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The Honorary Consul: A Comprehensive Summary of Graham Greene’s Masterpiece

The Honorary Consul: A Comprehensive Summary of Graham Greene’s Masterpiece

Graham Greene’s “The Honorary Consul” is a masterpiece that explores the themes of love, betrayal, and political intrigue. Set in a small town in Argentina, the novel tells the story of a British consul who is kidnapped by revolutionaries and held for ransom. In this article, we provide a comprehensive summary of the novel, highlighting its key themes and characters. Whether you’re a fan of Greene’s work or simply interested in exploring a classic piece of literature, this article is sure to provide valuable insights into “The Honorary Consul.”

Plot Summary

The Honorary Consul is a novel by Graham Greene that tells the story of a British consul, Charles Fortnum, who is kidnapped by a group of revolutionaries in Argentina. The kidnappers mistake Fortnum for the American ambassador and demand the release of their comrades in exchange for his freedom. Meanwhile, Dr. Eduardo Plarr, a half-English, half-Argentinean doctor, becomes involved in the situation when he falls in love with Fortnum’s wife, Clara. As the negotiations for Fortnum’s release become more complicated, Plarr finds himself torn between his love for Clara and his duty to help the revolutionaries. The novel explores themes of love, loyalty, and betrayal in the midst of political turmoil.


The Honorary Consul is set in the fictional town of Corrientes, Argentina, during the 1970s. The town is located near the Paraguay border and is known for its hot and humid climate. The setting plays a significant role in the novel as it reflects the political and social unrest of the time. The town is portrayed as a place where corruption and violence are rampant, and the government is struggling to maintain control. The river that runs through the town is also a crucial element of the setting, as it serves as a symbol of the divide between the wealthy and the poor. Overall, the setting of The Honorary Consul is a crucial aspect of the novel, as it helps to create a sense of tension and unease that permeates throughout the story.

Main Characters

The Honorary Consul features a cast of complex and intriguing characters, each with their own motivations and desires. The main protagonist is Dr. Eduardo Plarr, a half-English, half-Paraguayan doctor who is torn between his loyalty to his country and his desire for a better life in England. He is a man of contradictions, both compassionate and selfish, and his journey throughout the novel is one of self-discovery and redemption. Other key characters include the titular Honorary Consul, Charley Fortnum, a bumbling and naive Englishman who finds himself caught up in a dangerous political plot, and the enigmatic Colonel Perez, a ruthless government official who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. Together, these characters form a complex web of relationships and conflicts that drive the plot forward and keep readers on the edge of their seats.


One of the central themes of Graham Greene’s “The Honorary Consul” is the clash between the individual and society. The novel explores the struggles of its protagonist, Dr. Eduardo Plarr, as he navigates his identity as a half-English, half-Argentinean man living in a politically unstable South American country. Plarr’s attempts to remain neutral and detached from the political turmoil around him are constantly challenged by the expectations and demands of those around him, including his lover, Clara, and the British consul, Charley Fortnum. As the novel progresses, Plarr is forced to confront the consequences of his actions and the impact they have on both himself and those around him. Through Plarr’s journey, Greene highlights the complexities of individual agency in the face of societal pressures and the difficulty of maintaining a sense of self in a world that constantly seeks to define and categorize us.


One of the most prominent motifs in Graham Greene’s “The Honorary Consul” is the theme of identity. Throughout the novel, the characters struggle with their sense of self and their place in the world. This is particularly evident in the character of Dr. Eduardo Plarr, who is torn between his English upbringing and his South American heritage. Plarr’s identity crisis is further complicated by his profession as a doctor, which requires him to navigate the complex social and political landscape of his country. Another important motif in the novel is the theme of betrayal. Many of the characters in “The Honorary Consul” are forced to make difficult choices that ultimately lead to betrayal and heartbreak. This is particularly evident in the character of Charley Fortnum, who is betrayed by his own government and left to suffer the consequences of their actions. Overall, the motifs in “The Honorary Consul” serve to deepen the novel’s themes and provide a rich and complex portrait of the human experience.


Symbols play a significant role in Graham Greene’s masterpiece, “The Honorary Consul.” One of the most prominent symbols in the novel is the river. The river represents the divide between the two countries, Argentina and Paraguay, and the characters’ struggle to cross it symbolizes their struggle to overcome their differences and find common ground. Another symbol is the statue of the Virgin Mary, which represents the characters’ faith and hope for redemption. The statue also serves as a reminder of the characters’ mortality and the inevitability of death. These symbols add depth and meaning to the novel, making it a rich and complex work of literature.

