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A Close Friend or Humanity? In "The Third Man", Greene Chooses the Latter

Friendship is one of the most universal notions in human society.  It exists in all societies so that it is defined in various ways. Therefore, it lacks a firmly agreed and socially accepted criterion for what makes a person a friend. A friend in one setting might not meet the required criteria to be a friend in other settings.
The most frequently referred description of friendship is possibly the one drawn upon Aristotle’s conception suggesting that friendship entails three components: (1) friends should be fond of each other's company, (2) friends must be mutually useful, and (3) friends share a common commitment to the good. The first component indicates that friends like to be together. The second defines friends to support and develop one another. The third accentuates that friendship must be based on moral values because to promote the best for a friend requires morality-based judgment. In some settings, friendship can be defined only in terms of the first component. Other settings include the first and the second, and in some others, all the three are covered.
Despite its various interpretations, having friends is considered important for every individual. Having friends, people can share ideas and feelings and support one another. Friendship, therefore, opens the opportunities to develop common interests together and promote one another. Humphrey Jr. the 38th US Vice President, once said, “The greatest gift of life is friendship.” By having friends, particularly the close ones, we have some individuals who are always loyal and never leave when things get thorny or uncomfortable. 
Friendship is the major theme of Greene's The Third Man (1981), a novelette originally written as a preparatory document during the writing of a film script. The film was released with the same title in 1949. Narrated by Colonel Calloway, one of the characters, the novelette is written using the detective novel technique. It covers the inquest on Lime’s (one of the characters) death made by his friend Martins (the major character). The exposition of the truth about the death is used by Greene to reveal the theme of friendship.
The Third Man starts with the arrival of Rollo Martins, an English writer of cheap Westerns, in post-war Vienna, to meet his school friend Harry Lime, who has invited him to report on international refugees in Austria. On his arrival, Martins finds out that Lime has died in a traffic accident. At Lime’s funeral Colonel Calloway tells Martin that Lime was “the worst racketeer who ever made a dirty living in this city” (p. 30) and would have been arrested if he had not been deceased. Martins cannot accept Calloways’ accusation because for him Lime is a hero. He promises to prove the indictment is not true.
Martin starts his inquiry by visiting many people who witnessed the car accident and who had ever interacted with Martins. Based on the investigation, more and more information reveals that Lime was guilty of a very bad crime. He had workers in military hospitals steal penicillin and sold it at a great profit. To make bigger profit Lime began diluted liquid penicillin with water and penicillin dust with sand. The effects of the corrupted medicine are horrific: Many men and children died and many others have lost their legs and arms. Martin also sees some of the victims at the children’s hospital (p. 107). Though he has got much information and sees the victims of Lime's crime, Martins is still not convinced that Lime could do such evil. He thinks Lime was sacrificed by a gang. “They murdered him in case he talked when he was arrested.” (p. 110)
Continuing his inquiry, Martin finally finds that Lime is still alive. The body buried in Lime's funeral was another person. When they finally meet, Lime asks Martin to join him in his business. Although the business promises a big fortune, Martin refuses the proposal and even shots Lime. The novel ends with Lime's second funeral.
From the beginning, Martins is shown as a sincere, loving, and truthful friend of Lime, his best friend since their childhood. While attending Lime’s funeral, he shows a deep sorrow for the death of Lime. Calloway calls Martin’s grief a “genuine mourners with genuine tears” (p. 21) which is shown by “the tears of a boy ran down his thirty-five-year-old face.” (p. 13). Martin’s sincere love to Lime is supported by his presented through Calloway’s comment when they drive away from the cemetery: “As we drove away I noticed Martins never looked behind – it’s nearly always the fake mourners and the fake lovers who take the last look, who wait waving on the flatworms, instead of clearing quickly out, not looking back. It is perhaps that they love themselves in the sight of others, even of the dead?” (p. 22).
His love and trust to that close friend of his even drives Martins to worship Lime as a hero. When he is interrogated by Martin praises Lime as a “wonderful planner” (p. 24) who has a real wit that he “could have been a first composer if he had worked at it. (p. 25) and always puts him “wise to a lot of things” (p. 24).
Martin also trusts Lime so that he cannot believe in the Calloway’s accusation that Lime is involved in a bad racket. He even tries to attack Callaway and intends to make him black and blue. Being unable to hit Calloway as Paine, Calloway’s driver, has held him tightly, Martins swears he will prove the accusation is wrong and make Calloway looked like “the biggest bloody fool in Vienna.” (p. 27).
As a close friend, Martins is also loyal to Lime, as shown by the scene when he defends Lime and promises to prove Calloway’s accusation of Lime’s crime is wrong. Even when he begins to realize, after hearing Kurt’s admission, that Lime was indeed doing something illegal and sees the victims of Lime's crime in the children's hospital, Martin’s loyalty towards Lime is still steady. To Calloway, he defends Lime by arguing that racketeering is common in Vienna. Even high officials commit it. However, after getting more complete information and seeing the terrific disaster caused by Lime, Martins becomes very disappointed, although he still challenges Calloway to show the evidence of Harry Lime’s involvement. Calloway shows him some evidence, including a piece of Lime’s handwriting, and this makes Martins’ disappointed, disillusioned and hopeless. His inclination to defend Lime fades away and decides to return to England.
Ironically, it is the element of trust or confidence in the friendship that makes Lime departs from his hideout. Martins, who believes that if Harry still considers him a friend will come to see him, asks Kurtz to tell Lime that he wants to meet him. Harry comes to meet him and this enables the police to trap Lime. When they are alone, Lime cynically confesses to Martins that he diluted the penicillin for making greater profits: “Victims? … Don't be melodramatic, Rollo…Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving—forever? If I said you can have twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stops, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money—without hesitation? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax” (p. 136-137)
Hearing Lime’s confession, Martins is very shocked. How can Lime a mischievous school friend turned into a selfish and monstrous murderer who sees the people who died because of his racket are not victims but only nameless, faceless dots or numbers on money? Lime also tells him that he will not stop the racket even for humanism concerns: “In these days nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t, so why should we?” (p. 139). Realizing this, Martins decides to stop Lime by shooting him.
Martins’ decision to kill his close friend for stopping his horrific crime indicates his belief that humanism must be placed over friendship. This is used by Greene to emphasize that how close friendship maybe, it means nothing compared to the value of humanism.

