Women living in London in the late 19th and early 20th century, did not have the choices of the 21st century women. Women had little chance of evading their societal approved destiny that consisted of marrying young, stay at home and raise a family. Despite the fact that change was on the horizon and many women took to finding work in factories and other domestic work, most women still had to rely on men for financial security and stability. Joseph Conrad portrays a woman who is very strategic and complex in her actions which places her in multiple roles. Throughout the narrative, she is referred to as having an “unfathomable look” about her, which leaves a lot unexpressed about Winnie—except her commitment to her brother, Stevie. The narrator of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, takes the reader on a ride full of secrecy and lack of communication between its characters, and the true secret agent of The Secret Agent emerges not as Verloc but his wife Winnie.
Women were not expected to have major roles in the family, and the narrator shows how Winnie is truly a secret agent this from the first paragraph. He says, “Mr. Verloc…left his shop nominally in charge of his brother-in-law…And, moreover, his wife was in charge of his brother-in-law” (17). Winnie is already placed in a dual role, she is not the one placed in charge but she is the one who is in charge because her brother is mentally disabled. She claims the role of a double agent from the start. Winnie knows that she has to play different roles to gain the life she wants for her mother and more importantly, Stevie. The narrator explains how Mr. Verloc told Winnie that his work was of the political nature, and that she would have to be polite to his political friend...
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...the end when she seeks vengeance on his behalf. Winnie played the roles of wife, shopkeeper, sister, and daughter but was really only being a sister. By the end of the novel, Winnie is more of a secret agent that her husband, because she is the one with secrets that are not uncovered until the end. She enters a loveless marriage for the sake of her family, assuming the role of “wife” so that she can provide food and shelter for her brother and mother. Despite her not being able to successfully complete her mission, she still eliminates her target after his interference—which is the actions of a true secret agent.
Lawall, Sarah N. “The Oresteia.” The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. 8th ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. 107-205. Print.
Conrad, Joseph. The Secret Agent. New York: Modern Library, 1998. Project Gutenberg. Web.