Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Journey into Fear reveals no theme as such. It is an “entertainment” in the sense that Graham Greene used the term to describe his own thrillers. The espionage novel is a kind of crime story on an international scale, and it employs many of the methods of the crime story, which is itself a departure from the traditional detective story. The plot is not based on the question of the identity of a criminal but upon the psychology of the characters. The principal character is not a brilliant detective who discovers the answer to this question but only an ordinary man to whom things happen. It does not resolve itself in terms of a string of clues which the detective follows to his conclusion; the plot is about the characters. The setting (the exotic world of Istanbul and a small Italian ship steaming through the Aegean and Mediterranean in wartime) is important in defining the sinister environment of the novel. Graham’s survival does not depend on his being able to solve a puzzle but on being able to analyze correctly the character of each of the people on board the ship. Indeed, there is no puzzle; it is Graham’s predicament, the exotic situation, and the characters he meets that one remembers.

Though the novel fits exactly the requirements of a novel of intrigue and though Ambler’s meeting those requirements is more important to him than the development of any theme, the novel is not without meaning. The world Ambler describes is that of...

(The entire section is 543 words.)