Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Palace of the Peacock contains most of the elements that Harris elaborates upon in his later works, and it establishes his rejection of the conventional European style of fiction writing, which follows a linear pattern of narration and in which all aspects of the story are finally brought together to a logical conclusion. The storyline in this novel is as follows: Donne, a white colonizer, is leading a multiracial crew into the forest in hopes of enlisting cheap labor for his ranch plantation. As they penetrate deeper into the interior, the members of the crew, and finally the captain himself, die off one after the other.
The novel is very rich in symbolism. Donne, the ruthless white master, stands for the exploitative European presence in the Caribbean, concerned with individual gain, and having no appreciation of the natives except in terms of the physical labor that can be extracted from them. The crew of the ship represent the major racial groups of postcolonial Guiana: indigenous, African, and Asian. The length of the journey, seven days, hints at an anti-Genesis, a destruction rather than creation of the New World. The journey itself is representative of a quest, an exploration of identity as well as territory.
The novel begins as a dream of Captain Donne’s twin brother, the narrator. In the dream, Donne has been murdered by Mariella, a Native American woman he had seduced, exploited, and abused. The murder is a symbolic...
(The entire section is 393 words.)
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