The Manchurian Candidate (novel)

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The Manchurian Candidate
Manchurian candidate book.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Written by: Richard Condon
Central Theme:
Synopsis: A soldier is brainwashed to become an assassin
Genre(s): Thriller
First published: April 27, 1959
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Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known.


The Manchurian Candidate is a 1959 Conspiracy Thriller novel by Richard Condon, about the son of a prominent political family who has been brainwashed into being an unwitting assassin for the Communist Party. The novel has been adapted for the screen twice - once in 1962 and once in 2004.

During the Korean War, Captain Bennett Marco and Sergeant Raymond Shaw were part of a platoon that was captured in 1952. They are taken to Manchuria, and are brainwashed to believe that Sgt. Shaw saved their lives in combat for which the Army awards him the Medal of Honor.

Years later Marco, now an intelligence officer, starts suffering from a recurring nightmare about Shaw murdering two of his comrades, all observed by Chinese and Russian officers. When Marco learns that another soldier from the platoon also has been suffering the same nightmare, he sets to uncovering the mystery - and makes a terrifying discovery. Shaw is being used as a sleeper agent for the Communists, programmed as a guiltless assassin, subconsciously activated with a particular trigger - the Queen of Diamonds in a deck of cards. Thus, he is activated, kills the target, and immediately forgets. Shaw's controller is his own mother, who is working with the Communists in order to quietly overthrow the United States government with her Manchurian Candidate. His programming is eventually broken by Marco using a deck of cards entirely composed of the Queen of Diamonds.

The Manchurian Candidate (novel) is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in The Manchurian Candidate (novel) include:
  • 555: The prefix for Rosie's phone number, "ELdorado 9-2632", was at the time a phone company test number that gave a busy signal.
  • Affably Evil: Yen Lo, a Chinese scientist. A consummate gentleman and scholar, it seems in any other genre he'd play the role of a wise old mentor. In this story, he creates sleeper assassins.
  • Bad Habits: The sleeper agent dresses as a priest to assassinate the President of the United States.
  • Big Applesauce: Most of the story takes place in New York.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy

Dr. Yen Lo: "His brain has not only been washed, as they say... It has been dry cleaned."

  • Casanova: Marco is said to have at least two women every night, and Raymond's pretty good at with women as well. Raymond was originally shy around women, but Dr. Yen Lo "removed" Raymond's sexual timidity during his brainwashing.
  • Catch Phrase: "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."
    • "Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?"
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Marco tries to light a cigarette on a train, but is so nervous and wound-up that he keeps fumbling the matches.
  • Conspiracy Thriller
  • Contrived Coincidence: Raymond's mind control trigger is a queen of diamonds playing card. Guess what his Love Interest Jocie Jordan dresses as for Halloween?
  • Deep-Cover Agent: Raymond's mother is a Communist spy pulling strings to get her husband (and thus, herself) into the White House.
  • Dirty Communists: The ones who do the brainwashing.
  • Downer Ending: "Hell... hell..."
  • Dramatic Irony: "I think, if John Iselin were a paid Soviet agent, he could not do more to harm this country than he's doing now." He is one.
  • Dreaming the Truth: Marco has very realistic dreams about the brainwashing sessions, and they happen so often that they take a toll on his health. But he's smart enough to take notes on them.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Raymond's mom's name is Eleanor Iselin, but the narration only calls her "Raymond's mother". The Communist agent who keeps tabs on Raymond in America is only called "Raymond's operator". They're the same person.
  • Evil Matriarch: Keep reading, and you'll learn all you need to know about Raymond's mom.
  • Henpecked Husband/Parenting the Husband: The Manchurian Candidate in the novel is Mrs. Iselin's husband, John. She fusses over him day and night...after all, world domination is at stake!
  • Hot Mom/Evil Is Sexy: The novel portrays Raymond's mother as a gorgeous woman despite her age. Too bad she's a ruthless, power-hungry psycho.
  • Hypno Fool: Shaw obeys a suggestion not even meant for him: "Why don't you go and take yourself a cab and go up to Central Park and go jump in the lake?" This helps him realize that something may be wrong with him.
  • Jerkass Facade: Raymond is a top tier douchebag. He's rude, haughty,and he doesn't care about you. He developed this personality to cope with his vicious mother and loutish stepdad. The only people who have seen his vulnerable side are Major Marco and Jocie.
  • The Korean War: The opening scene.
  • Mercy Kill: Marco orders a brainwashed Raymond to shoot his mother and stepfather, then shoot himself. He remarks, "No electric chair for a Medal of Honor man."
  • The Mole
  • Mood Whiplash: Part of the charm of this book. It jumps from campy political farce to bleak character study to suspenseful thriller and back. A lot.
  • My Beloved Smother: Mrs. Iselin Serial Escalation.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Iselin is an obvious parody of Joe McCarthy.
  • No Party Given: Raymond's mother's party is not named .
  • Parental Incest: Part of Ellie Iselin's Freudian Excuse is that she was repeatedly raped by her father as a child. Late in the story, she has sex with Raymond while he's brainwashed (though this is only implied in the film versions).
  • Plagiarism: It turns out Condon plagiarized several passages from Robert Graves' I, Claudius. This went unnoticed until a few years after Condon's death when a California software engineer started noticing the similarities, and even then it wasn't until a few years later still when the findings were widely published.
  • Satellite Character/Shallow Love Interest: Rosie pops up out of nowhere, helps calm Marco down at a point where the nightmares are really getting to him, and then does absolutely nothing else. The singularly bizarre nature of Rosie's first two conversations with Marco, and the general pointlessness of her character, have led some to speculate that she is a Deep-Cover Agent deliberately sent after Marco.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Featured prominently.
  • Up to Eleven: Mrs. Iselin's obsession with getting her husband into the White House and overthrowing the government, even if it means having her own son turned into a brainwashed killing machine to help speed things up.

Now, why don't you pass the time by playing a nice game of solitaire?