Study Guide

The Bourne Identity Mortality and Death

By Robert Ludlum

Mortality and Death

"Look!" cried the crewman. "Look at his eyes." "What about them?" asked the brother. "A moment ago they were gray—as grey as steel cables. Now they're blue!" "The sun's brighter," said the skipper, shrugging. "Or it's playing tricks with your own eyes. No matter, there's no color in the grave." (1.43-46)

If Bourne's chameleon eyes are no color, and there's no color in the grave, then Bourne's a dead man. When he rises again, he's a kind of zombie—it's the dead dispensing death. Every time Bourne shoots someone, imagine that instead he eats their brains.

Someone who thought he was dead —wanted him dead—knew he was alive. (3.148)

Seeing someone alive means wanting that person dead. Here, this logic is applied to Bourne, but it works throughout the novel, where thugs pop up andreveal themselves to be alive, only to be immediately targeted for death. Certain lives area kind of challenge or obstacle to be solved by murder.

"I want to live," he said. "Come on. Remember, when I open the door, look at me and smile, tilt your head back, laugh a little."
"It will be the most difficult thing I've ever done."
"It's easier than dying." (5.196-198)

Ludlum pulls off some fun hard-boiled zingers like "There's no color in the grave," or "It's easier than dying." This conversation is between Bourne, who has kidnapped Marie, and Marie, who really doesn't feel like laughing. And in response, Bourne is hard-nosed and ironic. Husband material, right?

For Peter, too, was a decent man, and he had been killed by indecent men. (14.201)

The death of decent men matters when they are killed by indecent men. Indecent men killed by decent men, though… that's fuzzier moral territory in the book. How do you think the book deals with this problem? Also: who decides what's decent and what isn't?

I am Cain. I am death. (18.89)

There's an echo here of Robert Oppenheimer, who worked on the atomic bomb, quoting the Bhagavad Gita when he saw the first nuclear explosion: "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. "Bourne isn't a nuclear bomb, though. He's understandably upset, because he's found out that he's an assassin—but sheesh, he's killed lots of people already in the book; it's not like a little blood should make him squeamish. Really, the problem seems to be less that he's "death" than that he's found out he's kind of a bad guy.

The Monk lunged forward; there was nothing left but a final gesture, a final defiance. The European fired. (19.93)

This is the last moment of David Abbott, the Silent Monk. It's a gallant gesture in the face of death. Are we emotionally affected by this scene? It can be tough to get to know Abbott as a character—he gives a lot of exposition, and he's definitely a professional, but we don't really know him on an intimate level. Maybe this goes against the novel's emphasis on professionalism. Being professional is something, but it doesn't actually make you a real, live character.

"I want him dead." Conklin's words, though spoken softly, had the effect of a sudden, cold wind.

"He not only broke all the rules we each set down for ourselves—no matter what—but he sunk into the pits. He reeks. He is Cain." (22.58)

This is an official of the U.S. government ordering a summary execution on an American citizen…and then burbling about breaking all the rules.

Men like Villiers robbed life from the young and the very young. They did not deserve to live. (24.107)

Bourne's anger at Villiers here is linked to the death of Bourne's wife and son (even though Bourne can't remember them). Villiers promotes war; Bourne's loved ones died in war. Therefore, Villiers should die. Death calls for and justifies more death.

"Death is a statistic for the computers. For you it is survival." (29.44)

Bourne is remembering something David Abbott told him while he was Delta, fighting in Vietnam. It holds good throughout the book, though: death is treated as a wholesale statistic as Bourne racks up kills—and the treatment of death as a statistic is justified or necessary because of the overriding imperative for survival. Peacetime espionage is treated as war—which might be an analogy for how the Cold War worked.

"Treadstone's arrived. I'm to meet him near Rambouillet. At a cemetery."
"That's a ghoulish touch. Why a cemetery?"
"It's supposed to reassure me." (32.45-47)

The cemetery is supposed to reassure Bourne, because he's been there before. But it also suggests that Bourne feels very comfortable with death.

To survive he had to bring in the assassin; if he failed he was a dead man. And there would be no life for Marie St. Jacques. She would be destroyed, imprisoned, perhaps killed, for an act of faith that became an act of love. (33.34)

This is a good, short illustration of why Marie is important to the book. Bourne's motivation before he meets Marie is simple survival: it's just an eye for an eye, a death for a death. There can't really be any other motive for killing when his memory and mission are wiped out. Marie, though, adds altruism. After he meets Marie, Bourne's not just about survival, anymore; he's also about faith and love.

The line between belief and disbelief so thin…as thin as it was for the man-corpse whose name was Jason Bourne.

As mentioned in one of the earlier quotes, we get the image of Bourne as a zombie assassin, staggering around looking for someone's brain to eat since his own isn't working right, what with the amnesia and everything. "Cain is for Carlos and Carlos is for Cain…need brains!"

"I'll peel his face away. The Americans can have their Cain without a face! Then they can give this Bourne, this Delta, whatever name they care to." (34.20)

This is Carlos's most explicit and inventive supervillain threat. He's going to peel away Bourne's face. Death is linked to losing identity—which makes Bourne in some sense a dead man already. Carlos has such trouble killing Bourne in part because Bourne isn't quite alive. Faceless zombie Bourne taunts Carlos from beyond the grave.