Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Ballard’s short novel is rich with images and metaphors. There is Sanders’ progress from the purgatory of Port Matarre to the immortal glory of the crystal world. Light and dark pervade the book. There is the somber light of the port and the prismatic light of the jungle. The central characters are light and dark, reflections of Sanders’ own psyche.

The themes of reconciliation and acceptance, however, are paramount. All things in the modern world and in human experience that separate one person from another are brought together and dissolved by the advancing crystals. Yet such reconciliation requires the price of one’s individuality and an acceptance of a kind of life in death in the new paradise of God.

There is a parallel with leprosy; it illustrates the ravages of time that produce only separation from others. As Ventress remarks to Sanders early in the novel, few realize that the world at large is a kind of leper colony. Yet, as Ventress explains, the virus that causes leprosy, in its crystalline form, is immune to time. The tiny virus that brings leprosy upon the world is an analogue of the strange crystallization of the world that brings the cessation of motion, and thus, the ending of time and the permanence of glorification. The crystal world welcomes the dancing lepers as its own. In the jeweled for est, not yet its willing captive, Sanders notices “how the bands of color softened the drawn lines of his mouth and eyes, blurring the residue of time there that had hardened the tissues like the scales of leprosy itself.” Sanders is illicitly pleased that Suzanne has at last contracted that disease; she, too, was falling prey to the destruction of time. For both Sanders and Suzanne, the crystal forest represents a rest from mixed motives, indecisiveness, a struggle with their own dark psyches, and the death that time brings. For Sanders, the everyday world has become flat and lifeless; it is for him, as for Suzanne, a world of unreality. Reality is in the forest, where the true nature of the world has revealed itself at last, reconciling all things.