The Secret Agent Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis | LitCharts

The Secret Agent

by

Joseph Conrad

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The Secret Agent: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Professor walks along feeling mildly disappointed by the news of the failed bombing yet hopeful that the next one will strike a more consequential blow. The Professor is an ambitious man who always dreamed of rising from poverty to affluence—and when his dreams were thwarted, he came to believe that the world’s systems were corrupt. In his vengeance, he finds a measure of power and prestige.
A little insight is given into The Professor’s background—he wasn’t always so indifferent to social norms. In fact, he used to want to make a name for himself, but he came to believe that the world was against him. By standing apart from society’s systems and rules, he now feels that he’s accomplished something.
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
Related Quotes
As The Professor walks among the London crowds, he feels a stab of fear. Occasionally, he doubts that humankind can truly be moved. As he cuts through an alley, he is suddenly met by Chief Inspector Heat of the Special Crimes Department, a man with a drooping a mustache, an overcoat, and an umbrella. The Professor looks at the Inspector menacingly; in his mind, the Inspector represents the forces of “law, property, oppression, and injustice.”
For The Professor, ultimate success includes persuading the masses, and he fears that this goal is too formidable. As if to reinforce his doubts, a policeman, symbol of everything The Professor rejects—“law, property, oppression, and injustice”—stumbles on him at this precise moment.
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Chief Inspector Heat, a so-called “expert in anarchist procedure,” has had a difficult day. A week ago, he had told a high official that there would be no outbreaks of anarchist activity. A wiser man would not have made such a confident statement, but Inspector Heat knew what his superiors wanted to hear and was ambitious for promotion. Unfortunately, when confronted with the news of the explosion that morning, he had displayed his surprise quite obviously in front of the Assistant Commissioner.
Inspector Heat is mainly concerned about self-advancement. Today’s surprising event suggests that Heat’s expertise in anarchist activities doesn’t match his title, as he failed to foresee the bombing. The reader, however, can infer that anarchist weren’t actually responsible—if Verloc really was the bomber, the event was only staged to look like the work of anarchists.
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
During his investigation that morning, Chief Inspector Heat had been shocked, nearly sickened, by the appearance of the terrorist’s remains. Though the terrorist seemingly died instantly, Heat can’t imagine that there was no suffering. The constable on the scene had told Heat that two men had emerged from the Underground, with the slighter man carrying a can of varnish in one hand. The constable figures that the culprit must have stumbled over a tree root, with the bomb exploding directly underneath him. Overcoming his horror, Inspector Heat takes a relatively clean piece of broadcloth from the heap of remains, examines it at the window, and stuffs it in his pocket—it’s a clue.
From the details of the case, it emerges that two men were involved in the Greenwich Observatory bombing attempt. Ossipon believes that Verloc was responsible, but at this point, it’s a mystery as to who the second man was who tripped and fell. The scrap of a coat pocketed by Inspector Heat will be a key to solving this part of the mystery.
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
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It was under these circumstances that Chief Inspector Heat had come upon The Professor. He hadn’t been thinking about anarchists at the time. Heat used to specialize in thieving, a crime which wasn’t so chaotic—it was, at least, done for a reason. Inspector Heat felt that he could understand a burglar’s mind, and, in a way, they overlapped with the instincts of a police officer. Thieves weren’t rebels, and they submitted grudgingly to the moral order that Inspector Heat represented.
Inspector Heat’s old job made more sense to him because thieving involves logical motives and planning—even when committing crimes, thieves acknowledged the basic legitimacy of the law. Anarchists, on the other hand, reject and resist the law’s legitimacy. Ironically, Heat’s thoughts support The Professor’s earlier comments about revolution and legality being two sides of the same coin.
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Caught off guard, Chief Inspector Heat tells The Professor that he is not presently wanted for a crime, and that when the Inspector desires to arrest him, he will know where to find him. The Professor laughs derisively at this and tells the Inspector that when that day comes, he supposes that the Inspector’s friends would do their best to sort out the two men’s remains. He also taunts Heat that, in this sheltered alley, it would be the perfect opportunity to put a stop to him with minimal loss of life. Chief Inspector Heat manages not to show how much this rattles him. He warns The Professor that, in the end, the police will be too much for The Professor and his kind. The Professor, who hates the reminder that he is one against many, is somewhat intimidated by this. Heat, on the other hand, walks off feeling heartened.
If Chief Inspector Heat really wanted to put an end to The Professor, this would be the ideal place to do it. His hesitation shows that there are things more important to Heat than stopping The Professor (like his own life). The Professor’s mockery of Heat is diminished, however, by the reminder that The Professor is vastly outnumbered. Even though he claims to be detached from all norms and to only care about for destruction, The Professor does hate to be reminded of his weakness.
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
Right now, Chief Inspector Heat’s biggest problem is dealing with his superior, the Assistant Commissioner, who tells him that the whereabouts of all known anarchists are presently accounted for. Inspector Heat tells his superior what he learned during his investigation, including his opinion that there were two men involved.
Earlier today, Inspector Heat was embarrassed in front of the Assistant Commissioner because the bombing caught him, a supposed expert, off guard. Inspector Heat now hopes to redeem himself in his superior’s eyes.
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
The Assistant Commissioner considers this as he looks out at the miserable London rain. The Assistant Commissioner dislikes his job because he is so reliant on subordinates and so burdened by the pressures of public opinion. At the moment, he doubts Chief Inspector Heat’s informant, the old woman who saw two men emerge from the underground; they hailed from an unlikely country station. But Inspector Heat points out that Michaelis stays in a cottage in that rural neighborhood. At the mention of Michaelis, the Assistant Commissioner forgets about his usual evening card game at his club, and he feels a renewed interest in the whole situation.
Though there’s no clear motive as yet, Heat is able to tie the eyewitness’s clues to a known member of Verloc’s revolutionary circle, Michaelis. This piques the Assistant Commissioner’s interest, suggesting that he’ll be willing to follow Inspector Heat’s lead despite the latter’s professional failure.
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon