Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Although The Radiance of the King follows the white man’s attempt to comprehend an alien culture and to adjust to a nonrational mode of thought, the novel also suggests a traditional conception of community that rivals the individualistic isolation of modern society. Clarence, through much of the novel, is lost either in the maze of streets in Adrame or in the dense vegetation of the rain forest. He cannot understand how the Africans await such a brief appearance of the King with so much uncertainty about when and where he will next appear, especially given that his power, like the Naba’s, seems whimsically arbitrary. Physically and socially, Clarence finds little experience that is subject to rational analysis. The King is irrelevant to daily life, not even communicating with his subjects. While rulers impose only a few laws through mediators, such as the Master of Ceremonies, even those minimal laws seem all but ignored by the people, who act primarily upon their own desires. Both the ruler’s authority and the individual’s submission within the community, however, are constrained by ritual. Tradition governs political authority, and that tradition gives equal status to both human and natural worlds.

The culture of Aziana and its governing principles are based on the respect for and the immediacy of the natural world, on emotion and sensuality, and on chance and custom, unlike the mechanistic, determined rational world of the West. In...

(The entire section is 541 words.)