The Identity of the spy

The spy, both by the very definition of being a spy, and through his own recognition, realizes at once that his identity is not cemented. This is a very unique situation. Normally, when characters have some sort of identity crisis, they are torn between multiple identities, struggling to figure out which one they belong to and which one suits them better. It is a long and harsh internal crisis. However, quite calmly, he recognizes that he is both “a man of two faces” and “a man of two minds” (1). For at least the opening part of the novel, the spy is very aware of who he is. He understands that he is not a genuine patriot, is definite in his analysis of denial and guilt, and extremely composed and calculated in his thoughts, speech, and action, perhaps more so than any protagonist we have read of so far. Though he is conflicted about his political beliefs, many of his issues are a result of surrounding circumstances, which in turn contribute to internal conflict. In the same way he is a spy, one could say somewhat that he is a spy in his own consciousness; though the external professionalism of a spy reflects in his mine, so does the clashing of two different identities.


  1. The idea that he is a spy on his own consciousness is rather intriguing. At the end of the day, the purpose of a spy is to report to someone, so does that mean he is spying on himself and reporting to the Commandant and/or us, as readers? It lends a curious perspective to the narrative that had not occurred to me while reading. Rarely, in my imagination of the fascinating cloak and dagger world, would a spy report the already known, reminding us that the thoughts we are shown should have been secret. But at the same time, such agents also specifically search for bits of information that serve a purpose, just as this confession serves a purpose, so it might be useful to keep this thought in mind as well.

  2. In my post, I also saw how he is very calm about the duality in his identity in the beginning. However, I definitely think towards the end of our reading when he recounts his role in the major’s murder, the calmness disappears. I’m also not sure on the categorisation of the identity crisis being one over multiple identities and attempts to choose one. I think a better way to describe it, in the case of The Sympathizer’s narrator at least, is an identity containing multiples, and the struggle is then to learn to live with multiplicity (or choosing one is an option I guess), because as the narrator identifies (102) the conflict is often between “right and right” so it seems less choosing one and more how to live with both. I think the narrator starts identifying this after his role in the murder of the major. He could reconcile working as a spy but the internal conflict seems to be what this forces him to do (falsely accuse the major) and become (someone who has to have these moral dilemmas).

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