Style and Tone

In “The Honorary Consul,” Graham Greene’s style and tone are both distinct and effective in conveying the complex themes of the novel. Greene’s prose is concise and precise, with a focus on character development and the exploration of moral ambiguity. The tone is often melancholic, reflecting the bleakness of the characters’ lives and the harsh realities of the political climate in which they live. However, there are also moments of humor and irony, which serve to lighten the mood and provide a contrast to the darker themes. Overall, Greene’s style and tone are integral to the success of “The Honorary Consul” as a literary masterpiece.

Narrative Structure

The narrative structure of “The Honorary Consul” is complex and multi-layered, reflecting the novel’s themes of identity, betrayal, and redemption. The story is told from multiple perspectives, with each chapter focusing on a different character’s point of view. This allows Greene to explore the inner lives of his characters in depth, revealing their motivations, fears, and desires.

At the heart of the novel is the relationship between the two main characters, Dr. Eduardo Plarr and the titular Honorary Consul, Charley Fortnum. Plarr is a half-English, half-Argentine doctor who is struggling to find his place in the world, while Fortnum is a washed-up alcoholic who has been given the honorary title of consul in a small town in Argentina. When Fortnum is kidnapped by a group of revolutionaries, Plarr becomes embroiled in a dangerous plot to rescue him.

The novel’s narrative structure is non-linear, with flashbacks and flash-forwards used to reveal the characters’ backstories and to foreshadow future events. This creates a sense of tension and suspense, as the reader is constantly trying to piece together the various threads of the story.

Overall, the narrative structure of “The Honorary Consul” is a testament to Greene’s skill as a storyteller. By weaving together multiple perspectives and timelines, he creates a rich and complex portrait of a world in turmoil.

Historical Context

The Honorary Consul, published in 1973, is set in the fictional city of Corrientes, Argentina, during the early 1970s. This was a time of political turmoil in Argentina, with the country being ruled by a military dictatorship. The novel reflects the political and social climate of the time, with references to the Dirty War, a period of state terrorism in which thousands of people were kidnapped, tortured, and killed by the government. The novel also explores themes of identity, loyalty, and betrayal, as the characters navigate their personal relationships against the backdrop of political upheaval. Greene’s portrayal of Argentina and its people is nuanced and complex, reflecting his deep understanding of the country and its history. The Honorary Consul is a powerful work of fiction that offers a unique perspective on a pivotal moment in Argentine history.

Critical Reception

The Honorary Consul has received mixed reviews from critics. While some have praised the novel for its intricate plot and complex characters, others have criticized it for its slow pacing and lack of action. Some have also taken issue with the portrayal of Latin American culture and politics, arguing that it perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Despite these criticisms, The Honorary Consul remains a beloved work of literature and a testament to Graham Greene’s skill as a storyteller.


One of the most notable adaptations of “The Honorary Consul” is the 1983 film adaptation directed by John Mackenzie. The film starred Michael Caine as the titular character, Dr. Eduardo Plarr, and Richard Gere as the American ambassador, Charley Fortnum. Despite receiving mixed reviews, the film was praised for its performances and its faithful adaptation of the novel’s themes and plot. Another adaptation of the novel was a stage play adaptation by Christopher Hampton, which premiered in London in 1984. The play was also well-received and was praised for its strong performances and its ability to capture the novel’s complex themes and characters. Overall, “The Honorary Consul” has proven to be a popular source material for adaptations, and its themes of love, betrayal, and political intrigue continue to resonate with audiences today.

Analysis of the Title

The title of Graham Greene’s novel, “The Honorary Consul,” is a significant aspect of the book’s overall meaning. The title refers to the main character, Dr. Eduardo Plarr, who is an honorary consul for a fictional South American country. The term “honorary” suggests that Plarr’s position is not a formal one, but rather a title given to him as a sign of respect or gratitude. This title is important because it highlights Plarr’s ambiguous status in the novel. He is not a citizen of the country he represents, nor is he fully accepted by the British community in which he lives. This sense of displacement and uncertainty is a central theme of the novel, and the title serves as a reminder of Plarr’s complex identity. Additionally, the term “consul” suggests a diplomatic role, which is fitting given the novel’s focus on political intrigue and international relations. Overall, the title of “The Honorary Consul” is a fitting and thought-provoking choice that encapsulates many of the novel’s key themes and ideas.

