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[9] A Burnt-Out Case – Graham Greene

Graham Greene often strikes readers as being a prolific writer of genre novels. In an unreaderly time, it’s amazing that his works still arouse responses of curiosity, attention, and debate to an extent that is deeper than what entertainment novels usually ensue. Reflecting the style of many other works, Greene invests in A Burnt-Out Case a moral dilemma that gives it an edge of seriousness and a whiff of suspense. Combining his rich travel experience with a style of the utmost calm, lucidity and simplicity, A BURNT-OUT CASE concerns a man who escapes life and his successful career as an architect and seeks refuge in a Congo leproserie.

Querry is emotionally marooned – he suffers from nothing and loses touch with love, sentiment, and suffering. Humanity has no grabble on him. He is diagnosed as the mental equivalent of a burnt-out leprosy case, a leper who has undergone mutilation before he can be cured. Querry arrives anonymously and discreetly at the village looking for meaning in life. He might have lost his capacity to love but his scruple retains. The ex-architect has plunged to the bottom of his life (to the point of no return) when he realizes for his entire life he has not loved. The remorse in him motivates to come in terms with suffering, for suffering is the only measure one has to put himself in touch with the whole human condition.

A Burnt-Out Case strives to make a daring connection between failure to love and religious hypocrisy. Querry realizes his lack of love and he cannot even pretend that what he has been feeling in life is love. The motives for work, life, or anything, fail him and the ultimate crisis settles in: his life has been deprived of meaning. The moment he perceives the emptiness he has been lifted off the pit and is spurred toward love and good deeds. What Greene strives to convey is that one who has found love no longer has to elaborate that love to others. The novel subtly ridicules the absurdity in which Christianity would always presume and appropriate man’s love and attribute man’s good deeds to Christian love. So Christianity takes credit for all the good fruits and leave behind the evil doings. This blunt denial of any good that exists outside of Christian faith engenders hypocrisy.

A Burnt-Out Case therefore affords an audacious (but valid) claim that is possible for a man of intelligence, modesty, honesty, and remorse to make his life without a god. The claim adumbrates a borderline existentialist tenet, which believes in an individualism that is free from any social and external influence in order to achieve autonomous decision-making in life and ultimately giving a tight grip on one’s fate. The beauty of the novel lies in the fact that it does man’s volition justice through Querry’s transformation to love labor. The novel neither scorns Christianity nor the deeds impelled by the religious faith, but it expounds love that is purely humane and love that is not institutionalized or labeled.

The struggle between hypocrisy and pure love becomes very evident as the underlying pride, deceit, and bitterness culminate in a riotous violence that jolts the quiet village. The novel exposes what most religious people do not wish to confront: the re-examination, and possibly the renewal of love at the painfully unbearable realization of the cruel truth that they do not love despite all the scrupulous church-going and the lip worship. For such philosophical terrain the novel seeks to tackle, Graham Greene had accomplished more than an entertainment novel.

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