Body of Lies by David Ignatius

The novel ‘Body of Lies’ by David Ignatius explores the main themes of violence and war as illustrated by the main character, Roger Ferris who manages to maneuver through the process of developing his emotional intelligence. He realizes that there is a price to be paid by democracies that attempt to protect political freedoms through the covert world of spying. Ferris’ role in the novel accurately depicts espionage as he encounters terrorists in the Middle East. He is often caught up between gunfights and wars wherein he should defend himself and simultaneously conceal his identity as a spy. In his mission, Ferris operates as a freelancer in the war to tactically drive out Al Saleem, the secretive leader of the terrorists, out of hiding. Thus, this paper will critically analyze the core of the emotional journey of Roger Ferris, whose moral conscience makes him examine and question the consequences that democracies go through in efforts to protect political liberties through the concealed world of spying. The critical assessment will build upon the individual actions and experiences of Ferris to develop an in-depth understanding and justification of the reasons behind his thoughts on the levels transcended by democracies.

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First, the author, David Ignatius illustrates the concept of war and violence through the protagonist’s background. Ferris’ background seemingly played a role in developing him to his current nature of playing the role of a spy perfectly. War and violence coexist together and the author’s choice to use Ferris’ background to introduce the reader to the element of espionage blends perfectly and achieves its intended objective. The author claims that Ferris is a CIA covert who operates in the Middle East, and the story gives substantial correlation between the protagonist’s childhood as that of diverse roles which he balanced effectively and performed exceptionally well in balancing academics, social life, and sporting activities. Thus, the fact that his nature as a child positioned him between cliques, “he mastered how to suppress his emotions to prevent people from knowing his actual thoughts and this reinforced his potential in espionage, later as an adult” (Ignatius, 125, chapter 16). Secondly, with his fluency in the Arabic language which he learned since childhood, “Ferris seems to be conversant with his operations and roles based on his sharpness of inter-personal skills and personality that enables him to blend in with foreigners” (Ignatius, 128, chapter 16). He leaves Iraq to launch a master plan of penetrating the network of a dreaded terrorist, with inspiration from British intelligence, after World War 2. Contrarily, despite such justification of his role and background, “he somehow feels like his life was a total lie because of the evidence of his growing disillusionment with his activities” (Ignatius, 137, chapter 18) as he prepares lies to use in accomplishing his mission. The perception that his life is a lie arises from the fact that Ferris has to play a double role of a spy and a soldier in mission to fulfill his aim of tracing the terrorists.

Similarly, Ferris’ emotional journey is marked by the disappointments he encounters during his mission. In one instance, he faces a dilemma situation for the lack of knowledge on how to avoid killing innocent people by accident. When Ferris poses the question to Ed Hoffman, his CIA handler, “the latter gives a bland and straightforward response that they pray” (Ignatius, 182). Within that instance, Ferris’ moral conscience questions his emotional journey with the uncertainty that democracies could be willing to pay the hefty price, such as witnessing the deaths of many innocent people, provided that the stipulated goals are achieved and the political freedoms of democracy are protected. War and tension are further illustrated at the instance when Ferris extraordinarily saves himself from a severe attack because, as a spy, he has to move deceitfully while also protecting his identity, which is a dangerous move. Additionally, another point where Ferris questions the price that democracies can pay to have their way is when he makes all efforts to maintain communication with Hoffman, who is less concerned about the state of panic in which people are living as long as his mission is accomplished. Ferris even asserts that no real operation is perfect. Following the shadow play of virtual events, “he could believe that falsehood was perfectible in a manner that life could not attain” (Ignatius, 187, chapter 27). When he completes his mission, “Ferris is more than glad because the operation is over although he feels utterly wasted and imagines the void within him” (Ignatius, 204). Thus, Ferris’ moral conscience questions and wonders whether democracies striving to protect political freedoms have prices to pay in the form of massive loss of lives, threatening situations, and espionage.


The operations that Ferris undertakes throughout the mission depict a sense of determination as he attempts to penetrate the network of a pursued terrorist network using a body of lies, driven by the need to spy while maintaining a double identity. The experience brings together a series of events that bind a friend and enemy but when the complexity begins subsiding, Ferris is exposed to dangers where he has to rely on the help of Hani Salaam, Jordan’s head of intelligence, despite lack of full trust. Throughout the journey, the main point of view is that after his espionage mission, Ferris’ moral conscience questions if indeed there could be consequences that democracies undergo for trying to protect political freedoms through the covert world of spying. Thus, this specific argument is supported by the fact that throughout Ferris’ emotional journey, he witnesses and experiences a rollercoaster of events whereby in some instances, some people lose their lives and he is also forced to seek the help of Hoffman, who Ferris must rely upon for help although his trustworthiness is worth questioning. The two examples point to the probable price paid by the democracy in an attempt to protect political freedoms while maintaining espionage.


Works Cited

Ignatius, David. Body of Lies. 1st ed., W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2007.