JustinCurtisMr.BalenzanoENG4U24October 2017The Figures behind Terrorism in”The Secret Agent”InJoseph Conrad’s novel, The Secret Agent published in 1907, an act of terrorismagainst the Greenwich Observatory creates panic in the streets of London. Thestory opens with a man named Adolf Verloc who struggles with a conflict betweenright and wrong as his connections with an anarchist group coincide with hisduties as a secret agent. His primary concern is earning a reasonable wage, butMr.
Vladimir, his boss at the Embassy, orders him to blow up an Observatory toattract attention from the government to put a stop to the anarchist movementsspreading through London, or else he’s fired. This resembles London’s struggleduring the late 1800’s for rule and order, involving cops who go easy onanarchist movements with little to no punishment for serious crimes. Conrad’sintroduction to various characters describes the type of personalities thatbecome involved with crime in the community. In conclusion, Conrad emphasizes thecause and effect of violence and terrorism through the use of unsympatheticcharacters who struggle with their mediocre lives.
Conraddescribes Verloc as a mysterious man with a lazy lifestyle as a shop owner anda secret agent, as well as a provider for his wife Winnie, his wife’s brotherStevie, and his mother in law. He earnsa good wage off his jobs doing little work, with a careless boss, Verloc practicallyshows up once a week to pick up a government check. Conrad details that Verloc,”Born of industrious parents for a life of toil, he had embraced indolence froman impulse as profound as inexplicable and as imperious as the impulse whichdirects a man’s preference for one particular women in a given thousand. He wastoo lazy even for a mere demagogue, for a workman orator, for a leader oflabour” (Conrad 11). This explains Verloc’s life as comfortable and lazy, whichemphasizes the flaws of society with the misconception that people have to workhard to earn a decent wage. After Mr.Vladimir directly informs Verloc that he needs to start producing results if hewants to keep his job, Verloc is directed to blow up Greenwich Observatory toattack the idea of “Science” and put fear into the people of London.
Thisdaunting task poses a threat to Verloc’s comfortable lifestyle as he agrees tofollow through with it to maintain his laziness. After going on a few walks with his wife’sbrother Stevie, he realizes that the boy may not be useless even with hismental disability, as Winnie sits around the house Conrad details, “She wasalone longer than usual on the day of the attempted bomb outrage in GreenwichPark, because Mr Verloc went out very early that morning and did not come backtill nearly dusk” (Conrad 165). Thishints to the reader that Mr Verloc has included Stevie into his work to blow upthe Observatory, implementing how something must have gone wrong, which Conradlater reveals as Stevie’s accidental death where he trips on the roots of atree while holding onto various explosives. After this tragic event occurs, Verloc makes sure to keep it a secretfor as long as he can, until Winnie finds out from an official who collectssufficient evidence tying Verloc to the scene of the crime.
With Winnie finding out the horrible deed herhusband has done, Conrad explains, “The mind of Mr Verloc lacked profundity.Under the mistaken impression that the value of individuals consists in whatthey are in themselves, he could not possibly comprehend the value of Stevie inthe eyes of Mrs Verloc” (Conrad 201). This expresses how little Verloc thinks of other people, only strugglingto suppress his life back to the lazy way it used to be under whateverconditions. In conclusion, his strivefor laziness and careless feelings towards other people; reveal the motivesnecessary for terrorist activity within thesecret agent. Anothercharacter with a criminal mindset is the Professor, who is described as aselfish man who exists with the belief in a single idea, that he’s the mostpowerful man in the world. When first introducedhe reveals to Ossipon, an anarchist, about his hidden explosives that hecarries on him at all times, threatening to set them off and kill everyonearound the area if they choose to defy him. The Professor exclaims, “To break up the superstition and worshipof legality should be our aim.
Nothing would please me more than to seeInspector Heat and his likes take to shooting us down in broad daylight withthe approval of the public. Half our battle would be won then: thedisintegration of the old morality would have set in in its very temple. Thatis what you ought to aim at” (Conrad 64).
