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How to Know if a Feeling for Someone Is Really Love

What is true love?

Key points

  • Studying Graham Greene's work can provide an understanding of the intermingling between love and betrayal.
  • Greene often juxtaposed love with a need to protect country, independence, and power.
  • Greene's work conveyed that it may be impossible to love another without sufficient belief in oneself.

I have been reading a series of books by Graham Greene where love and betrayal often come up. Though his books took place in different countries and at different times (he lived a life that spanned almost the whole of the twentieth century and worked as a reporter and a spy in many different countries), love is often skillfully intermingled with what one might call the business of life: ambition, politics, money, plain lust, and pity for the down-trodden. Our desire for another is often a complex mix of needs, he seemed to say.

In Greene's case, love was often a triangular affair: Maurice Bendrix loved Sarah, married to Henry in The End of the Affair. Sarah gave up Maurice in a vow to God. Believing he was dead during the blitz in London, she promised to renounce him if God gave him life.

In The Heart of the Matter, Scobie perhaps loved his wife Louise or certainly pitied her, yet pushed her into the arms of Wilson, hoping Wilson would make her happy or at least distract her and read poetry with her.

In The Quiet American, Fowler, the English reporter, and Alden Pyle, the young American, loved or lusted after Phuong, the Vietnamese beauty. Maurice Castle, who loved his wife sincerely, betrayed both his friend and his country to protect her and ultimately himself even in The Human Factor.

In so many of these books, it seems that it is not so much the woman who was important but the relationship between the two men, often friends who ended up betraying one another even unto death. Certainly, Fowler is ultimately responsible for the death of Alden Pyle. However, his motivation was mixed, and he rightly saw the dangers in the American's ignorance and innocence in Vietnam as well as his need for Phuong.

Scobie was ultimately responsible for the death of his most faithful ally, the man he perhaps felt most at ease with, his faithful servant who nursed him in times of illness and need, Ali.

Just as Castle let his innocent friend be accused of counter-espionage when it was he, who was the double agent.

Only Sarah in The End of the Affair seems a more fully fledged character, one who is capable of initiative, giving up her love to preserve his life in an act that approached the saintly.

Fowler seemed to put the good of his country above his loyalty to a friend who has saved his life; Scobie seemed hell-bent on making the women in his life whom he pitied, happy . Scobie needed money to acquire that happiness, which ultimately brought about his downfall and the betrayal of his friend. In this way he is similar to Castle, who protected himself and let an innocent man be accused of his own treachery. Treachery of some kind was involved in a complex mix of love and death. All these men, Greene's anti heroes ultimately doubt themselves and their own value. They are often filled with a mixture of rage, jealousy, and guilt and are led into crime by their good intentions: a need to make others happy, to protect those they love, to sacrifice what they know to be good.

How much of our ambition, need for success, money, position in society is part of our love for another? Can we truly love another without some feeling of self-worth, some way of proving we can help others around us, or at least have some appearance of dignity and independence?

Conrad told a story where a young man wrecked his beautiful boat on the rocks and could not face his mistress. Ironically, much of our love for another may depend on being able to love ourselves sufficiently and have sufficient confidence in our own abilities to navigate the world.


"The Human Factor" by Graham Greene

"The End of the Affair" by Graham Greene

The Heart of the Matter" by Graham Greene

"The Quiet American" by Graham Greene