The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter Character List

Henry Scobie

Scobie is a police officer. He is capable but somewhat short-sighted and lacks self-awareness. He longs for peace and a simple life. He feels a strong sense of pity and responsibility for the ugly and downtrodden; he tries to secure his wife's happiness even though he does not love her and has an affair with young Helen Rolt mostly out of pity. He struggles internally to reconcile his sins with his Catholic faith, and the resulting tension ultimately leads him to commit suicide.

Louise Scobie

"Literary Louise" is Scobie's wife. She is smart but prone to depression and she hates living in the colony. She is very perceptive and knows that Scobie does not love her, but she tries to keep their marriage intact. It seems as though their dynamic changed after the death of their daughter, Catherine. Louise is very religious and is concerned about Scobie's eternal soul, encouraging him to go to communion and mass. She is upset by the discovery that Scobie's death was actually a suicide, because that means that he is eternally damned.

Edward Wilson

Wilson is sent to spy on the officials in the colony and makes Scobie his special target. He falls in love with Louise because she is kind to him, and is outraged when she rejects him. His vision of romance is not rooted in reality, evidenced by his propensity for writing poetry and making empty declarations of love. He is petulant, bitter, hot-tempered, and burdened by his loneliness.


A local Syrian trader, Yusef is deceptively friendly, voluble, and charming. Many people owe him debts and he is skilled at manipulation and bribery; he is in a constant rivalry with Tallit and schemes to take him down. Scobie's decision to borrow money from Yusef leads the bumbling officer down a dangerous path; Yusef is responsible for killing Ali.


One of the local Syrian traders. He is Yusef's rival and Yusef, with Scobie's unwitting and unknowing aid, tries to bring him down. Tallit is friendly with Father Rank and his tactics are less brutal than Yusuf's (at least over the course of the novel).


Scobie's servant boy whom he adores and trusts. However, once Scobie knows that Ali is aware of his sins, he becomes suspicious of the boy. Scobie is indirectly responsible for Ali's murder at the hands of the wharf "rats" because he reveals his suspicion to Yusuf (who wants to protect himself in case Ali is actually in cahoots with Wilson).

Helen Rolt

A 19-year old shipwreck survivor and new widow, Helen is unattractive and childish. Scobie's pity for her eventually leads to a torrid affair. Helen is irreligious and cannot understand Scobie's faith. She is petulant, brash, and jealous, although she eventually does try to make Scobie's life easier by proposing to leave the colony. After his suicide, Helen wearily enters into a sexual relationship with Bagster and begins to drink a lot.

Catherine Scobie

Scobie and Louise's young daughter who died many years before the events of the novel.


A young commissioner in Bamba who commits suicide because of the overwhelming debts he owed to one of Yusuf's lieutenants.


Scobie's co-worker who audibly mocks Louise at a party, igniting Scobie's hatred.


A dissolute flight lieutenant who pursues Helen Rolt.

The captain

The Portuguese captain of the Esperanca is a fat, nervous man. Scobie pities him and chooses to destroy the captain's forbidden letter to his German-based daughter. Later, Scobie calls in a favor and asks the captain to transport contraband for Yusef. This time, Scobie feels the weight of the man's pity.

Father Rank

The charming and gregarious priest in the colony, Father Rank is well-liked and prone to gossip. He sometimes feels overcome by his dreary surroundings and expresses doubt about his position. He does, however, have a great deal of insight into Scobie's motivations and inspires sympathy for the man after his suicide.


A dentist in the colony as well as Wilson's friend and eventual roommate. Harris is shy, self-conscious, and sensitive to Wilson's slights. During the novel, Harris tries to reestablish communication with his old school, Downham. Harris is thrilled to discover that Wilson is also a "Downhamian."

The Commissioner

Scobie's retiring boss who at first decides to give his position to someone else, but then decides later on in the novel to promote Scobie instead.

Mrs. Castle

A friend of Louise Scobie's.


The sanitary inspector that Scobie does not like but who hosts a dinner party where he serves beef from Argentina.


The bank manager who cannot give Scobie a loan. He later lets Scobie borrow his medical text. Scobie discovers that Robinson's lighthearted attitude is due to the fact that he only has two months to live.


One of Scobie's co-workers (he leads the Field Security Police) who is also part of the Esperanca search.


The District Commissioner of Bamba is an arrogant, bitter man convinced of his own importance.

Mrs. Perrot

The kind and long-suffering wife of Perrot.

Miss Malcott

A teacher and victim of the shipwreck.

Mrs. Bowles

The missionary who becomes a stern nurse for the shipwreck victims.


The little boy who recovers in the rest-house. Scobie reads to him.

Colonel Wright

The Colonial Secretary who meets with Scobie and the Commissioner to inquire into Scobie's relationship with Yusef.

Mrs. Carter

An acquaintance of Louise's and a friend of Helen Rolt; she writes to Louise in South Africa to inform her about Scobie and Helen's affair.

Dr. Travis

The doctor whom Scobie sees to get treatment for his "angina."

The bearded Indian

An Indian man who tells fortunes at the Bedford; he accurately sees Wilson's love of poetry.

Mrs. Halifax

An older woman who lacks malice and has a bad memory; she tolerates Louise


The Chief Assistant Colonial Secretary


A naval officer who is a member of the Cape Station Club

Dr. Sykes

A doctor stationed in the colony - she socializes with Fellowes, etc.

Father Clay

The resident priest in Bamba who relays information to Scobie about Pemberton's suicide.