(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Opening in medias res, The Radiance of the King is narrated in the third person but from the point of view of Clarence, a white man whose limited perceptions reveal ironic discrepancies between what he experiences and what he comprehends. He waits for the black “king of kings” in the midst of a crowded esplanade in Adrame, a fictional African city in the North, hoping that he can find employment in the King’s service. Gradually, the novel relates Clarence’s background. He was nearly shipwrecked while crossing a reef to enter this unnamed country; reaching Adrame, he then lost his money by gambling with other Europeans, resulting in his humiliating eviction from a European hotel and his subsequent residence in a ramshackle African inn where he also cannot pay his bills. While waiting for the King to make his rare ceremonial appearance, Clarence meets an old black beggar and two unruly boys, Nagoa and Noaga, whom he cannot tell apart. When Clarence expresses his desire to have an audience with the King, the beggar dismisses the request as impossible. Clarence responds by asserting his presumed superiority: “I am not ‘just anybody.’... I am a white man.”

The beggar, however, seems indifferent; white men are not permitted to see the King and do not usually mingle with the natives. When the King appears, Clarence is overwhelmed with awe at the sight of a frail, white-robed, gold-braceleted boy. Clarence accepts the beggar’s offer to plead his case before the King, but while the beggar is gone, Clarence hears screams. Nagoa claims that they come from the King’s sacrifices of his unfaithful subjects, although Noaga says that the cries come from devoted subjects, who alone are worthy of sacrifice. When the beggar returns, having failed to gain an audience for Clarence, he responds to Clarence’s confusion by denying that there have even been any screams or sacrifices. Unable to clarify the events in which he is enmeshed, Clarence, obsessed with seeing the King, agrees to accompany the beggar to the South, where the King is expected to make his next appearance.

Returning to the inn to retrieve Clarence’s clothes, the party shares a feast and gets drunk on palm wine. During the conversation, Clarence perceives only ambiguity and nonsense in the Africans’ customs; nevertheless, he is determined to see the King, and he is too mortified by his debts to re-turn to the Europeans. Because Clarence cannot pay his bills, he reluctantly settles his account by surrendering his suit coat to the innkeeper. As the party prepares to depart for the South, Clarence is arrested for theft. The trial proceeds from one absurd non sequitur to another, while Clarence at-tempts to use rational persuasion to argue his innocence yet fails. Un-known to him, the boys have stolen back his coat, but...

(The entire section is 1154 words.)