Greene's own Roman Catholicism.
“One can't love humanity. One can only love people.”: In this quotation, one sees the deep ambivalence in Rowe (and Greene himself) concerning the relationship of general moral laws to individual choices. Love of humanity (the Roman Catholic "caritas") is a general imperative, but in our daily acts, we are not called upon to interact with humanity, but only individuals. The choices Rowe makes, in facilitating suicide and euthanasia, although they seem morally questionable on a larger levels, are, in the context of the book, the best of a limited series of options in the specific circumstances. This quote is important because it shows how the book emphasizes particularity.
“In five hundred years' time, to the historian writing the Decline and Fall of the British Empire, this little episode would not exist. ... You and me and poor Jones will not even figure in a footnote. ...” Greene's work is adamantly anti-heroic. Unlike many spy thrillers, in which the protagonist is a larger-than-life figure who ends up saving the world, Greene's protagonist Rowe is an average, unassuming individual making difficult choices in a circumscribed world. He is decent but not heroic; the microfilm in the plot is not of world-saving importance but rather one small piece in a much larger war effort. The importance of this quotation is that it exemplifies Greene's attitude that fiction should be about how the small choices we make every day together add up to the events of history and morality, rather than about singular acts of heroism shaping the world.
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