Essay on “The Secret Agent” by Joseph Conrad

Nowadays, the problem of terrorism is widely discussed in media as well as in literature. However, it is worthy of mention that this theme is actually not new and, probably one of the first book, dedicated to this problem is the novel by Joseph Conrad “The Secret Agent” which conveys a story of a man who obviously messed up and whose clandestine life eventually ended in a great tragedy that affected many other people surrounding him.

First of all, it should be said that the main character of the book, Mr. Verloc is an anarchist who is secretly working on a foreign state. In fact, he is a secret agent that fulfils the orders he receives in the foreign embassy. This person seems to be very contradictive since, on the one hand, he has business and conducts a normal, official life, he has his own ideas and beliefs he seems to be protecting. On the other hand, he is an anarchist that makes him practically a marginal in the local community and, what is more, he cooperates with a foreign power. These facts from his clandestine life complete the description of his personality making him not an ordinary bourgeois but rather a kind of adventurer, though not very successful one.

It is worthy of mention that his personal life is not very successful either since he is married but his wife does not really loves him. Actually, she decided to marry him because of her brother, Stevie, for whom Mr. Verloc, she supposed, would be a good mentor and authority that would guide him in his life. In such a way, Mr. Verloc turns to be a person that actually failed to succeed in life and, apparently, he is dissatisfied with the current situation in his professional career and in his personal life.

In such a context, it seems to be quite logical that he agrees to fulfill the new order he received from Mr. Vladimir in the foreign embassy to organize the bombing of Greenwich Observatory. In fact, his decision to fulfill the order is either a decision of a really desperate man or an extremely risky man. Nevertheless, he plans the operation very carefully and involves Stevie who actually realizes his plans and bombs Greenwich Observatory scarifying his life for Mr. Verloc’s sake because the latter was really the highest authority to him.

In fact, after the bombing the tragic events grow rapidly and the novel is winded up with a series of deaths, including the stabbing of Mr. Verloc by his wife, when she learnt that her husband involved her brother in his schemes and practically sent him to die, and the death of Mrs. Verloc herself, when she had lost everything she had she commits a suicide.

In such a way, the novel by Joseph Conrad may be viewed as a first attempt to analyze and understand what actually is terrorism and its nature. He perfectly depicts the desperate position of the main characters which are gradually marginalizing. They are alienated from the city they live in and they seem to have lost all the links with the local community that forces them commit desperate acts, such as bombing and killing. The author also reveals the great power of the authority which may force a person to commit a terrible crime, as it was in the case of Stevie. This is why it is possible to estimate that “The Secret Agent” is a really interesting novel and up-to-date.

Works cited

  • Conrad, J. The Secret Agent. New York: Penguin Classics, 1998.
  • Stewart, J.L. The History of the World Literature. New York: Random House, 1999.

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