The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene Summary with notes

The Heart of the Matter is a novel by Graham Greene set during World War II in Sierra Leone, a British colony in West Africa. The story follows Major Henry Scobie, a police officer and colonial administrator, as he grapples with his own morality and faith in a time of war.

Scobie is stationed in a small coastal town, dealing with the challenges of wartime shortages, corruption, and the clash of cultures. He is a deeply conflicted man, torn between his duty to his country and his personal beliefs. Throughout the novel, Scobie struggles with feelings of guilt and despair, partly due to his wife Louise’s unhappiness and his own sense of isolation.

As the war intensifies, Scobie becomes involved in various moral dilemmas. He faces pressure from corrupt officials, and his sense of duty leads him to make questionable choices, including involvement in illegal activities to help the locals. Scobie’s internal conflicts are exacerbated when he falls into a romantic relationship with Helen Rolt, a widow who is also struggling with her own demons.

One of the central themes of the novel is the exploration of the nature of good and evil. Scobie grapples with the concept of sin and divine forgiveness, reflecting on his own actions and their consequences. Throughout the story, Greene portrays the complexity of human nature and the moral choices individuals face in challenging circumstances.

As the narrative unfolds, the characters’ lives become increasingly entangled, leading to a tragic climax. The novel delves into the human condition, examining themes of love, sacrifice, and redemption while providing a profound commentary on the moral ambiguities of war and colonialism. “The Heart of the Matter” is a powerful exploration of the human psyche and remains a classic work of English literature.


Q1: What is the setting of “The Heart of the Matter”? A1: The novel is set in Sierra Leone, a British colony in West Africa, during World War II.

Q2: Who is the main character of the story? A2: The protagonist of the novel is Major Henry Scobie, a British colonial police officer.

Q3: What are the central themes of the book? A3: The novel explores themes such as morality, guilt, faith, and the complexities of human nature. It delves into the moral dilemmas faced by the characters, especially Major Scobie, in the midst of war and colonialism.

Q4: What is Major Scobie’s internal conflict in the story? A4: Major Scobie struggles with his own morality and faith. He grapples with guilt and despair, torn between his duty as a colonial officer and his personal beliefs.

Q5: How does the novel explore the concept of good and evil? A5: The story delves into the moral ambiguity of human actions, questioning the nature of good and evil. Characters’ choices and their consequences are central to this exploration.

Q6: What role does religion play in the novel? A6: Religion, particularly Catholicism, is a significant theme. Major Scobie’s faith and his understanding of sin, redemption, and divine forgiveness are explored throughout the book.

Q7: What is the significance of the title, “The Heart of the Matter”? A7: The title reflects the novel’s exploration of the fundamental issues of human existence, morality, and the core aspects of the characters’ lives.

Q8: Is “The Heart of the Matter” based on real events? A8: No, the novel is a work of fiction, although it is set against the backdrop of real historical events, specifically World War II and British colonialism in Africa.

Q9: What is the tone of the novel? A9: The tone of the novel is introspective and contemplative. It delves into the inner thoughts and emotions of the characters, offering a deep psychological insight.

Q10: Is there a film adaptation of “The Heart of the Matter”? A10: Yes, there have been film and television adaptations of the novel, bringing Greene’s story to visual media.