Work Cited:
Greene, G. (1981).  The Third Man/The Fallen Idol. Penguin Books.

Author : Parlindungan Pardede (


  1. I would also choose humanity. The lives of many are more important than the lives of one. So I opted for divorce. Because the lives of my 4 children and my life is more important than the life and desires of my husband. If I had not done this, if I had not filed for divorce, then we would have suffered for many years. And now new roads and new opportunities are opening up before us.

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  4. There is no blood relation between friends. You choose one of the 10 people as your friend in your school, college and your working area. There is a society and human nature. Your blog is very nice. I also have some information about my friend which I am sharing with you. An Open Letter To The Best Friend On This National Best Friends Day

  5. Graham Greene's iconic novel, "The Third Man", explores the moral dilemmas faced by the protagonist, Holly Martins, as he uncovers the corruption and betrayal in post-war Vienna. Through the gripping narrative, Greene emphasizes the importance of choosing humanity over personal loyalties.

    In, our focus lies in providing quality divorce services. However, it is essential to recognize the broader lessons that literature offers. "The Third Man" reminds us of the significance of upholding moral values and standing up for what is right, even when faced with difficult choices.

    Greene's work serves as a timeless reminder that our actions and decisions should prioritize the greater good and humanity as a whole. By aligning ourselves with compassion and integrity, we can contribute to a more just and empathetic society.


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