Jason Bourne is lots and lots and lots of people. So many people he can't even keep them all straight. "He's stretched to the point where he may not even know who he is any longer," as one fellow comments (34.11). The doctor who first helps him out thinks that Bourne has lost his memory because he got shot in the head and dumped into the sea, but since there were so many people living in his head even pre-amnesia, we wonder if he just got fed up one day and told everybody to get out—leaving him confused, maybe, but less crowded.
But then they all come pushing back in again, and he has to sort them. So do we. You can't tell all the people in your head without a scorecard, so we here at Shmoop have decided to provide one.
(Oh, and total spoilers ahead, ladies and gents.)
David Webb—This is supposed to be the real, the true, the absolute real Jason Bourne. "David Webb" is the name he was born with, and it's the name you'll find if you flip through all the pages and finally arrive at the end of the book. David Webb was a Foreign Service Officer whose Thai wife and child were killed in Cambodia by a rogue aircraft. Webb was filled with rage and grief, and so he became…
Delta—Delta was the code name Webb used when he joined operation Medusa, a U.S. intelligence paramilitary unit operating in North Vietnam during Vietnam War. Medusa was filled with dangerous men, but Delta became known as the baddest of the baddest—cold, lethal, efficient, driven, and contemptuous of command. On one particularly difficult and brutal mission, Delta led his team into North Vietnam to rescue his brother, Gordon Webb. He succeeded, but only after serious casualties, caused in large part by a traitor on the mission. That traitor was…
Jason Bourne—The original Bourne was an Australian criminal and all-around scumbag. A member of operation Medusa who worked the radio, he betrayed his team to the Viet Cong. When he found out, Delta executed Bourne on the spot, because that's just what Delta is like. Years later, though, Webb/Delta became involved in Treadstone, a covert operation aimed at bringing down the international assassin Carlos. Webb took on the name Jason Bourne and had sneaky spy facial surgery in order to become the assassin…
Cain—As Cain, Webb/Delta/Bourne took credit for multiple assassinations in an effort to make Carlos think he had competition and draw him out. Cain was irritating Carlos pretty well until one day when he was ambushed by some thugs in the Mediterranean who shot him, threw him overboard, and turned him into…
Anonymous Dude—Okay, so Ludlum does not actually call him anonymous dude. But for the first bit of the novel, Webb/Delta/Bourne/Cain has no name, and is just referred to as "the patient" or "the man" or, best of all, "Jean-Pierre," a name he's given by his doctor Geoffrey Washburn because... well... because he has to be called something. And so the novel involves anonymous dude piecing together everyone else who he is, from Bourne to Cain to Delta to Webb. And when he's done, he probably just wants to forget them all again.
So one of Bourne's problems is that he's too many people. But another of his problems is that he's nobody at all. The second problem—being nobody—is, of course, a result of his amnesia. But it also seems to follow logically from the first problem. If you're all these different dudes, then who are you? If Bourne is a chameleon who can disguise himself and blend into the background, he also actually is the disguise and the background. You can't see him because he's not there. Being everyone means being no one.
Being everyone and no one is a trait Bourne shares with Carlos, and that's a little bit scary, since Carlos is such a nasty character. Is there something inherently bad about constantly disguising yourself and deceiving others? In this book, it tends to lead to murder and suffering, as if erasing your own identity makes it easier to see other people and meaningless clones whose lives aren't important.
We know that Bourne is a "good" character, but does that make the fact the goes around killing people and putting others in danger okay? Even if it's for the purpose of getting rid of someone as nasty and dangerous as Carlos? What if the purpose is just revenge? Does it mean anything that Bourne's assumed identity (the real Bourne was a traitor-assassin) was pretty vile? Ludlum isn't going to give us any answers, but we shouldn't forget that things aren't so black-and-white as they seem.
At the end of the novel, psychiatrist Mo Panov says that Bourne is "a functioning microcosm of us all.I mean, we're all trying to find out who the hell we are, aren't we?" (Epilogue.43). Bourne is a stand-in for the reader: he's everyman, on a quest to be someone (as we discuss in our "Why Should I Care?" section).In a way, he's sort of like literary wish fulfillment for the reader: he's smart, he's sexy, he's unkillable, and he can do everything.
But somehow all those things don't create an individual person: without his memory, Bourne is just a collection of skills and plot devices. He might be the most multifarious character who ever wasn't there. Even with his memory, he has to face the fact that his whole identity for the past ten years has been a series of elaborate deceptions.
At the end of the novel, Ludlum leaves us with hope that Bourne will become himself again, but he's made us think about what it means to be an individual rather than just a collection of abilities and traits.