Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
In the most symbolically charged scene of Under the Volcano—a garden, with a snake, where Geoffrey keeps talking about Eden—he proclaims that ownership of property was obviously the original sin. This is, of course, not the only theme of the complex book, but it is its core, holding together its social, religious, and literary vision. The fundamental problem of property takes many forms. For Geoffrey’s brother Hugh, it includes his greedily plagiarizing others’ songs as his own, even while stealing his publisher’s wife. For Geoffrey’s estranged wife Yvonne, it is memories of her lost material success as an actress, dragging her away from Geoffrey. For Geoffrey himself, it is his position as paid defender of British territories in the period when he had some complicity in German soldiers being burned alive. The different forms of guilt that the characters feel are variations of the way coveting or defending property divides people from one another.
By the final draft of the novel, Lowry’s long fascination with the supernatural had brought him under the influence of the occultist Charles Stansfield Jones (also known as Frater Achad), whom Lowry met in Canada. Based on Jones’s synthesis of various kinds of mysticism, including Jewish Kabbala, Lowry associated the divisive power of property with the metaphysical idea that, in the beginning, God’s divine energy entered vessels that broke, with the tragic consequence being the...
(The entire section is 1474 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
On November 2, 1939, the Mexican Day of the Dead, Jacques Laruelle, a French film producer, is ready to leave Quauhnahuac, Mexico. Before leaving, Laruelle joins his friend Dr. Vigil, and the two talk about their common acquaintance, Geoffrey Firmin, former British consul to Quauhnahuac, who was murdered exactly one year earlier.
After his visit with Dr. Vigil, Laruelle walks toward the Casino de Silva and recalls that day a year before. His recollections lead Laruelle to remember the time he spent with Geoffrey and his half brother, Hugh, at the Taskersons’s home when all three were youngsters. One memory moves to another, and the story of Geoffrey and Hugh’s childhood is told.
Laruelle stops at the Cervecería XX, where he chats with Señor Bustamente, owner of the bar and neighboring cinema. Bustamente tells Laruelle that he suspects that the dead consul might have been a spy, or “spider.” At the end of their conversation, Bustamente gives Laruelle the copy of Elizabethan plays that Laruelle borrowed from Geoffrey. Laruelle intended to create a French version of the Faustus story. As he thumbs through the book, Laruelle finds a letter that Geoffrey wrote to his estranged wife, Yvonne, attempting to talk her into returning to him. Geoffrey never mailed the letter. When Laruelle leaves the bar, he walks up the Calle Nicaragua and remembers the day when Geoffrey was murdered and Yvonne was trampled to death by a horse.
(The entire section is 925 words.)