(Great Characters in Literature)

Characters Discussed


Joel, a thirty-year-old naturalist. He is married and teaches at a small college in the United States. Presumably, he is American, although the patina of his speech is British, sprinkled with phrases such as “jolly well.” He is on a steamship bound from the eastern coast of Africa for the Suez Canal by way of the Red Sea, and he is returning from field research in Kenya. He converses at great length with an Anglican priest. His discourse on the Kamongo, a lungfish on the verge of extinction, is followed by his elaboration on Darwinian notions of evolution and his defense of scientific inquiry as superior to religious faith. He rejects the priest’s suggestion that evolution is a divinely ordained progression toward perfection and insists that it is essentially a haphazard movement in an arena of chance in which many of Nature’s experiments fail. The lungfish, for example, overspecialized the lung that enabled it to survive for years at a time out of water, encased in dried mud and nurtured by its own bodily fuels; it did not become ambulatory by developing legs. Joel explains that the eel-shaped fish, with its massive-jawed, flat-toothed, snakelike head, can grow to a length of seven feet but can drown in water unless it surfaces regularly and can survive out of water only in what becomes a comatose state; as such, it is the closest living form “to the extinct link between the fishes and the first land animals” and is one of Nature’s many failed experiments.

An Anglican...

(The entire section is 633 words.)