The Rhythm Section
Mark Burnell
Contributed by Elene Blackwelder
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.

Death is one of the recurrent themes that is addressed by Burnell. He describes how the characters deal with death as he portrays the contrast between Stephanie, the protagonist, and her brother, Christopher. After their family is involved in a plane crash, the two are left as the only remaining family members. While Stephanie embarks on a downward spiral that ultimately transforms her into a drug-addicted prostitute, Christopher gets past his grief and is able to start his own family. The overwhelming effects of the death of close family members is also shown through the relatives of the targets that Stephanie assassinates. She is empathetic towards them as she appreciates the difficulty of handling death. Also, the author draws parallels between Reza Mohammed / Mustafa Sela, the Palestinian terrorist, and Stephanie when he shows how the deaths of their family members pushed them to vengeful crusades. Death is described as the reason that Reza / Sela and Stephanie seek to become progressively inhuman as they exert their revenge for their families’ deaths.  


Stephanie ventures into the degrading occupation of prostitution after the death of her parents and two siblings. As a prostitute, she is forced to endure abuse and disrespect from her clients and pimp, Dean West, who is described to have raped her on several occasions purely to break her spirit. Furthermore, the author highlights how female characters have normalized their experiences of misogyny. Anne Mitchell, for instance, stays in an unhappy marriage with a promiscuous husband because she thinks that she deserves to suffer for keeping her prostituting a secret. Furthermore, the author shows how physical assault was a common practice towards prostitutes when he describes how the injuries that the women endure is an occupational hazard. Serra, the terrorist coordinator, also objectifies Petra for his sexual pleasure. For instance, before he attempted to kill Petra, he had sex with her so that he can enjoy himself one last time.

Good versus Evil

The battle of good versus evil is portrayed through Stephanie, as she seeks to establish who she really is. She is conflicted between good and evil as she tries to become more humane and rounded. When she becomes an operative for Magenta House, she hates how the killing has become almost second nature to her. Throughout the book, she attempts to convince herself that there is still humanity left inside her. Stephanie presumes that by starting a family of her own with Frank, she will be able to become more humane and less monstrous. Furthermore, the thin line between good and evil is portrayed by the author’s representation of Magenta House. Although the organization is dedicated towards the eradication of terrorism, an ultimately noble purpose, they are equally involved in the murder of innocent people such as Giler’s three children. Ultimately, good supersedes evil for both Magenta House and Stephanie when they save the world from an imminent terrorist attack.

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