This expresses the Professor’s strive for anarchy, as he explains toOssipon how if the cops were to shoot him in the street without giving him timeto set off his bomb, that they would be disobeying their idea of law and order. Since the Professor thinks so highly ofhimself, and lives with what Ossipon refers to as a “forced personality,” he isalways trying to create conflict with the authorities. As the Professor walks through the streets,Conrad indicates, “Lost in the crowd, miserable and undersized, he meditatedconfidently on his power, keeping his hand in the left pocket of his trousers,grasping lighty the india-rubber ball, the supreme guarantee of his sinisterfreedom; but after a while he became disagreeably affected by the sight of theroadway thronged with vehicles and of the pavement crowded with men and women”(Conrad 71). Insight on the Professorsinsecurities, Conrad is explaining how he feels inferior in public, and withthe idea that he can blow up anyone he wants to, it expresses how he has toforce his personality when he remains alone with his thoughts in order tocreate his fantasy of superiority over everyone. The Professor’s attitude towards other peopleresembles adolescence, as he thoroughly believes that anyone with weaknessdoesn’t deserve to live. As the novelreaches the end, Conrad states, “And the incorruptible Professor walkedtoo, averting his eyes from the odious multitude of mankind. He had no future.
He disdained it. He was a force. His thoughts caressed the images of ruin anddestruction … Nobody looked at him. He passed on unsuspected and deadly, likea pest in the street full of men” (Conrad 269). The emphasis on the Professor at the end of the novel, expresses howeven with his strong opposing views against the weak, he shows weakness inpublic realizing that no one really knows him, and that the ball in his pocketwill never be enough to get the attention he desires. Therefore, the Professor shows a psychopathicview of rule and order, as he hopes to terrorize for the attention of thepublic, his desire to know that he is superior to all completely reveal themotives necessary for destruction in thesecret agent.
Lastly, Winnie Verloc reveals anaggressive behavior after the loss of her brother Stevie, as she acts onrevenge killing Verloc for having caused Stevie’s death. Conrad emphasizes Winnie’s connection withStevie through her protective behavior over him and the anarchists her husbandis friends with. As she is constantlythinking of her poor disabled brother, Conrad explains, “Mrs. Verloc, turningtowards her recumbent husband, raised herself on her elbow, and hung over himin her anxiety that he should believe Stevie to be a useful member of thefamily. That ardour of protecting compassion exalted morbidly in her childhoodby the misery of another child tinged her sallow cheeks with a faint duskyblush” (Conrad 51). Not only does thisdescribe how Verloc’s ignorance of Stevie’s usefulness bothers Winnie, but italso explains how Winnie has always acted as Stevie’s protector growing up inthe same household with the same family insecurities and struggles. This bond is further emphasized through hercompassion to give Stevie a connection with her father, so he can develop abond and maybe be less troubled by his overlook of the world.
As Mrs. Verloc urges to get Mr. Verloc tospend time with him, Conrad details, “She thought also that Mr Verloc wasas much of a father as poor Stevie ever had in his life. She was aware alsothat it was her work. And with peaceful pride she congratulated herself on acertain resolution she had taken a few years before. It had cost her some effort,and even a few tears” (Conrad 163).
Hercomfort in knowing that Stevie is now starting to spend time with Verloc makesher feel happy, as Conrad emphasizes Winnie’s relief in knowing her struggle tostay with Verloc for the security of her family, was a good option from thebeginning. After a bit of relief, a fewdays go by smoothly until Mr. Verloc comes home troubled by the death ofStevie, and lies to Winnie claiming that everything’s fine. When Winnie finds out about the death fromInspector Heat who comes to visit with suspicions against Verloc, she goes intoa deep depression from her loss. Withthis loss Winnie turns to anger as Conrad explains, “The knife was alreadyplanted in his breast. It met noresistance on its way.
Hazard has suchaccuracies. Into that plunging blow,delivered over the side of the couch, Mrs Verloc had put all the inheritance ofher immemorial and obscure decent, the simple ferocity of the age of caverns,and the unbalanced nervous fury of the age of barrooms” (Conrad 227). Her anger over Verloc, emphasizes the feelingof her loss, showing how a disruption in her strong connection with herbrother, is enough to commit a crime against her husband. Therefore, strong motivation towards violenceis emphasized by Winnie through the use of loss, as she takes her husband’slife away as a result of grief. In conclusion, the cause and effect ofviolence in the secret agent isemphasized through the different characters that become corrupted by their ownself image. Winnie, Verloc, and the Professorare a few examples of some of the characters who show a sign of weaknessthroughout the novel. Whether theirmotives are for laziness, revenge of a fallen family member, or for attention,it reveals how the weaknesses can influence crime. Conrad clearly defines a fine connection betweenthe violent acts of people who are consistently involved in crime.
Therefore, with a series of characters Conrad clearlydisplays the weaknesses that influence violence against others, emphasizing howstrong motives can cause serious problems within someone’s life.