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The Human Factor  
First Edition Cover
Author Graham Greene
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Thriller, Spy novel
Publisher The Bodley Head
Publication date 1978
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 344 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0370300432 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC Number 3741600
Dewey Decimal 823/.9/12
LC Classification PZ3.G8319 Hu PR6013.R44
Preceded by The Honorary Consul
Followed by Doctor Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party

The Human Factor (ISBN 0-679-40992-0) is an espionage novel by Graham Greene, first published in 1978 and adapted into a 1979 film, directed by Otto Preminger using a screenplay by Tom Stoppard.


Plot summary

Maurice Castle is an aging bureaucrat in the British secret service MI6. Married to a black African woman with whom he fell in love during his previous stint in apartheid South Africa, he now lives a quiet life in the suburbs and looks forward to retirement. As the book begins, however, a leak has been traced to the African section in London where he works and threatens to disrupt this precarious tranquility. Castle and younger colleague Davis make light of the resulting inquiry, but when Davis is accused on circumstantial evidence and quietly "disposed of", Castle begins to wrestle with questions of loyalty, morality and conscience. On the one hand, Castle undertakes his day-to-day job professionally, and is willing to do what is more than required for both Davis and Daintry, his boss. On the other hand, Castle is grateful to Carson, who, as a Communist, has helped Castle's wife escape South Africa. In return, Castle decides to help the Communists and believes that by helping them, he is helping his wife's people -- not knowing that Moscow has all along been using him for entirely different purposes.

Rather than action or high politics, the novel builds its suspense by focusing on the psychological burdens of the pawns in the game: doubt and paranoia bred by a culture of secrecy, the sophisticated amorality of the men at the top, and above all, loyalties (to whom and what and at what cost?) Greene's characters are complete psychological portraits located within the context of the Cold War and the impact of international affairs on the complicated lives of individuals and vice versa. The interplay of international politics on the individual level is a trademark of this author.

Major themes

In his 1980 autobiography Ways of Escape, Greene wrote that his aim with this book was "to write a novel of espionage free from the conventional violence, which has not, in spite of James Bond, been a feature of the British Secret Service. "I wanted to present the Service unromantically as a way of life, men going daily to their office to earn their pensions." Writing in his 70s, Greene drew on his own experience in MI6 and explored the moral ambiguities raised by his old boss, legendary Soviet double agent Kim Philby, although Greene stated that Castle, the main character in the novel, was not based on Philby.

Another theme Greene explored was what he considered the hypocrisy of the West's relations with South Africa under apartheid. He thought that even though the West publicly opposed apartheid, "they simply could not let South Africa succumb to black power and Communism" (from the Introduction to the 1982 edition of The Human Factor).

External links


  • 1992, The Human Factor, Everyman's Library, ISBN 0-679-40992-0


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