Study Guide

The Bourne Identity Justice and Judgment

By Robert Ludlum

Justice and Judgment

Like most pulp adventure, The Bourne Identity is built around a war between good guys and bad guys. The world is split between "decent" people (a term the book uses a lot), and utter scumbags; between folks who try to do the right thing and those like Carlos and his minions who deliberately do bad things. They even know they're bad, but they want money and power, and they don't care about anyone else.

In this kind of fiction, killing bad people is not morally wrong: it's justice. Judgment means figuring out who the bad guys are. There aren't good acts and bad acts; there are only good people and bad people, and whatever the good people do—even if it's murder or kidnapping or whatever—is good by definition. So Bourne can kill about as many people as Carlos does and still be the good guy who has our sympathy.

Adventure fiction doesn't necessarily ask us to think about complicated questions like the nature of good and the nature of evil—but that doesn't mean we can't ask about that stuff, anyway.

Questions About Justice and Judgment

  1. Is there any relation in the novel between justice and the law? Is the law just? Do you have to be just to follow the law?
  2. Are evildoers in the novel always punished? Provide examples to support your answer.
  3. Is General Villiers administering justice when he kills his wife? Does the novel see him as justified? Should it?

Chew on This

In its treatment of justice and heroism, The Bourne Identity is basically a superhero story.

The Bourne Identity suggests that violence is necessary for justice.