Study Guide

The Bourne Identity Identity

By Robert Ludlum


The point of being a spy is that no one knows your identity. Therefore, logically, Jason Bourne is absolutely the best spy ever, because not even he himself knows who he is.

The whole book is a kind of testament to the awesome spyfulness of Bourne, who takes 600 pages to peel back layer after layer of his own identity—Bourne/Cain/Delta, and all the way back to Webb. The more identities a spy's got, and the more obscure these identities are, the cooler the spy, and the cooler the spy novel.

The Bourne Identity is less about finding Bourne's identity than it is about revealing how awesomely obscure that identity is. The search for self is secretly—because everything spy is secret—sometimes a celebration of not having one.

Since "identity" is right there in the novel's title itself, you can find more on this theme in our "What's Up With the Title?" section.

Questions About Identity

  1. Could the novel be titled The Carlos Identity? Why or why not?
  2. Does Bourne's identity change over the course of the novel? Does he become a different person, or does he just get different names?
  3. Jacqueline Lavier is said to have a face that is like "a cold mask of itself" (14.168). Can a mask be an identity? In the novel, is identity something you put on, like a mask, or is it something real beneath the mask?

Chew on This

Bourne and Carlos are essentially identical. Both have no selves and many selves, and so can be seen as the same person.

The novel gives Jason Bourne so many names and identities to distract from the fact that none of them is real.