Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 554

A principal theme in Funeral in Berlin stems from the very practice of intelligence work — namely, the question: "Whom can you trust?" This theme was introduced by Deighton in The Ipcress File, and he supported it in his Appendix to that novel by quoting some lines from Shakespeare's ...

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A principal theme in Funeral in Berlin stems from the very practice of intelligence work — namely, the question: "Whom can you trust?" This theme was introduced by Deighton in The Ipcress File, and he supported it in his Appendix to that novel by quoting some lines from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. In this drama, Artemidorus reads aloud a note he wrote to Caesar warning him to beware of his colleagues: "Caesar, beware of Brutus; take heed of Cassius, come not near Casca; have an eye to Cinna; trust not Trehonlus . . ." In Funeral in Berlin the Russian Colonel Stok informs the German agent Johnnie Vulkan: "I make my plans upon the basis of everyone being untrustworthy." The British no-name-agent tells Vulkan: "The moment you think that you know who your friends are is the moment to get another job." In the nightmare world of espionage such paranoia is routine and part of the rules of the "Game."

A second theme, also introduced in The Ipcress File, is concerned with the character and the schizophrenic mentality of the double or triple agent. The typical unpatriotic and traitorous agent is an effete snob like Dalby in The Ipcress File; a stingy homosexual like Hallam; or a repulsive criminal like Vulkan, both in Funeral in Berlin. These characterizations no doubt stem from the effect on Deighton of the treachery spawned at Trinity College, Cambridge University, in the 1930s by the Communist Apostles Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt, May, and Springhall. All of these gentlemen were recruited by the Soviets as spies and moles in the British government during World War II; many of them were also homosexuals. The most important thing to patriotic Deighton no doubt was that these elite members of the governing class had not only betrayed their country but also themselves. As for the schizophrenic mentality, the no-name British agent tells Vulkan: "I'll tell you your trouble Johnnie . . . You've become a professional phony. You've become so good at pretending to be different that you have lost contact with your identity. You've learned so much jargon that you don't know which side you are on."

A third significant theme is the importance the competing powers attach to the obtaining of scientific talent, whether by the acquisition of refugees, by the enticement of money, or by political defection. Although this theme was introduced in The Ipcress File, in that novel the method of acquisition and the motive for obtaining the scientist were quite different, featuring kidnapping and brainwashing to make the scientists into Soviet moles in the West. In Funeral in Berlin, KGB Colonel Stok's story that a Russian biochemist named Semitsa wishes to defect from the Soviet Union is his Russian fairy tale designed to trick Western intelligence into making itself ridiculous. Stok succeeds in bringing Vulkan and Israeli agent Samantha Steel — the latter anxious to obtain the Russian scientist for Israel because her rival, Nasser's Egypt, has acquired many ex-Nazi scientists —- into a deal to steal Semitsa from the anonymous British agent who in the long run is not fooled by Stok nor by Vulkan and Steel.

Finally, the theme of class rivalry between the working-class anonymous agent and his Oxbridgian superiors is much more restrained in general than in The Ipcress File. The anonymous agent's boss Dawlish is the most lovable character in the book.

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