At the outset, grand notions of national character and civilization are not foremost in the author’s mind; indeed, he consciously puts aside such musings in order to set down more immediate impressions of his surroundings. Sunshine and the smell of carnations, the sound of cocks crowing, and the scent of leaves, wood resin, and coffee suggest whatever is most typical about a bright, clear morning in a small Mexican town. A pleasant day, warm enough for writing outdoors, sets in motion some gentle and unpretentious thoughts centering on Corasmin, a white, curly-haired little dog that cannot fathom the mimicry of two parrots which can “bark” in much the same way that he does. The dog’s discomfiture moves the writer to speculate about the natural scheme of things.
Theories of evolution were not to Lawrence’s liking, because they presume too much of an orderly sequence that reduces living creatures to causal links in an inflexible chain of events. Half seriously, he would cogitate upon Aztec cosmology, which he thought was more amenable to notions of volition and individuality. According to early Mexican beliefs, periodic outbursts of cosmic convulsions during epochs of chaos and creation have ushered in new ages in the development of life on the planet. In Mornings in Mexico, such reflections, which are followed by lighthearted asides, set the tone for the sketches. This effect of varying depth, in a work that never quite renounces its air of nonchalance, propels the reader quickly through encounters with people and places of the New World. One essay discusses a walk into a neighboring village, where Lawrence could not obtain fresh fruit; resignation, or peacefulness, set in toward the end of the day. Rosalino, Lawrence’s native household attendant, supplies some opportunities for observations about the Indians of Mexico. The author is alternately attracted and repelled by individuals who seem to embody the stolid virtues and the starkly alien values of Aztec lore. Once Rosalino resisted recruitment by a revolutionary army and was beaten so badly that his back was seriously injured. In his sympathy, Lawrence expresses a horror for mass movements that he feels the Mexican servant shares with him.
The chapter “Market Day” describes the last Saturday before Christmas, 1924, as one year hastens toward its end and the next promises momentous prospects. Red and yellow flowers seem to swell in anticipation; yucca plants in bloom and majestic clumps of cactus impart a luxuriant appearance to a landscape that otherwise might appear arid and forbidding. Cloud banks and distant mountaintops, with white barred hawks wheeling in the foreground, suggest the graceful sweep of natural spirals that converge at a hidden vortex. Villagers and merchants gather in processions that draw peasants and Indians from outlying highlands; they are joined by townspeople who descend in dusty columns on roads that bustle with lines of oxen and donkeys which in turn are flanked by running men and barefoot women. Purveyors of local produce assemble near a canopy which is bedecked in colors of its own. Gregarious and mercantile impulses seem oddly intertwined among all who take part in this provincial yet distinctly variegated exchange of goods. One is expected to haggle over every centavo; sellers take such gestures as a sign of positive interest.
In this essay, Lawrence says it is rather unpleasant to bargain with leather merchants, but not because they are too grasping. He complains that shoes are treated with so much dung that they smell. The merchants, however, who are accustomed to local methods, regard it as laughable that he would raise such objections. He concludes that there is no arguing with native ways. What the Mexicans accept as a traditional means of manufacture is hardly a matter on which they might defer to the olfactory judgments of outsiders. The tide of families, coming and going with products old and new in tow, ebbs by nightfall; people return home as the vast curve of humanity expands outward in its centripetal phase.
That Indians of the New World are different from Europeans is easily established; to Lawrence’s mind, however, the peculiar mystique of native peoples can be accounted for in many ways. Indians, he says, seem to have entered one branch of human consciousness which at an early stage bifurcated from the state of mind known to the white man. Neither can really understand the other, and it is vain to pretend otherwise. Even...
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Mornings in Mexico has been considered one of Lawrence’s more vibrant works, one in which unity of feeling and idea produces some interesting evocations of far-flung peoples and landscapes. It also reveals some elements of the author’s thought that do not appear or are not stated in the same way elsewhere. Although it has not been regarded as one of Lawrence’s major works in its own right, its relationship to more celebrated efforts is worthy of consideration. While Lawrence’s novel The Plumed Serpent presents a vivid and memorable fictional depiction of Mexican lore, in that work Lawrence appears much more firmly persuaded that a void has grown in Western ideological and religious systems. Mornings in Mexico, on the other hand, seems to indicate that the writer was aware of limitations on the power of Aztec mythical representation. Works about Lawrence’s career, such as the literary memoirs of Witter Bynner and Dorothy Brett, do not claim to resolve the problem of Lawrence’s ambivalence about Mexico.
Lawrence’s other writings with similar settings, such as St. Mawr (1925) and “The Woman Who Rode Away” (1925), while rich in thematic allusions, do not address ancient values in the same way as Mornings in Mexico does. In still other travel writings, Lawrence ponders the significance of timeless myths among peoples of the ancient Mediterranean world, but even there, stark contrasts between early and modern forms of thought and devotion are not so sharply drawn.