Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Peter Matthiessen’s primary concern in Far Tortuga is the rendering of the quality and nature of the life of a turtle fisherman. His impressionistic method is perfectly suited to this subject: The blank spaces and spare, lyric descriptions create and sustain a rhythm uniquely appropriate to life at sea; dialogue and action are adrift in the larger world of sea and wind and sky. Other dominant motifs are man’s exploitation of the natural world and the decay of traditional values. Matthiessen’s fine descriptive eye focuses not only on the beauty of the sea but also on the flotsam and jetsam which the tides of “modern times” carry throughout the Caribbean. Man seems intent on laying waste to his world: “Dey killed off de seals just like dey killin off green turtle, and de crocodiles before dem. De snipes is gone now. Ain’t no iguana left. . . . Mahogany, logwood, fustic—all dat gone now! Dey cutting it all away!” North Americans are identified as particularly destructive: “dem big Yankee shrimp boats . . . suckin de last shrimp out of de sea. . . . Dey wastes more den dey cotch.” Furthermore, because of “dat atomic trash and shit de Yankees puttin in de sky, mon can’t even count on de way of de wind no more.” The juxtaposition of the beauty of nature to the callous destruction of that beauty makes Far Tortuga both an elegiac tribute to the Caribbean and a plea for environmental reform.

This novel also mourns the...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Far Tortuga Social Concerns / Themes

In Far Tortuga, Matthiessen continues in many ways the explorations begun in At Play in the Fields of the Lord. But the...

(The entire section is 376 words.)