Study Guide

Mr. Adolph Verloc in The Secret Agent

Mr. Adolph Verloc

Despicable Him

Ah, good ol' Verloc, the main character of The Secret Agent. A guy who makes his money two ways: by snitching on his friends and by running a pornography shop. How's that for being an upstanding citizen?

Even though Verloc is "[b]orn of industrious parents for a life of toil," he has "embraced indolence from an impulse as profound, as inexplicable and as imperious as the impulse which directs a man's preference for one particular woman in a given thousand" (2.1).

In other words, Verloc's character is defined by being a Lazy McLazyson. Now Conrad never comes out and says that lazy people only exist in our modern world. But it's implied that people like Verloc live in a world where lazy people can make a ton of money by being deceptive and immoral. This reflects the corruption of the modern world that Conrad focuses on throughout this book. Sometimes we get the impression that Conrad sits on his front porch with a mug of Ensue and says "Back in my day" a lot.

This laziness is compounded by the fact that Verloc ain't a looker. He's described as "undemonstrative and burly in a fat-pig style" (2.2). Conrad is not so much big on body positivity. Verloc's chubbiness reflects the fact that he's gobbling up money and food that might rightfully belong to hardworking people. In the 1996 film version of The Secret Agent, Bob Hoskins of Who Framed Roger Rabbit fame plays Verloc, and we think that's a brilliant piece of casting. Verloc looks like a comfy piece of overstuffed furniture.

The fact that he's "undemonstrative" also suggests that the reason Verloc is able to cheat the world out of money is because he's really good at flying under peoples radar. Every month, he picks up his government check without ever having to look one of his bosses in the face. In fact, the day he actually does have to account for what he's been doing fills him with anger and fear.

The guy's even willing to get someone killed just so he won't have to work a regular job like normies. For Conrad, the modern middle class has become pathologically attached to its lazy lifestyle, and will do anything to protect it. The fact that Verloc doesn't deserve this lifestyle, but still manages to hold onto it demonstrates just how corrupt the modern world is in Conrad's eyes.

Silver Lining?

But despite how fat, lazy, and corrupt Verloc is, the narrator talks about the dude with some sympathy. You can even see this sympathy shine through after Verloc's killed Stevie, when the narrator tries to make it clear to us that Verloc really, really doesn't understand why Winnie is so broken up about Stevie's death. As the narrator says:

The mind of Mr Verloc lacked profundity. Under the mistaken impression that the value of individuals consists in what they are in themselves, he could not possibly comprehend the value of Stevie in the eyes of Mrs Verloc. (11.20)

In other words, this passage tells us that Verloc is way more pathetic than he is cruel. He thinks that people's only value lies in how useful they are. He's a completely superficial person, and doesn't understand why Winnie would care about Stevie any more than a family pet. Verloc is kind of like an alien in this respect: a self-absorbed and sociopathically pragmatic alien. He does not understand this thing called "familial love" that exists on the strange blue planet Earth.

And that's really sad, when you think about it. He's missing out on a lot.

The Modern Man

As we pointed out in the first section of this character analysis, Conrad uses Verloc as an example of how corrupt and lazy modern middle-class people are. The fact that Conrad actually shows sympathy for Verloc, though, makes his criticism of modern society all the more damning.

By showing us a terrible main character and then showing him sympathy, Conrad is sarcastically suggesting that he's got really low expectations for modern people. He's giving us a horrible main character and then basically asking us "Well what'd you expect? It's the twentieth century." Having Verloc die because of his ignorance basically paints the man as a modern tragic hero. Classical tragic heroes are supposed to be great individual who die because of a flaw like pride.  But if Verloc is the best tragic hero the modern world can muster, we're all in a whole lot of trouble.