The Human Factor Summary
by Graham Greene

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The Human Factor Summary

The Human Factor by Graham Greene is a novel about Maurice Castle. He is 62 years and does office work for a British intelligence agency. He is married to Sarah, who comes from Africa. They have a son called Sam. His responsibilities at work entail liaising with British agents in South Africa. He works together with Arthur Davis in the same office. Previously, Castle had been posted in South Africa, where he was a field agent. When Castle goes out for lunch on a normal working day, he bumps into Colonel Daintry, who is now in charge of security. He requests to check Castle’s bag to ensure that he is not carrying top secret documents outside the building.

The intelligence agency has been suspecting that there is a leak in Castle’s subdivision, which comprises of only two people. As a result, security checks are conducted randomly, which explains why Castle was searched. Daintry and his superiors plan to kill the person responsible for the security breach to protect the agency from public humiliation. With the help of Doctor Percival, they decide to poison the culprit. After spending a brief time with him, Percival is convinced that Arthur is the leak.

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Maurice Castle, sixty-two years old, works a desk job in a two-man subsection of British Intelligence. Castle’s duties and those of his younger office mate Arthur Davis involve receiving and sending information to and from South Africa, where Castle previously worked as a field agent. One day on his way to lunch, Castle meets the new head of security, Colonel Daintry. Though polite, Daintry asks Castle to open his briefcase and show that he is not removing any classified papers.

Later, Castle rides the train to his home in Berkhamsted, where he senses something amiss. His wife Sarah tells him that their young son Sam has measles. Castle’s anxiety subsides somewhat. What he values most in life is Sarah, a black woman he met in South Africa, and her son Sam. That weekend, Daintry and others from security meet at the country house of Sir John Hargreaves, Daintry’s superior, for a pheasant shoot and a discussion of the security leak that was traced to Castle’s office. Over whiskey and cigars, Hargreaves decides that once the culprit is identified he will have to be eliminated to spare British Intelligence the embarrassment of a public treason trial. To facilitate that end, he invites Doctor Percival to join them in case they should need suggestions for an undetectable poison.

One morning, Castle brings two copies of War and Peace from Halliday, the bookseller he visits. Hargreaves later reports that in a few weeks Castle will confer with Cornelius Muller, a leader of the South African apartheid group called BOSS. Seven years ago Muller was one of Castle’s adversaries when Castle’s love for Sarah led him to break the race laws in South Africa. Hargreaves also informs Castle of Uncle Remus, a White House position paper that will unite Britain, the United States, and the apartheid government to protect their shared financial concerns if a race war should close South African gold and diamond mines. Hargreaves orders Castle to set aside past differences and to work with Muller.

About three weeks later, Percival accompanies Davis to a strip club with the excuse of wanting an evening’s relaxation. Davis tells Castle that Percival mentioned Uncle Remus and the British establishment at Porton. Castle finds this odd. He wonders if Percival suspects a leak and is planting a false rumor. When Percival later lunches with Hargreaves at his club, the doctor names Davis as the leak. He has uncovered discrepancies in Davis’s behavior that he connects with the heavy drinking and the emotional strain he observed in Davis at the strip club. Though he lacks the hard evidence of guilt that Daintry wants, Percival recommends that they proceed by using a poisonous mold from decaying peanuts to make Davis’s eventual death look like liver failure.

Castle’s first meeting with Muller seven years...

(The entire section is 1,225 words.)