Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The reader’s uncertainty concerning Petworth, Marisja, and Katya is reflected as well in the uncertainty surrounding Petworth’s visit. Whether he has been invited as a sign of easing political tensions or to smuggle Katya’s manuscript out of the country, whether he has come to Slaka simply to give lectures or in the hope of finding love, whether Marisja is, as her comments suggest, antagonistic toward Katya or, as some of her actions imply, working on her behalf—these are only a few of the uncertainties that the reader must at least entertain, and entertain without any hope of resolution. In fact, the positing of a definite yes or no seems antithetical to the spirit of the novel, one which seeks not to fix the rate of exchange but, instead, to explore and exploit it as a metaphor for a wide variety of exchanges: monetary, certainly, but also cultural, diplomatic, linguistic, sexual, and even narrative, as Bradbury works the linguistically playful surface texture of his text against a deeper but only vaguely specified significance, playing his fascination with language against his realization that there is something beyond language that is at stake here.

Thus even the language he employs in Rates of Exchange is double, in that its purpose is both to “explain and estrange.” Rates of Exchange has no one language, no one prose style, but is itself a mixture of styles, of various parodied discourses: ESL (English as a second...

(The entire section is 512 words.)