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Casino Royale | Themes

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Good versus Evil

James Bond grapples with the concept of good and evil following his torture by Le Chiffre. Prior to their encounter, he thought of himself as being one of the "good guys," but now he's not so sure. In the past he was able to justify his actions because his opponents were doing things that harmed Britain. His first kill was a Japanese man cracking British cipher codes. That was a direct threat to the empire, so Bond felt no remorse about shooting him. His next kill, a Norwegian double agent spying for the Germans, was much the same. Le Chiffre doesn't pose the same level of threat as those two men. His decision to embezzle money from his own party isn't a problem for the Western allies—some would even consider it a good thing. He's simply the lowest-hanging fruit available then when it comes to humiliating the Soviets. That doesn't sit right with Bond, nor does the idea some people wouldn't view Le Chiffre as evil at all. Communist sympathizers would think Le Chiffre is a hero for spreading communism to working-class northeastern France. To them Bond would be the villain. As he says to Mathis, "the villains and heroes get all mixed up."

Bond is used to seeing everything as black or white, good or bad. He approaches situations from his perspective of morality—is he upholding everything that's right and true? After his near-death experience, he isn't sure he's qualified to make that judgment. He isn't even sure if evil is a bad thing. He reasons Le Chiffre's "evil existence ... creat[ed] a norm of badness ... [so] an opposite norm of goodness could exist." Bond believes knowing Le Chiffre has made him and Mathis more virtuous, and therefore better, men. It's a complex world now.

Mathis thinks Bond's ideas are the ravings of a madman. His view of the world is influenced by something Bond doesn't have—personal relationships. The morality of an opponent's ideas or actions matters little when the lives of loved ones are at stake. He fights against communism because it is a threat to the Western way of life to which he and his family and friends are accustomed. He says he doesn't want SMERSH "running around France killing anyone they feel has been a traitor to their ... political system" and believes Bond would feel the same way if he had a wife, mistress, or children. By the end of the novel, Bond comes around to Mathis's way of thinking. Unlike Mathis's suggestion, however, as Ian Fleming creates him, he is protecting not just a person, but an entire way of life.

Masculinity

From his physical strength to the way he handles pain to his unquenchable desire for beautiful women, everything about James Bond screams "masculinity." That's by design. He believes men are naturally superior to women, and by that logic being uber-manly makes him the most superior specimen of all. He even goes so far as to shun anything remotely feminine, like flowers, relationships, and emotions. Those type of things, particularly the last two, expose an individual's vulnerability, which is a liability in a profession like his.

Bond's masculinity is inextricably linked to his active libido and desire for sex. In short his genitals are the control center of his feelings of manliness. The brutal flogging Le Chiffre administers to Bond's genitals is perhaps the worst thing he could do to a man whose virility is central to his sense of self. During that interminably painful session, Bond worries less about dying than about the lasting physical effects of the torture. Le Chiffre voices those same concerns on Bond's behalf, saying the worst part about such punishment is not the pain, but "the thought that your manhood is ... being destroyed" and when it is over, "you will no longer be a man."

Bond certainly feels that way when he wakes up in the hospital. He worries that he's impotent, which makes him reluctant to see Vesper. Feeling no sexual desire would be worse than death. When he does experience desire, it helps him feel more like a man—as does Vesper's visible need for comfort and reassurance. Her femininity—from her attractive appearance to her emotional fragility—restores his feeling of masculinity.

Misogyny

James Bond's masculinity and his misogyny go hand in hand in Casino Royale. Strictly speaking, misogyny refers to hatred of women, though it is commonly used to describe prejudice against women for no other reason than their gender. Bond's misogyny is well-known in the literary world. He thinks women "[are] for recreation," better suited for the bedroom than the office. They aren't smart or logical or strong, so they should "mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip." Even Vesper Lynd, whom Bond enjoys immensely, is viewed as little more than an adornment. When Bond asks Felix Leiter to accompany Vesper in the casino, he assures the CIA agent he "won't be ashamed of her. She's a good-looking girl." The three men involved in the mission, including Mathis, who hastens to describe her to Bond, value her almost entirely for her looks.

