The Secret Agent

The Secret Agent Summary and Analysis of Chapter V


After leaving from his meeting with Ossipon, the Professor walks through the streets of London thinking about how he is distinguished from the rest of the crowds by virtue of his quasi-religious convictions. He bumps into Chief Inspector Heat of the Special Crimes Department, who informs him that he is not being looked for.

Chief Inspector Heat had been perturbed earlier the same day by the Greenwich Bomb Outrage, which had put him in an embarrassing situation since he had just recently given his assurances to an important government official that he had the anarchists under control. At the scene of the crime, the Chief Inspector interviews the constable who was nearby during the explosion and who gathered the pieces of the bomber’s body; he takes a shred of the dead man’s velvet jacket with him as evidence.

The Chief Inspector engages in a match of intimidation with the Professor, the one threatening to arrest the other, who threatens to blow them both up. After this encounter, he arrives at the office of his superior, the Assistant Commissioner and reports that he believes two anarchists were involved in the bombing.


Whereas the diminutive Professor had shown up the large, lumbering Ossipon in the previous chapter with his talk of “force of personality” and “the perfect detonator,” in this chapter he ends up bumping into Chief Inspector Heat, who shows him up as a man with a ridiculously overblown ego. Conrad deliberately sets this up by allowing the reader to hear the Professor’s pretentious way of thinking – “It was vain to pretend to himself that he was not disappointed. But that was mere feeling; the stoicism of his thought could not be disturbed by this or any other failure” – and giving us his background of religious fervor, only to have him happen into Chief Inspector Heat, who deflates this sense of grave importance by telling him that “I am not looking for you” (60, 62).

As in the first chapter, the narrator takes this one encounter to abruptly transition to a description of the character that has arrived on the scene; having moved our narrative focus from Ossipon to the Professor, now we find ourselves suddenly shifted from the Professor to Chief Inspector Heat and the particular humor of his situation. He is, aside from the eccentric Mr. Vladimir, the first government agent whose mind we get into; previously it was almost entirely with Mr. Verloc and his socialist comrades. However, we find that the world and worldview of a policeman are quite similar; he has his sincere convictions and hopes but is also rather ridiculously tied up in petty matters, such as departmental politics, and oddly compromising, even to the point of hypocrisy, by his respect for thieves.