The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter Quotes and Analysis

"Why, he wondered, swerving the car to avoid a dead pye-dog, do I love this place so much? Is it because here human nature hasn't had time to disguise itself? Nobody here could ever talk about a heaven on earth. Heaven remained rigidly in its proper place on the other side of death, and on this side flourished the injustices, the cruelties, the meannesses, that elsewhere people so cleverly hushed up. Here you could love human beings nearly as God loved them, knowing the worst: you didn't love a pose, a pretty dress, a sentiment artfully assumed."

- Major Scobie, pg. 35

Scobie thinks about why he loves being in the colony after an early encounter with Yusuf. He feels that the people who live there are open and honest in their dealings with themselves and with others. This characterization is the opposite of Scobie, who cannot be truly honest with himself, his wife, his mistress, or even God. Even when he thinks he is being forthright, he is not fully aware of his true motivations or desires. Scobie does not even understand his love for God. He admires in others what he cannot find in himself. Yusef, in particular, is always honest and never bothers to conceal his ambitions or machinations. This is why Yusef gets what he wants and is later able to take advantage of Scobie.

"He felt as though he had been detected in a mean action he had asked for money and had been refused. Louise had deserved better of him. It seemed to him that he must have failed in some way in manhood."

- Major Scobie, pg. 46

The men in the novel try to adhere to norms of their gender, and when they fail they become frustrated and/or angry. Culturally, these men believe that they are supposed to be stoic, bold, heroic, and take care of of their families. They see sentimentality as a weakness. Wilson is ashamed of his poetry (a deviation from the cultural expectations of masculinity) and his emotionally charged breakdown in front of Scobie. He reacts with bitterness and anger. Scobie, however, is morose and contemplative. For him, manhood is inextricably linked to his sense of responsibility, and when he is not able to secure Louise's happiness he feels a profound sense of inadequacy. Scobie's feelings of emasculation and the pressure from Louise drive him to take the loan from Yusef. After he does this, Scobie feels like he is taking control of his life and grabbing the reins of his masculinity.

"Ticki," she said, "I shouldn't see too much of him. I wouldn't trust him. There's something phony about him."

- Louise Scobie, pg. 99

One of Louise's most redeeming qualities is her ability to accurately analyze a person. She may be beset by depression, but her mental state does not cloud her perception. She knows that Scobie does not love her and she knows he has lapsed in his religious faith long before he realizes either of these facts. She also understands Wilson right away, before any other character in the novel. Louise knows that Wilson lies, is "phony," and that he poses a threat to Scobie. Her counsel here is wise, but Scobie does not pay enough attention to it. Louise and Scobie are diametrically opposed in this respect, for while she can see clearly, he lacks both self-awareness and the ability to see others for who they are.

"It was a formality not because he felt himself free from serious sin but because it had never occurred to him that his life was important enough one way or another. He didn't drink, he didn't fornicate, he didn't even lie, but he never regarded this absence of sin as virtue."

- Major Scobie, pg. 115

This quote comes before Scobie enters into his relationship with Helen. It indicates how little self-regard and self-awareness Scobie possesses. He believes that he is a constant disappointment to God which leads to his emotional separation from his faith. However, Scobie’s assertion that he is mostly absent of sin is disingenuous. He is extremely prideful and is not necessarily a good husband. At this point, he has also engaged in dishonest actions - he burned the captain’s letter and is embroiled in a spurious relationship with Yusef. He struggles to shoulder his responsibility to his faith and demonstrates a propensity to think thoughts that might not be pleasing to God. Thus, for Scobie to claim that he is not really a sinner and therefore not worthy of God’s notice smack mores of pride than humility.

"It seemed to Scobie later that this was the ultimate border he had reached in happiness: being in darkness, alone, with the rain falling, without love or pity."

- Major Scobie, pg. 135

In this moment, Scobie feels content. He has a moment of respite from the crushing responsibility he feels for Louise (and later, Helen). He does not have to think about Yusef or Tallit or the captain or his job or anything else. The darkness and the rain engulf his surroundings and mute the thoughts in his head. It does not even seem like there is room for God in this dark, quiet, and peaceful world. This moment represents a turning point for Scobie because he will never feel this inner peace again over the course of the novel. His inability to escape from the situations he creates for himself take him further and further away from this kind of placid contentment.

