The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Doctor Eduardo Plarr

Doctor Eduardo Plarr, a physician. This lonely, cynical, unhappy man in his mid-thirties is the product of a turbulent childhood. His father was born in England; his mother is South American of Spanish descent. Plarr fled Paraguay with his mother as a child because of political unrest. After completing medical school in Buenos Aires, he chose to establish a practice in a far northern province of Argentina, because this was as close as he could get to his father, who has been languishing in a Paraguayan prison for more than twenty years. Plarr has maintained contact with Paraguayan revolutionaries in hopes that they can help his father escape. They involve him in the kidnapping of Charley Fortnum, with whose wife the doctor has been carrying on an illicit affair.

Charley Fortnum

Charley Fortnum, an English-born maté planter and an honorary consul (an extremely insignificant official of the British government in Argentina). This sixty-year-old alcoholic embarrassed his superiors by marrying a prostitute. Fortnum provides the focus of this black comedy by getting kidnapped by Plarr’s revolutionary acquaintances, who mistake him for the American ambassador. Fortnum symbolizes the decline of British prestige vis-à-vis the United States in the postwar world. When he is wounded attempting to escape, his captors are forced to call in Dr. Plarr, who thereby becomes hopelessly entangled in the terrorist plot.

Clara Fortnum

Clara Fortnum, a former prostitute, now Charley Fortnum’s wife and Plarr’s mistress. This pretty nineteen-year-old...

(The entire section is 667 words.)