The Heart of the Matter, by Graham Greene – Quick Book Summary



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Welcome to a whistle-stop tour of Graham Greene’s thought-provoking novel, “The Heart of the Matter”. This condensed summary delves into the moral quagmire faced by Scobie, the protagonist while throwing in some analysis, literary device discussion, and a dash of humourous personal opinion for good measure.

“Despair is the price one pays for self-awareness. Look deeply into life, and you’ll always find despair.”

– Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter

Book Information:

Title: The Heart of the Matter
Author: Graham Greene
Genre: Literary Fiction
Year Published: 1948

Brief Overview:

The book narrates the ethical crisis of Scobie, a British police officer, stationed in Sierra Leone during World War II, dealing with love, responsibility, and the complexity of human emotions.


Author’s Background:

Graham Greene was a British author known for his books that explore moral issues in the modern world. He was noted for his ability to combine serious literary acclaim with widespread popularity.

Publication Context:

Published in 1948, the book was part of Greene’s “Catholic novels” and was received with acclaim, further establishing his reputation as a prominent author of his time.

Character Summary

Main Characters:

Scobie – the protagonist, a well-intentioned but flawed police officer. Louise – Scobie’s wife who feels neglected. Helen – the young widow with whom Scobie has an affair.

Character Development:

Scobie’s character evolves dramatically, from a dutiful officer to a man tormented by guilt and moral dilemma. Louise and Helen also change, reflecting Scobie’s emotional turmoil.

Plot Summary


The novel follows Scobie as he navigates the complexities of love, duty, and moral conflict, eventually leading him to a tragic decision.


The story takes place in Sierra Leone during World War II, amidst the tension of a war-stricken colony.

Themes and Motifs

Key Themes:

The themes include guilt, betrayal, moral ambiguity, love, and despair.

Motifs and Symbols:

Symbolism is used, like the sea representing the unknown and the letter as guilt.

Takeaway Morals


The book shows the ramifications of betrayal and the moral cost of personal compromise.


The book’s moral lessons challenge us to question our own choices and the fine line between right and wrong.


Literary Devices:

Graham Greene employs foreshadowing, symbolism, and irony throughout the novel to enhance its themes and character development.

Style and Tone:

Greene’s writing style is introspective and descriptive, with a melancholic tone.

Critical Reception

Initial Reception:

The Heart of the Matter was well-received upon publication, praised for its intricate characterization and moral exploration.

Current Standing:

Today, it stands as one of Greene’s most celebrated works, recognized for its deep moral and psychological insights.

My Thoughts

Personal Opinion:

The Heart of the Matter is like a surprise pop quiz on moral ethics – unexpected and a bit intimidating, but enlightening nonetheless. I found myself in Scobie’s shoes, navigating the labyrinth of his conscience, and trust me, it’s a wild ride.

It’s like a soap opera set in World War II – full of love, guilt, and enough ethical conundrums to make your head spin. The novel can be as dreary as British weather at times, but it’s sprinkled with Greene’s wit and insight that act as those rare, lovely sunbeams. It’s a book that made me contemplate my life choices and ethics… so naturally, I chose to indulge in comfort food (a lot) while reading!

Personal Recommendation:

Should you add “The Heart of the Matter” to your reading list? Absolutely. It’s perfect for those seeking more than just a casual read. Its introspective nature makes it ideal for book clubs – can you imagine the heated debates about Scobie’s decisions? It’s less ideal if you’re looking for a light-hearted romp.

If you prefer books as breezy as a seaside picnic, you might find this closer to a philosophical symposium in a war bunker. But if you’re not afraid to grapple with moral ambiguity and want a deeper understanding of the human condition, then this book is a winner. Don’t forget your thinking cap (and maybe a stress ball)!

About the Author


Graham Greene (1904–1991) was an English novelist, playwright, and critic whose works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world.

Literary Career:

Greene was a prolific writer with numerous novels, short stories, and plays to his credit. His notable works include “The Power and the Glory” and “Our Man in Havana”.

Book Details

Publication Details:

The Heart of the Matter was first published in 1948 by Heinemann in the UK.

Structural Details:

The book is divided into four parts and spans over 300 pages.



The Heart of the Matter offers an in-depth exploration of complex human emotions and moral dilemmas, making it a rich and thought-provoking read.

Final Thoughts:

The Heart of the Matter is a powerful exploration of the intricacies of morality and human nature. It’s a sombre and philosophical journey that provokes self-reflection in the reader. In essence, it’s like looking into a mirror that reflects not our faces, but our ethical cores.

Yes, it’s complex and can feel heavier than your luggage after a long vacation, but it’s a literary voyage worth embarking on. Graham Greene, with his keen understanding of the human psyche, serves as an adept captain navigating the turbulent waters of moral dilemmas.

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