Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “The Delicate Prey,” the harsh surroundings match the harsh realities of tribal jealousies and loyalties on which Paul Bowles bases his stories. The route the brothers take exists, as do each of the tribes with their hostilities toward one another. The loyalty of Ech Chibani to his tribesmen reflects an ancient and efficient mode of justice in which responsibility rests with the family, not with a state. The French do not interfere with traditions centuries old but let the Filala handle what is a family matter.

Another strong tradition is the fundamental sacredness of property. Each man must respect the property of others and the bond of trust crucial to survival in harsh environments. The uncles understand this and comment on the trust the Moungari shows in going off alone. In this case, that sacred trust is used perversely to trick the old men. The Moungari flaunts his villainy, however, and seals his fate by trying to sell property that belongs to others.

Bowles plays with complex relationships between the hunter and the prey. The gazelle is surely a delicate prey. By pursuing this imaginary game, however, the uncles are drawn into the trap prepared by the Moungari. More frightening is Driss’s transformation into the delicate prey. Caught by his hunter, he is bound hand and foot. He is brutally dressed by the Moungari as any hunter might dress a carcass. However, the hunter himself cannot escape becoming the prey as the Filala seek...

(The entire section is 482 words.)