Though Vesper is a major character in Casino Royale, she really doesn't do anything. She exists solely as an object onto which Bond projects his desire. Even though she is a double agent and a major cause of Bond's problems, she is relegated to the role of love interest. The male villain, Le Chiffre, is larger than life. Though he barely speaks, his imposing presence and air of menace is felt throughout the first half of the book. Vesper, who can also be considered a villain for her treachery, is portrayed as a frightened girl who gets herself into trouble because of love. The presentation of Vesper comes from the point of view of the story's third-person narrator. He also believes a woman's appearance trumps all. He describes Miss Moneypenny as undesirable because of her eyes that are "cool and direct and quizzical." He, like Bond, has little appreciation for women beyond their roles as lovers and wives.

Some authors may specifically portray their characters as misogynists to highlight the unfairness of gender prejudice. That isn't the case with Ian Fleming. Casino Royale isn't satire, and it's not meant to provoke revelations about women's rights or equality. James Bond and Fleming's 12 novels about him are rather unthinking products of their time. Written between 1952 and 1964, they reflect the generalized low status of women then, and many commonly held beliefs about the differences between the sexes. That isn't to say Fleming's portrayal of female characters and men's thoughts about them were accepted blindly, which is also a common critique of the franchise's films. Many readers and critics derided the sexist attitudes found in Fleming's novels.

Power and Control

James Bond doesn't just like to be in control—he needs to be in control. It's both a matter of personal comfort and of staying alive. That's one of the reasons he prefers to work alone. When he receives word he will have a partner from the British Secret Service joining him on the operation, he is initially worried about getting someone disloyal to the service and "[e]ither stupid, [o]r, worse still, ambitious." A partner who wishes to impress the head of the organization may make flashy but poor decisions that put the success of the mission in peril, or, even worse, get him and his partner killed. Vesper Lynd's surprising reveal as a double agent proves Bond has a valid reason for these fears. Had he been the only representative of the British Secret Service on the mission, he wouldn't have been nearly tortured to death nor had his heart broken. When he works alone, Bond is able to control every aspect of the situation.

Being in control of every situation, whether it's personal or professional, puts Bond in a position of power. He likes the feeling of dominating the unconquerable. That's one of the reasons he takes such great pleasure in gambling. Beating the odds—and Le Chiffre—gives him an intoxicating sense of strength and invincibility. His success positions him as someone worthy of respect and admiration, and it instills fear in his opponents. Fear often equals submission, which allows him the control he desires.

Bond loves the moment when an opponent submits. It is an affirmation of his authority, and it's all the more satisfying when he has to fight for it. That's one of the reasons he's so drawn to Vesper. Her "arrogant spirit" is much like his, and he knows it will take work to break down her emotional walls. Even then, there will always be a part of her she keeps private. Bond finds that most arousing. Both at work and in romance he revels in giving chase, and with Vesper the chase will be constant. He believes the "conquest of her body ... would each time have the sweet tang of rape." Since he values power above nearly everything, Bond startlingly views rape in a positive light—not because he wants to harm Vesper, but because of the inherent power the rapist has over the person assaulted. It is control and physical dominance he craves.

International Relations

The plots of Casino Royale and many of Fleming's other James Bond novels may stem from the Western fear of communism during the 1950s and 60s. Formerly an ally during World War II, the Soviet Union was now the enemy of Britain, France, the United States, and other capitalist nations. Yet Fleming's first Cold War story focuses more on the relationships among the three major Western allies than on Britain's relationship with the Soviet Union.

Fleming champions Britain as the leader of the Allies. He depicts the relationships among the countries via characters of different nationalities. Mathis, representing France, does the mundane legwork of the operation. He checks aliases and acts as liaison between the French police, the Deuxième Bureau, and the British Secret Service. Felix Leiter, representing the United States, provides moral support and money. Bond, representing Britain, is the leader of the group. He is the key to the mission's success. The way Fleming writes it, Bond would probably be fine operating alone, but it's always good to have outside help as long as they know their place on the organizational ladder.

The real relationship between the United States and Britain wasn't as rosy as Fleming painted it. The ways in which the two nations were governed dictated certain ideological differences. Britain favored imperial rule, while the United States championed capitalistic democracy. Fleming takes a stand on this by positioning Bond (and therefore Britain) as the hero of the story. This suggests to readers that monarchal rule is normal, and perhaps even better, than the form of government across the Atlantic. James Bond doesn't just protect his country—he promotes it.

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