The Heart of the Matter

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


Scobie sleeps on the way to Bamba as he travels to investigate the matter concerning young Pemberton. He slips in and out of his dreams as the van drives by shacks and decayed huts. He thinks he might be getting a fever and he worries about the money he needs to get for Louise's journey to South Africa. For a moment, he surveys the landscape and thinks he could be happy with his job if he did not have to worry about making Louise happy. Moments later, he decides that it actually is rather foolish to think that one person can make another happy.

When Scobie arrives in Bamba, he gets straight to to work. He goes to the Mission to see Father Clay, who is restless and nervous. Father Clay reveals that Pemberton has hanged himself. Scobie tries to ask Father Clay a few questions about the deceased does not learn much except for the fact that Pemberton was not a Catholic. Later, Scobie inspects Pemberton's quarters, which Butterworth, the previous Deputy Commissioner, had once been occupied. Pemberton was young and untidy and he disrespected the older man's things. Meanwhile, Pemberton's dead body is lying on the bed. Scobie marvels at his youth. In the boy's papers, Scobie finds a note in which Pemberton apologizes to his father for his debts.

That evening, Scobie takes some quinine and lies down, feeling hot and feverish - he dreams about Louise and Pemberton. When he awakens, Scobie tells Ali that he dreamt about Yusef, and Ali confirms that Yusef has actually come to visit. When Yusef enters the room, Scobie vocalizes his observation that Pemberton happened to commit suicide while Yusef was in town. Yusuf reveals that Pemberton owned money to Yusuf's store manager. However, Yusef burns all of Pemberton's debts and IOUs right then and there.

Yusef is voluble and friendly, telling Scobie how grateful he is that Scobie is honest and truthful. He recalls an incident when Scobie could have gotten Yusef in trouble but he chose to tell the truth instead, even though it led to some damaging rumors about Scobie. Scobie tells Yusuf that he does not want to be affiliated with him. Yusef insinuates that he has heard about Scobie's financial troubles and offers to lend him the money, but Scobie refuses. After Yusef leaves, Scobie's sleep is troubled and filled with uneasy dreams. When he wakes up, he contemplates suicide but realizes that he could never do it because "he couldn't condemn himself for eternity" (83).

Scobie stays away from home for a week, and the fever runs its course. He returns to his house, dreading the moment when Louise will start complaining. Sure enough, after some brief small talk, Louise asks about the status of her ticket to South Africa. Scobie reveals that he has not yet been successful in finding the extra money but he is still trying. Louise tells him not to worry and Scobie finds that he has tears in his eyes.

Scobie lies alone in bed, feeling odd and emasculated by going to sleep before his wife. He goes back downstairs to find Louise writing a letter to Mrs. Halifax. She admits that Mrs. Halifax offered her a place in a two-berth cabin on board a ship that is setting out in a few days. However, since Scobie does not have the money, Louise is writing to tell Mrs. Halifax that she cannot go. Almost immediately, Scobie tells Louise to accept the seat and assures her that he will borrow the money. Louise is incredulous at this late news. Scobie claims that he wanted to keep it a surprise. He wonders to himself why she does not sound happier.

The liner arrives on a Saturday evening. Louise says that life will be better for Scobie once she has been away for some time. They clean up and pack her things and attend mass together. On their way back they run into Wilson, who becomes flustered upon hearing the news that Louise is leaving. Scobie comments later that Wilson appears to be in love with Louise, and Louise admits that Wilson does think he loves her. However, she thinks there is something phony about him because he is overly romantic and tells lies.

The Scobies say their goodbyes at the dock. Louise feels apprehensive about being a "deserter" (101) but Scobie assures her that this is not the place for her. She asks him to say he loves her one more time even if it is not true, and he complies. They kiss goodbye, and the ship finally leaves. Scobie feels like his life is starting over. Mr. Halifax invites Scobie to have a drink, but Scobie has to work. He notices Wilson looking out after the ship and tells him that "Louise sent her love."

It is close to one in the morning when Scobie returns to his silent and peaceful home. He feels a sense of relief that he has done his duty. In the middle of the night, he awakens to the sound of a car and goes downstairs to find Yusef on his doorstep. Yusef says he wants to talk to Scobie about diamonds. Scobie wearily responds that he cannot protect Yusef from any police searches. Yusef instead suggests to Scobie that Tallit's cousin is sailing in on a ship, and claims that the cousin has hidden diamonds in his pet parrot's crop. Scobie thanks him for the information. Yusef hovers a bit and rambles about sending his best wishes to Mrs. Scobie, and then he leaves.


Scobie finds Pemberton's suicide disconcerting on many levels. Greene's technique engages the reader in Scobie's confusion. He writes about Scobie's trip to Bamba in a detached, disjointed style. Through his fevered haze, Scobie imagines Bamba as the "bank where life ended" (84). His senses are jumbled; truth and fiction jostle in his mind while he sleeps. Scobie wishes he did not feel such an intense sense of responsibility to his wife.

Despite the self-reflection he feels in this otherworldly locale, Pemberton's suicide pricks at Scobie's Catholic conscience. Scobie feels sad thinking about young Pemberton facing eternal condemnation for committing suicide, assuring himself that "there must be mercy for someone so unformed" (88). He muses to Father Clay, "Even the Church can't teach me that God doesn't pity the young..." (89). At night, he reflects on the events of the day and concludes that he could never commit suicide because there is nothing that would be important enough to justify eternal damnation. While Scobie allows Pemberton a measure of mercy in death, he reveals the extent of his Catholic beliefs because he decides that he cannot take the same risk himself.

Scobie's entanglement with Yusef is yet another example of his misguided and futile attempts to fulfill what he believes to be his "responsibilities." Yusef is a charming and dangerous man, and as critic Daniel Scott points out, he has "an almost preternatural knowledge of Scobie's personality and his actions." Yusuf knows Scobie well enough to manipulate him. When Scobie accepts a loan from Yusuf, he knows that strings are attached. He has clearly violated his professional code as a policeman.

In addition, Scobie now has certain moral limitations as an arbiter of justice, which is a theme that permeates the rest of the novel. Critic Elliott Malamet points out that Greene's "technique of undermining the law authorities" is his way of exposing the "deep limitations" of the law. For all of Scobie's devotion to his position, he does not actually seem to be very good at it. He means well, but he cannot help Miss Wilberforce with her landlady, nor does he prosecute the captain of the Esperanca. He fails to see the truth in the Yusef/Tallit/diamonds debacle (see later analyses), and commits a cultural taboo by toppling over a cursed symbol on the docks. Malamet writes, "Greene purposefully blocks and reverses Scobie's authority in several ways, as the novel charts a consistent pattern in which Scobie's investigative acumen proves dubious."

This section is also crucial in establishing the central theme of duty and responsibility. Scobie is bound to his wife both by the sacrament of marriage but also by his personal commitment to her happiness and comfort. It is this sense of responsibility that pushes Scobie to accept the loan from Yusuf. After purchasing Louise's passage to South Africa, Scobie feels as though "he [has] done his duty [because] Louise [is] happy" (103). After Louise departs, Scobie feels the "quality of security and impregnability in the silence" (102). Tellingly, Yusef is the one who interrupts this brief interlude of peace.