Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Mrs. Caliban can be read in a variety of ways: as a social satire, as a grim modern fairy tale, as a record of the delusions of a disturbed housewife; it is both whimsical and tragic, realistic and unbelievable. On the most basic level, the novel is a satiric critique of contemporary American culture. Rachel Ingalls casts a mildly critical eye over numerous elements in the culture of Southern California: The blandness of “processed” cheese and equally “processed” salesgirls, the popularity of “new religions and the horoscope experts,” the fraudulence of the film-studio world, the arrogance and stupidity of the young, the hypocrisy of marriages and friendships and dinner parties, and the banal predictability of adultery—all come under her scrutiny. Through the device of the creature from another world, she poses some unpretentious but interesting questions about human nature, human society, and human discontent. In her efforts to educate Larry, Dorothy makes a number of tenable but troublesome assertions: “What people really want is to be happy”; “the earth and sky all around. . . [aren’t] much good without another person to share it with”; for centuries “people. . . kept saying women didn’t have souls. And nearly everybody still believes it.”

Rachel Ingalls’ deft handling of the fantastic story of Dorothy and Larry, her marvelous ability to blend fact and fable, enables her to move the narrative forward at a brisk pace, to charm the reader with this modern fairy tale, and to hold up the promise until the very end of some happy resolution. Then, however, she lifts the veil and reveals the...

(The entire section is 672 words.)