Patterns Of Evil And How To Break Them
“Milly, dear Milly. Beware of formulas. If there’s a God he’s not a God of formulas.”

Our Man in Havana “You try too hard to make a pattern, father.”

A Burnt-Out Case

It is tempting to let Graham Greene’s characters speak for their creator, to say that they summarize the theme of his long writing career. But of course review of a career spanning forty years and thirty works is not that simple. In the first place, there is a sort of formula in what critics like to call Greeneland: settings tend to be foreign (to English-speaking readers) places like Africa, South America, Viet Nam; main characters tend to be whiskey priests, revolutionaries, atheists, juvenile delinquents, and the like. But the people expound the evidence of Greene’s pattern-breaking. It is his conception of God that defies easy formulation—and invites particular interest.

The break from pattern reaches a peak in Greene’s 1973 novel, The Honorary Consul, where a priest-turned-revolutionary suggests that God is evil as well as good:

If I kill him it will be God’s fault as much as mine.… He made me what I am now. He will have loaded the gun and steadied my hand [Simon and Schuster, 1973, p. 261].

Another rather unexpected idea appears in A Burnt-Out Case, where an atheist who is a doctor in a Roman Catholic leprosarium muses about the place of Christianity in human evolution:

We are riding a great ninth evolutionary wave. Even the Christian myth is part of the wave, and perhaps, who knows, it may be the most valuable part. Suppose love were to evolve as rapidly in our brains as technical skill has done. In isolated cases it may have done, in the saints … if the man really existed, in Christ … [Viking, 1961, p. 153].

It would be ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: