The Heart of the Matter is a novel by Graham Greene that is among the Top 100 of the Best Modern Novels.
From the story, the events take place during World War II in a British colony on the West coast of Africa. The time setting of the book being the war period affects the plot of the novel. The place of narration is West Africa, which is based on personal narrator’s experience. The author vividly describes the atmosphere of those times while exploring African life, their culture and societal values on the background of World War II. A sense of colonization can be felt even in the names of the characters and settings of the story such as Bedford, Wilson, ironwork and balcony. Even though the names sound British, the placing is not in the U.K and is described with many references to heat and warmth, which makes the reader imply that it is Sierra Leone. The tragic character of the novel is Henry Scobie, who works as a police assistant in the West African seaside town. While the passion, mugginess, and colonial social structure are brilliantly defined, there is no actual identification of the town. Greene relies on the reader’s natural interest to understand the setting and the characters; he also counts on his knack to pull the reader into the story as well as on the reader’s nature, and culture. Furthermore, the author has relieved the audience from boring, lengthy descriptions and explanations as in the novels of his forebears. In addition, the setting of the book helps to reveal the role of disappointment in a person’s life, a sense of failure and personal microcosm of every character which fluently changes as the story evolves.
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Throughout the novel, Green employs the third-person method of narration in line with other various narration methods such as dialogue, epigraph, interior monologues, descriptions, free indirect dialogue, letters, memoirs, commentaries, thoughts and also by addressing the reader as “you”. Furthermore, Greene uses the stream-of-consciousness writing during the course of the novel. The story is written as a dramatic work and can be regarded tragedy. It has three volumes, all of which consist of several sections. Every section tells a separate story, and, from time to time, develops its tension. In the novel, Graham Greene uses the narration technique of the omniscient narrator. The third-person method of narration indicates that the storyteller is knowledgeable about everything concerning his heroes and is able to glance into the consciousness of each of them. In addition, Greene employs the method of the stream-of-consciousness. The use of this style in text presentation makes the reader think that the author uses the first-type narration instead of the third one. Moreover, addressing the reader as “you” creates a sense of closeness between the author and the audience. By employing the omniscient narrator, Green can spontaneously travel from one person to another and from one mind to the other. The same as he has done in the beginning of the novel: the story starts by describing Wilson sitting on the balcony of the hotel. However, Scobie reveals to the reader as the main character as the narration continues. Therefore, the author creates a feeling of surprise and spontaneity by employing this technique.
Graham Greene presents his novel as the story dealing with the matter of pity. It is the central theme during the whole narration. He provides the readers with one of the most instinctive investigations of the feeling of pity as an obsession in the description of Scobie. Scobie’s relations are all reposed on pity. He senses pity for Louise and Helen and goes upon their delight directly on own shoulders. Nevertheless he does not love Louise, and his affection for Helen is an everlasting curse. Scobie frequently feels overawed by this sense of duty and wonders why God is so cruel to him. Green determines Scobie as “a weak man with good intentions doomed by his big sense of pity” (21). Moreover, the author further announces that pity is painful; it puts an end to everything around, and no one can love as soon as pity is present in their relations. Scobie’s character was intended to show that pity can be a demonstration of a nearly monstrous arrogance. This feeling should not be present in the life of anyone as it damages relationships, feelings and peoples’ souls.