When we’re talking about Africa, we can’t forget the European imperialists, spreading their white fingers across the dark continent. Graham Greene is one of my favorite writers, his works adventuring across many continents, including Africa.
Having been raised Catholic and turning away from the Church in my adulthood, I am intrigued by Greene as a man, because he followed the opposite path, converting to Catholicism when his childhood was behind him. He plays the role of the romantic, choosing his faith for the love of a woman. He accepts his choices but constantly doubts himself, wondering if he’ll ever truly be one of them.
You can see Graham Greene in many of his characters, like the wayward priest in The Power and the Glory, a good but flawed man, mired in self doubt, feeling so often like he’s faking it as he ministers to the people of Mexico. In The Heart of the Matter, the first character we see is a fellow named Wilson, and though he isn’t the main character, he does bear some of Greene’s traits. He’s a romantic like Greene, trying to fit in with the other imperialists since he has just recently arrived in West Africa.
One thing to notice from the beginning of the novel is Wilson’s ultra awareness of race. He stands on the balcony of his club on a Sunday, waiting for his drink to arrive and watching the people around him. He ponders “the young negresses,” “the black clerks,” “one bearded Indian in a turban,” “a black boy” who brought him his gin, his own “pallor,” all in the first two pages of the book.
He also ponders his secret love of poetry and his futile attempts to keep from standing out among the white crowd. It’s his eyes that give him away, “a brown dog’s eyes, a setter’s eyes, pointing mournfully towards Bond Street.” When all he really wants to be is a white sheep.