The Bourne Identity | Study Guide

Robert Ludlum

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The Bourne Identity | Book 1, Chapter 1 | Summary



Book 1, Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the protagonist, Jason Bourne. Eventually, Bourne will have many known aliases, but he is unnamed for the first few chapters. Readers first encounter him on a fishing ship in the stormy Mediterranean Sea. Two explosions ring out, and Bourne bursts from the cabin of the ship, clutching his stomach. A gunman exits the cabin and fires repeatedly at Bourne, who falls overboard. Resisting death, he grabs a piece of debris floating in the water.

At dawn the skipper of a small fishing boat sees Jason Bourne in the water and pulls him to safety. His injuries are shocking—gunshot wounds are almost the least of them. As he examines the dying Bourne, the fisherman notices his eyes have changed from gray to blue. He brings the stranger to Ile de Port Noir and to Dr. Geoffrey Washburn, an Englishman, and a drunk, but he is the nearest doctor and the only hope for Bourne's survival.

A month passes. This morning, like every morning, Dr. Washburn has a hangover. His patient has not regained consciousness since his arrival. Finally, the man speaks—in lucid English. However, when Washburn asks his name, he has perfect amnesia.

As the weeks go by, doctor and patient attempt to plumb the mystery. The man is good-looking, is Caucasian, and talks in his sleep in English, French, and an Asian language. Other mysteries: according to the doctor, the stranger's eyes indicate that he's worn contact lenses even though his vision is perfect. The doctor can also tell he's had appearance-altering plastic surgery. Strangest of all, the doctor has extracted a photographic negative that had been surgically embedded in the man's hip. The negative contains the name Gemeinschaft Bank, the location in Zurich, and an account number.


The first chapter sets up The Bourne Identity's central thematic questions. Who is the man who does not know his own name? Can he possibly be a moral person, of good character? Given his amnesia, will he be capable of making decisions on instinct alone? Throughout the novel many characters will choose to trust Jason Bourne, based on his gut decisions and reactions. As much as he is a killing machine, he is also childlike and innocent.

Ludlum also uses this first chapter to introduce the novel's general setting and pace. This story will take place primarily in Europe, specifically France, Switzerland, and the Mediterranean. The story will move quickly, with clues, information, and characters coming up and dropping out at a sometimes confusingly fast rate. The story is told mostly from a close third-person perspective, and the reader will rarely know more than the protagonist himself.

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