Casino Royale | Study Guide

Ian Fleming

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Casino Royale | Chapter 20 : The Nature of Evil | Summary



James Bond is recovering nicely when Mathis visits him in the hospital three days later. There has been no sign of the man from SMERSH. Bond tells Mathis about the inverted "M" carved onto his bandaged hand. It's the Russian letter for "SH," which labels him as shpion, or spy. He knows M. will order him to have plastic surgery when he returns to London; but it's of little concern, as he has decided to resign.

Mathis is aghast. Bond tells Mathis he rather likes being alive, and he doesn't want to "pla[y] Red Indians" anymore. When he was young, it was easier to tell right from wrong, "but as one gets older it becomes more difficult." He tells Mathis about the two men he killed to earn his Double O distinction. They were both villains and he was the hero. But in this situation, "the hero Le Chiffre" tried to "kill the villain Bond and the villain Bond knows he isn't a villain at all." The longer he is a Double O, the more confusing the roles become, particularly when communism is thrown into the equation.

After some teasing from Mathis, Bond goes on a diatribe about good and evil and why Le Chiffre may have been "serving a wonderful purpose" by creating a badness against which goodness could be measured. Mathis jokes about committing "some juicy sin" of his own, then wonders what happens to a man's conscience when he makes such a choice. Mathis cautions Bond when he returns to London, he "will find there are other Le Chiffres seeking to destroy [him] ... and his country." Now that Bond has seen "a really evil man," he will want to destroy them all to protect himself and those he loves. It will be even easier to do so if he falls in love. Mathis jokes, "Don't let me down and become human yourself. We would lose such a wonderful machine."


Le Chiffre's jab about "playing Red Indians" really got to Bond, and it makes him reconsider what exactly he's doing with his life. Who is he to say who is good and who is bad? Le Chiffre was a hero to many in northeastern France. Had they known Bond was going after him, they would have considered Bond a villain. But how can he be a villain when the people at home think he's a hero? It all comes down to perspective. People on your side are good, while people on the other side are bad. At least that's how it was for Bond when he started in the intelligence service. Now he understands in the 1950s there are shades of gray that can't be as easily defined.

The other problem with his job is the constantly changing political environment. Had Bond lived 50 years earlier, the British conservatism of the moment "would have been damn near called communism," the West's natural enemy. What was "wrong" 50 years ago is suddenly OK today. That doesn't make sense to Bond, who has relied on his rigid sense of morals and duty to the British Empire to assure him he is in the right. His fears of being "the bad guy" result in a crisis of conscious and his desire to leave the service altogether.

Even his notions of good and evil are becoming confused. Bond argues he shouldn't be stopping the bad guys because evil is necessary so goodness can exist in contrast. When Mathis jokingly suggests evil should be encouraged so goodness can flourish, readers see Bond isn't that far gone. However, he's still questioning the necessity of his profession and whether he has hurt humankind more than he has helped.

All of Bond's ruminations seem humorous to Mathis, who is most likely older and more experienced than Bond. He disagrees with Bond's new outlook because he has something Bond doesn't: personal relationships. He works for the French intelligence bureau to protect his loved ones, not because he's trying to uphold some moral ideal. Bond, on the other hand, doesn't really have any loved ones. A notorious bachelor and loner, he fights for principles. Mathis fights for people. He believes Bond would be better served in his career by forming a personal relationship worth fighting for.

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