Saturday, July 25, 2009


Graham Greene's, A Heart of the Matter takes place near the coast of Africa during World War 2. During this time, British officials are keeping an eye on security affairs throughout, making sure nothing suspicious might be going on. Scobie, the main charachter upholds a specific moral standard that his fellow officers seem to fall short of.
We see this immediately within the first chapter while Harris and Wilson are discussing their time in Africa. Harris states "I hate this place. I hate this people. I hate the bloody niggers. Mustn't call 'em that you know." It appears that Harris is justifying his language by admitting he knows it's wrong to talk about people like that. Wilson, who is sitting next to Harris, is not very phased by this language at all-he merely suggests that his"boy" is all right. Each soldier or official has a servant that attends to their needs, they are either Black or West Indian. At this point they see Scobie walking down the street talking with a Black official and they immediately start gossiping about how Scobie sleeps with Black women. They speak about sleeping with Black women as if it's the worst thing on Earth, they consistently use degrading language. A Post-Coloinal critic would see this as the another way people are being "kept down" and they are exactly correct. Scobie really sets the example of seeing people for who they are and treating them all the same. He speaks about his servant Ali, as if he were part of the family.
Although how he speaks with Ali is very short and curt. Ali calls Scobie "massa" and his wife "missus." when they interact their sentances are no more than 3-4 words and the replies are mostly 2 words. When Scobie comes home and sees his wife laying in bed, he asks Ali "What's wrong with Missus?" Ali replied "Belly Humbug." This continues on and it seels Scobie uses broken language to talk to Ali. I don't feel he is doing it to be degrading but it just might be a way to speak to a servant since they may only know very little English.
Throughout the book Scobie seems to just fall short of everything, He was passed over for a position in the very beginning due to "being a wonderful man for making enemies." It seemed there had been many rumors of him consorting with Black woman and taking bribes. It almost has a feel of being in a viscious cycle of hate. All you need is a few people to not like your ways and they pass rumors about you to keep you from getting into a top position. This could be another example of post-colonialism since the Commisioner knows why Scobie is being passed over and really can't do anything about it. He admists he doesn't like the powers to be have spoken and they don't agree with Scobie's ways. Scobie's wife is really no better since she has almost a Marxist approach to how people would view her since her husband was passed over for a promotion yet he's been there for so many years.
During this novel is't hard not to feel that the people who are not from Africa feel they are a bit smarter and maybe hint towards being less savage. although you mostly get this feel from Harris and Wilson. With Scobie you feel he is the one being outcasted and being mistreated. It doesn't appear to be as if Greene is making a mockery of the people of Africa since he has a disclaimer in the begginig of the novel.


  1. Good--hard to boil a whole novel into such a small space but the examples you give (especially the comparison of the speech of Scobie and the native) are quite strong. In order to make the postcolonial slant more explicit, you could turn to it earlier, but here's the question that has always interesting me: it's true that Scobie comes off as 'better' than the other colonizers in the book, but in what ways is he still a colonizer himself? In what ways does he support, even without being entirely aware of it, the oppressive system which he also sees as injust?

  2. I feel he is still colonizer since he just lays down when things don't go his way. In the beginning of the novel he talks about how his housing was lost and then he got this 2 room "shack" yet he never fights to get better housing. Even when he is passed over for the commissioner position he takes it on the chin and just keeps going. He never fights back or really stands up for himself so in that way he is still stuck in the cycle. He really just stays true to himself and his morals, he most likely goes by the rules of - If I feel it's the right thing to do then it probably is. It's honorable but in that type of society it's a very frustrating one.