Religious and Philosophical References

Throughout Graham Greene’s masterpiece, “The Honorary Consul,” there are numerous religious and philosophical references that add depth and complexity to the story. One of the most prominent religious references is the recurring theme of redemption. The main character, Dr. Eduardo Plarr, is haunted by his past mistakes and seeks redemption through his relationship with the Honorary Consul, Charley Fortnum. Similarly, Fortnum’s wife, Clara, is a devout Catholic who finds solace in her faith and seeks redemption for her own past mistakes.

Another religious reference in the novel is the presence of Catholicism in the South American setting. The Catholic Church is a powerful institution in the region and plays a significant role in the lives of the characters. The local priest, Father Rivas, is a complex character who struggles with his faith and his duty to the Church. His interactions with Plarr and Fortnum highlight the tension between religion and morality in the novel.

In addition to religious references, “The Honorary Consul” also explores philosophical themes such as the nature of identity and the human condition. Plarr, who is half-English and half-Argentinean, grapples with his sense of belonging and his place in the world. The novel also touches on the themes of love, betrayal, and the consequences of one’s actions.

Overall, the religious and philosophical references in “The Honorary Consul” add depth and richness to the story, elevating it from a simple tale of political intrigue to a complex exploration of the human experience.

Moral Ambiguity

In “The Honorary Consul,” Graham Greene explores the theme of moral ambiguity through the character of Dr. Eduardo Plarr. Plarr, a half-English, half-Paraguayan doctor, finds himself caught in a web of political intrigue and personal relationships that challenge his sense of right and wrong. As the story unfolds, Plarr is forced to make difficult choices that blur the lines between good and evil, leaving the reader to question the nature of morality itself. Greene’s masterful portrayal of Plarr’s inner turmoil and the complex world in which he lives makes “The Honorary Consul” a thought-provoking exploration of the human condition.

Political Critique

In “The Honorary Consul,” Graham Greene offers a scathing critique of political corruption and the impact it has on individuals caught in its web. The novel is set in a fictional South American country, where the British honorary consul, Dr. Eduardo Plarr, becomes embroiled in a kidnapping plot orchestrated by a group of revolutionaries. As the story unfolds, Greene exposes the complex web of relationships between the various characters, revealing the ways in which political power and personal ambition can corrupt even the most well-intentioned individuals. Through his vivid descriptions of the country’s political landscape and the characters’ struggles to navigate it, Greene offers a powerful commentary on the dangers of unchecked political power and the importance of individual agency in the face of oppression. Ultimately, “The Honorary Consul” is a masterful work of political critique that remains as relevant today as it was when it was first published.

Greene’s Writing Career

Graham Greene’s writing career spanned over six decades, during which he produced some of the most iconic works of literature. He was a prolific writer, with over 25 novels, numerous short stories, plays, and essays to his name. Greene’s writing style was characterized by his ability to blend suspense, intrigue, and moral ambiguity, making his works both entertaining and thought-provoking. His novels often explored themes of faith, politics, and morality, and his characters were complex and flawed, making them relatable to readers. The Honorary Consul is one of Greene’s most celebrated works, and it showcases his mastery of the craft. The novel is a gripping tale of love, betrayal, and political intrigue set against the backdrop of Argentina’s turbulent political landscape. Greene’s writing in The Honorary Consul is both evocative and insightful, and it is a testament to his skill as a writer.

Comparisons to Other Greene Novels

When comparing “The Honorary Consul” to other novels by Graham Greene, one can see similarities in themes and motifs. For example, the idea of the protagonist being caught in a web of political intrigue and corruption is present in many of Greene’s works, such as “The Quiet American” and “Our Man in Havana.” Additionally, the exploration of morality and the human condition is a recurring theme in Greene’s writing, which is evident in “The Power and the Glory” and “The End of the Affair.” However, “The Honorary Consul” stands out for its unique setting in Argentina and its examination of the relationship between the British and Latin American cultures. Overall, while “The Honorary Consul” shares similarities with other Greene novels, it is a distinct and compelling work in its own right.

Significance in Literature

Graham Greene’s “The Honorary Consul” is a masterpiece that holds significant value in literature. The novel explores themes of love, betrayal, and redemption, all while providing a commentary on political and social issues of the time. Greene’s writing style is both poetic and poignant, drawing readers in with his vivid descriptions and complex characters. The novel’s exploration of the human condition and the consequences of our actions make it a timeless piece of literature that continues to resonate with readers today. Overall, “The Honorary Consul” is a must-read for anyone interested in exploring the complexities of the human experience through the lens of masterful storytelling.