(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Mixing history and fiction, The Kingdom of This World recounts the transition of Haiti from slavery to emancipation and from colony to republic. The change occurs through the use of African religion. The novel begins by establishing a difference between black African culture and white European culture. Although these two systems take on different forms throughout the novel and history, they remain antagonistic toward each other. One is dynamic, the other static. Mackandal, Bouckman, and Ti Noël represent the liberating spirit of African religion and culture, while Monsieur Lenormand de Mezy, Monsieur Blancheland, General Leclerc, Rochambeau, Henri Christophe, and the Mulatto Republicans represent the oppressive force of European culture. The two groups offer conflicting interpretations of history; the novel supports the African perspective.

Mackandal initiates the struggle against slave owners. After losing an arm in a sugar mill accident, he studies poisonous plants as a means of fighting the whites. Drawing on his knowledge of African lore, he transforms himself into an animal or an insect to elude his pursuers. When Mackandal is captured and burned at the stake, the whites who are present witness his death, but the blacks see him transformed into an insect, and they watch as he escapes. This important passage illustrates clearly the difference between the European and African worldview.

Bouckman and Ti Noël follow in...

(The entire section is 426 words.)

The Kingdom of This World Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Carpentier published The Kingdom of This World six years after he accompanied the French actor Louis Jouvet on a trip to Haiti. Carpentier was very impressed by the ruins and stories of the Haitian slave uprisings in the 1700’s and in 1820, the year of the fall of Henri (Henry) Christophe’s government.

This extremely fragmented novel is composed of four parts connected by the awakening of the slave Ti Noel. The novel is preceded by a famous prologue that describes Carpentier’s ideas about marvelous realism, which would become widely known as Magical Realism. Carpentier states that in writing The Kingdom of This World he has followed historical reality in every detail and that his work is a product of extremely rigorous documentation. The purpose of his argument is to show how Latin American history naturally contains magic. His characters in the novel—the wealthy slave owner Monsieur Lenormand de Mézy, the slave Ti Noel, the Jamaican, the slave storyteller Mackandal (who used poison in his rebellion against the French rule in Haiti), the punished confessor Cornejo Brelle, General Leclerc, and the black monarch Henry Christophe—are all historical figures. Carpentier’s hand, however, orders all the scenes in which these protagonists are participating and the book’s marvelous coincidences exist only in fiction. For example, in the novel, many historic events are announced on Sunday and take place on Monday. This, needless to say, has not been corroborated by more factual history.

The novel opens with narration about a slave, Ti Noel, born in Haiti, who learns about Africa from the stories of a much older slave, Mackandal. In a preventable accident, Mackandal loses his hand and becomes virtually useless to his owner. He soon runs away and is presumed to be behind a...

(The entire section is 744 words.)

The Kingdom of This World Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Echevarria, Roberto Gonzalez. Alejo Carpentier: The Pilgrim at Home. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977. Explores what seems like a radical disjunction between Carpentier’s fiction and nonfiction. Echevarria finds unity, however, in certain recurring themes, which he illuminates by discussing Carpentier’s debt to writers such as José Ortega y Gasset and Oswald Spengler. The novelist’s penchant for dialectical structures and for allegory is also explored. Includes a bibliography and index.

Harss, Luis, and Barbara Dohmann. Into the Mainstream. New York: Harper and Row, 1966. Includes a chapter often cited as a succinct introduction to Carpentier’s work up to the early 1960’s.

Janney, Frank. Alejo Carpentier and His Early Works. London: Tamesis, 1981. An introductory survey that is still useful.

Kilmer-Tchalekian, Mary. “Ambiguity in El siglo de las luces.” Latin American Literary Review 4 (1976): 47-57. An especially valuable discussion of Carpentier’s narrative technique and handling of point of view.

King, Lloyd. Alejo Carpentier, Caribbean Writer. St. Augustine, Fla.: University of the West Indies Press, 1977. Often cited for its perceptive introduction to Carpentier’s work.

Shaw, Donald L. Alejo Carpentier. Boston: Twayne, 1985. Chapters on Carpentier’s apprenticeship, his discovery of the “marvelous real,” his handling of time and circularity, his fiction about the Antilles, his explorations of politics, and his last works. Includes chronology, notes, and annotated bibliography.

Souza, Raymond D. Major Cuban Novelists: Innovation and Tradition. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1976. Should be read in conjunction with Harss and Dohmann.