Paul Theroux approaches his major theme—the ethical behavior of people in society—by way of the experiences of characters, many of them foreigners, in places such as postcolonial Africa and Southeast Asia, in stories that explore cultural interaction and the meaning of civilization. His three early African novels, Fong and the Indians, Girls at Play, and Jungle Lovers, set the scene, as it were, and suggest the terms for nearly all of his later fiction. These African novels offer not only a fictional portrait of the developing world struggling toward independence but also a metaphor for all modern society and social ethics. In the apparently simpler world of East Africa, where white expatriate confronts black African, where Chinese meets Indian meets German meets American meets Australian, Theroux explores the ways in which individuals interact to form social units and the results, often absurd, of attempts to impose foreign values and ideas of civilization on the primitive life of the jungle.
Although by the 1970’s Theroux had begun to make use of other locales in his work, the novels continue to explore the theme of civilization versus jungle, expanding in particular on the moral and ethical implications of certain kinds of social behavior. The Family Arsenal and Saint Jack provide instructive examples. In the former, Valentine Hood, an American former diplomat from Vietnam living in London, is struck...
(The entire section is 4059 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Paul Theroux Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!