Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The Mosquito Coast caustically critiques contemporary American society, pointing out its madness and its depravity, but this fatalistic work does not offer much hope. While the novel chronicles the epic paradigm, beginning with a young man’s journey, his overcoming of fearful odds, experiencing deep revelations, and returning home, The Mosquito Coast is actually an nihilistic anti-allegory. Charlie is forced to take a journey to a secret destination. Overcoming fearful odds only pushes him backward, and he returns home empty, still a boy rather than a triumphant man. Foreboding symbols abound from the beginning; the scarecrow whom Charlie believes to be his crucified father points out that Father has a brain of straw. Fat Boy, an appropriation of the name given to the first atomic bomb, is a Pandora’s box that will unleash destruction. Allie Fox (clearly as sly as a fox) resembles Prometheus playing with fire, Doctor Frankenstein creating his monster, and Faust outwitting nature only to wind up in hell. He also fits into the American individualist literary mold of James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville and the American inventor model of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and the Wright brothers. In addition, the new-beginning theme is particularly perceptible.
(The entire section is 201 words.)
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The Mosquito Coast treats many subjects, but its main themes concern the potential destructiveness of the social rebel and of modern technology. The novel's protagonist Allie Fox rejects the shabby workmanship of America's mass-produced goods, the hedonistic features of its TV-influenced culture, and the self-satisfied pomposity of its religious establishment. Calling America a dead society, he takes his family back to nature, founding a settlement called Jeronimo in the Honduran jungle. Yet he brings with him the engineering know-how to build an ice house for his own pleasure and the benefit of the Mosquito Indians. The ice he produces clearly symbolizes a scientific Eucharist, the means of worshipping the technological god he believes will save them all. When Allie blows up the ice house (called Fat Boy, echoing the name given to America's first atomic bomb), killing three intruders whom he desperately fears, readers realize that this appealing, often hilarious loner has been transformed into a madman like Jim Jones, who destroyed his Jonestown encampment when it too was "visited" by snooping outsiders. What Theroux seems to offer is a parable of the incestuous horror of patriarchy.
Forced to leave his now desecrated paradise, Allie finds that his iron-fisted control over his family is slipping. He seeks to regain it by bullying Charlie and his younger brother Jerry even more fiercely than before. He forces the family to head even further into...
(The entire section is 295 words.)