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Hello! Graham Greene's novel invites us to ponder the Catholic perspective on faith, responsibility, adultery and pity. The spiritual ambivalence of his protagonist, Henry Scobie, captures for us the realist/naturalist approach to life. Scobie does not seem to see himself as a man who has free will; indeed, he believes that circumstances and life events consign him to a hard fate.
I am just trying to find a companion in this region of lies. Is the next stage the stage of corrupting others?
Although a Catholic, he is at once hopelessly drawn to his God and indifferently careless of his sins towards that God. Scobie's pity for both his wife, Louise, and his mistress, Helen, leads him to a dysfunctional and co-dependent existence. When he commits suicide, he rationalizes that both would be better served by his death.
Scobie does not love his wife, but refuses to admit it. He feels a deep responsibility for her happiness and does all he can to accommodate her wishes. When she finds out that her husband has been passed over for promotion, she is furious and very disappointed. Louise tells Scobie that she will never be able to show her face at the Club again, but Scobie assures her that it is not as bad as all that. Later, when Louise demands that they leave the West African colony, Scobie borrows the money from Yusuf, a Syrian merchant, putting himself at risk of being discovered in league with the Syrians. He is willing to do what it takes if only his wife would be happy. Ironically, it is his pity and sense of responsibility which actuates his intellectual dishonesty towards himself, his God, his wife and his mistress. He thinks pity is enough to compel him to be a dependable policeman and husband, but pity proves a miserable life compass; here is a man who knows his Catholic prayers, but cannot quite bring himself to submit to the moral statutes of that faith. He can't bring himself to give up his mistress, nor can he bring himself to be honest with his wife.
But if he went out of church now, he knew that there would be only one thing left to do to follow Father Rank's advice, to settle his affairs, to desert, to come back in a few days' time and take God with a clear conscience and a knowledge that he had pushed innocence back where it properly belonged under the Atlantic surge.
So, pity is at once Scobie's greatest strength and his greatest weakness. He wants to stop giving pain, but doesn't know how to do that anymore. He is remorseful that he may have been responsible for his servant Ali's death, and soon realizes that trust may be an unwilling casualty of deceit.
"I don't know how," Scobie said. "I've lost the trick of trust."
O God, he thought, I've killed you: you've served me all these years and I've killed you at the end of them.
Scobie's one major weakness is that he does not trust the God he serves. This factor alone has influenced all his interactions with everyone else. He tells God:
No. I don't trust you. I love you, but I've never trusted you. If you made me, you made this feeling of responsibility that I've always carried about like a sack of bricks.
Your mileage may vary as to your thoughts regarding Scobie's strengths and weaknesses, but I hope what I have written gives some food for thought. Thanks for the question.
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