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

Parlindungan Pardede


Universitas kristen Indonesia

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 …

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