"Letter-writing never came easily to him. Perhaps because of his police training, he could never put even a comfortable lie upon paper over his signature. He had to be accurate: he could comfort only by omission."

- Major Scobie, pg. 141

In the novel, writing is an instrument of miscommunication. Letters are full of lies, or they end up in the wrong hands. Scobie's diary is filled with facts but does not actually depict what he is really feeling. This quote reveals Scobie's inability to write down a lie, which results in a letter that is just as insincere by omission. Another important component of this quote is the mention of "police training" because Greene subtly undermines Scobie's position as a police officer throughout the novel. Scobie's profession requires keen skills of observation and management, but he does not appear to be particularly adept at either. He bungles and/or misinterprets a few incidents - he is unaware of Wilson's true identity and routinely ignores directives. Both Scobie's inability to communicate and his bungling police work are indicators of his lack of self-awareness and power to take control over his life.

"He thought: I'll go back and go to bed, in the morning I'll write to Louise and in the evening go to Confession: the day after that God would return to me in a priest's hands: life will be simple again. Virtue, the good life, tempted him in the dark like a sin."

- Major Scobie, pg. 186

This is a moment when Scobie considers what it would mean to follow the rules of the Church. By returning to the righteous path of religion, he would be able to attain repentance. However, this quote demonstrates Scobie's ambivalence about his fate, which determines the plot of the second half of the novel. Immediately after toying with this course of action, Scobie directs his steps toward Helen's hut. The sense of futility is ever-present in this novel, especially here. Scobie seems incapable of deviating from a path once he is on it. His feeling of responsibility for Helen undermines his faith, placing him on a path towards doom. At this point, he is so incapable of changing his moral direction that he actually reverses the common trope and equates a life of virtue to a tempting sin.

"The trouble is, he thought, we know the answers - we Catholics are damned by our knowledge."

- Major Scobie, pg. 219

This quote exemplifies Scobie's struggles between his human nature and his Catholic faith. He fully realizes the Church's standing on his extramarital affair and concomitant lies. He knows that the punishment for disobeying the Church’s teaching is eternal damnation – if he does not repent and alter his behavior he is sure to separate himself from God forever and spend eternity in Hell. Unlike non-believers, like Helen, Scobie is haunted by his knowledge of what his fate will be. Irreligious people may experience the repercussions of their actions in their mortal life, but they do not have to worry about their soul. This is why Scobie says ruefully that he wishes he did not have faith.

"When he walked beside her into the church it was as if he had entered this building for the first time a stranger. An immeasurable distance already separated him from these people who knelt and prayed and would presently receive God in peace. He knelt and pretended to pray."

- Major Scobie, pg. 223

Scobie acutely feels his estrangement from God when he agrees, however unwillingly, to accompany Louise to church. He has not yet made his decision to commit suicide, although a case can be made that the idea has been latently lurking in his mind for some time now; even before he begins his affair with Helen he tells Father Rank that he feels empty and far from God. Now, Scobie has failed in his attempt to confess and repent for his affair and he feels irrevocably separate from God. The sense of futility that hangs over most over the book is quite manifest here – there is no point in confession, mass, praying, etc. Scobie feels like a pretender, a false Catholic. He cannot even bring himself to try, showing that he is resigned to his fate.

"I know what the Church says. The Church knows all the rules. But it doesn't know what goes on in a single human heart."

- Father Rank, pg. 241

After Scobie's death, Father Rank tries to console Louise by hinting that that there is still hope for Scobie's salvation, which completely contradicts the teachings of the Catholic church. Strangely, Scobie (a sinner) adheres more strongly to these beliefs than Father Rank, who is supposed to be a mouthpiece for God. Scobie feels that God will never forgive him for his sins and therefore, thinks of himself as an impostor whenever he comes into Church. Scobie's hopelessness and feelings of inevitable doom motivate his final decision to commit suicide. He feels as though he has progressed too far down a dark and immoral path and considers himself irredeemable in the eyes of God. Father Rank's urgings to see outside the limitations of the Bible come too late to save Scobie, but perhaps they can give Louise (and the reader) a bit of relief.