Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Kingdom of This World relates history and fiction; events in the novel have been documented with precision. In its historical investigation, the novel discloses a cyclical structure: If there are movements of oppression, there will be others of rebellion; if there are movements of rebellion, there will be others of oppression. Indeed, the cycles documented in the novel continue into contemporary Haitian history. When Carpentier arrived in Haiti in 1943, Élie Lescot was president. Popular reaction against his corrupt government led to the election of Dumarsais Estimé in 1946, but Estimé’s benevolent government was soon followed by the dictatorships of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude. If the structure proposed by Carpentier were to hold true, one could foresee the defeat of Jean-Claude Duvalier in favor of a popular government, but also the defeat of that government and the imposition of another ruthless one.

The Kingdom of This World offers profound insight into the problems regarding the founding of the first black nation and the first country to receive independence in Latin America and the Caribbean. The racial and cultural tensions depicted in the novel were indeed present from the moment Africans were brought to the New World. These tensions, however, became more intense during the time of the novel, toward the end of the eighteenth century, mainly because of the development of the sugar industry. The Haitian Revolution brought the black struggle to a climax but not to an end. With Christophe and other black and mulatto rulers, the racial confrontation between whites and blacks evolved into a struggle between those who accept and those who reject African religion.

Thus, the black struggle is not only political but also religious. A religious interpretation, which the novel strongly suggests, highlights a broader strategy in which man is but a mere participant. During the night of the Solemn Pact, Bouckman, in his final admonition, reveals the following: “The white men’s God orders the crime. Our gods demand vengeance from us. They will guide our arms and give us help. Destroy the image of the white man’s God who thirsts for our tears; let us listen to the cry of freedom within ourselves.” In the end, the historical, cultural, and religious themes of the novel complement one another.