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Morality In Graham Greene's "I Spy"

1134 words - 5 pages

As World War I raged about Europe, Great Britain took every measure available to ensure the war didn't spread into their own backyard. Their army was doing fine fighting elsewhere in France and Germany, but as William I proved in 1066, when you invade England, it's not the English that win. Britons lived in constant fear of a takeover by the German "huns," and this fear inspired Graham Greene to comment on morality in man in his short story, "I Spy." Greene explains, through the conflict that his protagonists suffer, that sometimes society's morals are artificially removed, for example in a time of war in which the object is to kill as many people as possible that aren't on your side. In ...view middle of the document...

Stowe became a spy because he was a tobacconist (specializing in imports from Turkey, a WW-I ally of Germany), or whether he became a tobacconist because he was a spy (providing a common gathering place, making it easy to pass information or items back and forth). It is clear, however, from Charlie's memories of his father fortifying himself with proverbs and muttering to himself, that he may not have wanted to hold his traitorous occupation. Both Charlie's and his father's society's morals have been removed, Charlie's by his schoolmates and Mr. Stowe, probably, by German spies coercing him to join their ranks. Both of them know they are doing wrong and, though they display their fear differently, are frightened nonetheless about what might happen if they don't do their respective tasks.The imagery in "I Spy" also helps show the central idea of fear. Throughout the story, light is represented as a danger of being caught, and each time Charlie shies away from the light. The candle in his mother's room, the spotlights sweeping the windows of the shop, and the policeman's flashlight all provide threats to Charlie's mission of stealing a cigarette. In addition, the nature of the shop itself lends itself to intrigue and fear. The phrase "smoke-filled room" traditionally stirs feelings of clandestine deals and surreptitious secrets, and this room is no different. The apprehension is almost as visible as the smoke in this room of shadowy transactions. Imagery, in addition to showing lack of morals, contrasts it by showing pillars of morality and fortitude, the two agents accompanying Mr. Stowe. With their identical suits, bowlers, and mackintoshes, these government agents, presumably from the British MI-5, represent those that do not have to make decisions for themselves and have their code of morality laid before them.Finally, the setting of "I Spy" does a great deal to support the central idea of having to choose ones moral decisions. This is Great Britain in the early twentieth century, when the last remnants of the British Empire are being swept away and global warfare is everyone's biggest fear. Britain is also coming off its "jingoism"...

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