The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter Summary and Analysis for Book One, Part Two

Wilson stares glumly at his cummerbund on his bed in his room. Harris comes in to say hello, and tells Wilson he does not have to dress up for Tallit, the Syrian with whom he will be having dinner. Wilson wonders aloud how Scobie came to marry Louise. Harris agrees, but is surprised when Wilson is defending Louise as being too good for Scobie, not the other way around.

The Indian outside Wilson’s room persists in asking to read his fortune, and Wilson agrees to get it over with. He pays the man and Harris settles down to watch. The Indian begins, suggesting that he is a policeman. Wilson learns he will marry the lady of his dreams, sail away, that he is ambitious, a dreamer, and a poet, and that he is secret and shy and should be courageous. Wilson scoffs later that he did not get much right, especially the poetry.

At Tallit’s house Wilson finds only one other guest, Father Rank, a Catholic priest. They sit in Tallit’s dining room, which is set up like a dancehall with chairs pushed up against the side walls. Some of Tallit’s family members are present as well. As they do not speak English, Father Rank talks volubly about them, which makes Wilson uncomfortable. Father Rank is roguish and loud, and calls out to Tallit that he does not like Yusef, and was taken in by fake diamonds last year. Wilson says he has heard of Yusef and Tallit scoffs that he is a bad man.

Wilson wonders at Father Rank’s joviality and cheeriness, and contemplates whether or not he has really comforted anyone over the years. Dinner begins, and the men sit down and converse. Tallit comments that he heard Yusef had also invited Father Rank to dinner, and the priest laughs and says Tallit’s food is better. It is not particularly seemly for people to be at Yusef's anyway. Tallit mentions a rumor that Scobie was seen with him the other night.

When Wilson comes home that night Harris comes over. He wants to play his little game with Wilson –the game in which they try to smash more roaches than each other. It quickly gets heated, and they part in anger.

The next morning Wilson and Harris apologize to each other. Wilson runs into Scobie, who invites him over to take Louise out for a walk. Wilson wonders why he regards Scobie as a sort of enemy. They converse for a few minutes. Scobie asks why he came out here, as he does not seem the type; Wilson replies, lying, “One drifts into things” (73).

Louise and Wilson go for their walk, climbing up into the hills to look out across the bay. Wilson finds himself incapable of small talk with her –he cannot be friends with a woman, only romantic. He finds himself attracted to her fierceness and intellect; plus, she had been kind to him.

At an old abandoned station, they pause and Louise sighs that she is glad she will be out of there soon. Shocked, Wilson feels a dart of pain at this news. He says Scobie will miss her, as he hears in his head I, I, I. He boldly kisses her, tasting her lipstick. She talks on like nothing has happened, saying she hates her husband. Wilson implores her not to leave. He kisses her again.

They see Father Rank coming up the path. He says hello in his friendly manner and continues on. Wilson is scared, as the man is a gossip, but Louise says he does not pass on along things that do not matter.

Wilson is morose at her placidity, telling her he loves her. She replies that she is too old, and his poetry has made him too romantic.

It begins to rain. He tries to touch her but she rolls her eyes at his attempt at “petting”. Firmly, she tells him, “I’m not a nursing sister who expects to be taken whenever she finds herself in the dark with a man. You have no responsibilities toward me, Wilson. I don’t want you” (78). He can only reply that he loves her.

They talk about her leaving again. She says she knows Scobie will get the money for her to go even though he does not love her because he has “a terrible sense of responsibility” (79). He tries to touch her again but she yells for him to leave her alone because she loves Ticki. She smiles that this encounter with Wilson is a “funny” thing to have happened to her.

When they return there is a police car waiting out front. It seems a young deputy commissioner, Pemberton, has gotten in trouble and Scobie needs to take a short trip to sort it out. Louise is dismayed and tells him she does not want him to go. He kisses her goodbye, and Wilson notes that he does not feel jealous but only dreary.

Scobie departs. Wilson says sadly that he had better go as well, and Louise asks him to go upstairs to her room to check and see if there is a rat before he goes. He complies and goes upstairs and stands there, drinking in all the details of the place as he had been taught to do. As he notes wryly, however, “his employers had never taught him that he would find himself in a country so strange to him as this” (82).


Greene provides a great deal of insight into Wilson's character in this section. The fortuneteller's words will prove amazingly prescient as the novel continues, but the reader as of yet only can see the truth in the comment about Wilson liking poetry. Indeed, Wilson is secretive, sentimental, ambitious, and a dreamer. Of course, as these are not qualities admired by the men who work in places like British West Africa (and are not typical "masculine" qualities), Wilson does his best to dismiss them to his friend Harris and scoff that the fortuneteller is wrong. Wilson's quick, hot temper is also readily discernible here; his anger during the roach-killing game is out of proportion to the situation. Wilson's temper and his concomitant shame at losing control factor into other crucial scenes of the novel.

Wilson’s character is further revealed in his behavior toward Louise. As she notes –Louise is continually one of the most insightful characters whose assessments of the men around her usually prove true –he seems overwhelmed by his poetry and thus has unrealistic ideas about love and courtship. His conception of love is youthful and foolish –just because Louise has been kind to him means that he is now in love with her. Wilson’s sensitivity and emotionality, while not inherently problematic or undesirable qualities, combine with his hot temper and lead him to rash actions that end up hurting others.

In a novel that takes religion so seriously, it is interesting to see how Greene depicts the main priest, Father Rank. The man is gregarious, voluble, and friendly. He is known as the local gossip; he calls himself a “garrulous fool” (70) and Wilson, worried that the priest saw him and Louise, identifies him as “the biggest gossip in town” (77). Instead of being a cruel, inflexible priest, Father Rank reveals himself to be pragmatic, discerning, and very much human. It is his words at the end of the novel that encapsulate Greene’s ideas on religion (see the final analysis).

That gossip so readily delivered up by Father Rank is one of the important components of the novel. It seems like gossip is a pervasive part of life in the colony, and whether or not it is true seems to matter little. Scobie does not get the promotion because of the rumors that surround him, and the Commissioner tells him that there are always rumors circulated about men in their positions. Louise worries about the gossip concerning Scobie’s failure to be promoted, and then later hears the truth about her husband’s behavior while she is away from a friend. Gossip swirls about Scobie’s finances and his relationships with Yusef and Helen; even in this early section of the book it is mentioned that Scobie gave Yusef a ride home, which is something that seen as disreputable.

Sometimes gossip can be harmless or simply a way to pass the time or get business done, but in Scobie’s case it dooms him to incessant lying, worrying, and the eventual destruction of his life. Listening to gossip and passing it on is also Wilson’s official job, as he was sent to spy on the police officers in the colony. Wilson’s personal shortcomings combined with the necessities of his job make him a particularly dangerous enemy for Scobie and contribute to the latter’s unraveling.