A Burnt-Out Case

A Burnt-Out Case Summary and Analysis of Part Five


Parkinson departs and the leproserie resumes its quiet routine, interrupted only by a brief inquiry about a Salvation Army leader who scammed a tribe of Africans and fled. Father Thomas leaves the leproserie for a seminary, where he hopes to obtain a religion teacher for the lepers. Querry meanwhile continues work on the hospital, getting to know Doctor Colin in the process. He learns of Colin’s entry into the field – shepherded by an old Danish leprologist. Colin also shares his reason for doing such thankless work. He “want[s] to be on the side of change” (124), and hopes to aid an evolutionary trend toward love. He sees “the Christian myth” as having aided this trend. Colin is simple, happy (though not in any conscious way), progressivist. His wife, the only woman he ever needed, is buried on the grounds of the leproserie, where he plans to join her.

As the construction of the hospital nears completion, Querry and Father Joseph talk about their future plans. Querry says that he hopes to stay at the leproserie until he dies, helping with construction projects. Father Joseph remarks that though every place is much the same for a monk, Querry must be stifled living in the Order, but Querry contradicts him.

Earlier than expected, Father Thomas returns from the seminary. He announces that he has news for Querry. Meanwhile, Thomas informs the Superior that he is wanted in Luc. The Superior places Father Thomas in his stead – not because he is the worthiest monk, but because the Superior’s work is the easiest and most replaceable. Father Thomas eagerly packs the Superior off.

Later that night, he wakes Querry from a dreaming doze and gives him news from Rycker. He tells Querry that Parkinson’s story was picked up by Paris Dimanche, which Querry calls “a scandal sheet” (132), and notes that the article is cloyingly sanctimonious. Father Thomas eagerly reads the article aloud – much to Querry’s chagrin – which closes with a testament from Querry’s “most intimate friend, André Rycker” (134), falsely declaring that Querry spoke enthusiastically about Love and God. Querry learns that Parkinson is planning a second article about the episode with Deo Gratias. Irate, Querry determines to have it out with Rycker face-to-face. He plans to travel there by truck.


This brief Part contains only a few major plot movements, but develops the novel’s characters in several interesting conversations – most notably the exchange between Querry and Doctor Colin that comprises Chapter One, and Querry’s talk with Father Joseph in Chapter Two. The former presents Doctor Colin as a believer in evolutionary progress who sees Christianity as a development of the human capacity to love. In his view, the Christian saints and Christ himself might be simply ahead of their time – the first of a kind of super-compassionate, love-driven being. When Querry points out that this theory is no less superstitious than the Christian religion itself, Doctor Colin does not disagree. He points out, however, that one needs a belief system, however irrational one knows it to be.

This exchange casts Doctor Colin as a secular monk of sorts, a variation on the nineteenth-century champions of Progress that so many existentialist twentieth-century thinkers (including Greene) seem to dismiss as rosy optimists. His views contrast sharply with those of Querry – at least, with those of the Querry of the first chapters of this novel. Indeed, they perhaps point the way to a new hope for Querry, who might one day achieve the sense of greater purpose that Doctor Colin has, if only the rest of the world would leave him alone.

They won't, of course. Chapter Two includes lengthy evidence of that in the form of Parkinson's article. Greene carefully apes the breathless, factually slipshod hyperbole of journalistic boilerplate. Father Thomas’ enthusiasm for the piece shows once and for all just how impoverished his sense of morality really is. Celebrity, it seems, is an opportunity for others to play their desires and fantasies on a human canvas. The Querry represented in Parkinson’s piece is far from the actual man; yet Father Thomas, even in the presence of the genuine article, believes the pious fantasy. He personally needs Parkinson and Rycker’s Querry to be the real Querry. Father Thomas sees Parkinson’s fiction as having captured a truth deeper than truth.

This sort of pietistic motive-attribution is precisely what drove Querry to Africa in the first place. When he says that he is “fighting for [his] life” (135) in his attempt to silence Rycker and Parkinson, he truly is. He has built a new Querry – not the Querry, that clever phony, but a true man. In terms of the leprosy metaphor, that former Querry is the burnt-out case. The new Querry is another case entirely – a man capable of “suffering” rather than simply “feeling discomfort” (122).

This distinction figures prominently in Querry’s conversation with Doctor Colin and will continue to develop in the last Part of the novel. For now, suffice it to say that the burnt-out case is incapable of suffering – he is too far gone for that. The first words Querry gives us in the novel – “I feel discomfort, therefore I am alive” (9) – capture this bleak, numb existence. To suffer, one must have something to lose. Querry now has something to lose – the life of contentment he has built at the leproserie – which the self-righteous Pharisees threaten to destroy.