The Secret Agent

The Secret Agent Literary Elements


Literary fiction

Setting and Context

London, 1886, during a time of anarchist unrest.

Narrator and Point of View

Third-person omniscient narrator, although with frequent free indirect point of view.

Tone and Mood

Claustrophobic, opaque, threatening.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonists: Mr. Verloc, Mrs. Verloc. Antagonist: Mr. Vladimir.

Major Conflict

Mr. Verloc, commanded by Mr. Vladimir, wants to carry out a bombing that will outrage society. His anarchist associates seem unable to accomplish this, so he must find his own method.


Mr. Verloc gives Stevie a bomb in Greenwich Park to detonate at the Greenwich Royal Observatory. However, Stevie trips and blows himself up accidentally without inflicting any damage.


Stevie set off rockets in the office where he worked.


The Professor sometimes jokes menacingly about the threat to others he represents by his carrying a bomb.


The bombing that Mr. Verloc carries out in the novel is based on an actual Greenwich Bomb Outrage that occurred.


Conrad frequently describes the ugliness and strangeness of the anarchists' appearances.


The police, as represented by Chief Inspector Heat and the Assistant Commissioner, are not entirely against criminals; rather, they often mix with them and somewhat respect them.


Stevie is just as absolutely willing to commit violence and strike out against society as the Professor is, although, unlike the Professor, he does so for entirely sentimental reasons without clear thought.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

The Professor's hidden bomb that he carries on his person at all times represents his entire threatening personality.


Stevie, in his simpleness, represents a kind of blind sensitivity and moral outrage that may lie at the heart of a kind of anarchist spirit.