The Solid Mandala

by Patrick White

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How does Patrick White use characterization to present themes in The Solid Mandala?

Quick answer:

Patrick White uses characterization as a ploy to bring forth the themes in The Solid Mandala in that he constructs Waldo and Arthur as opposites to draw attention to how they complete one another.

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Near the end of the book, Arthur reads aloud from an encyclopedia. He reads, “The Mandala is a symbol of totality.” He discovers that it represents an order that’s been imposed on a kind of psychic commotion. As the title of Patrick White’s novel is The Solid Mandala, it’s reasonable to argue that the main themes tackle totality, completeness, or feeling whole. White brings forth these themes through his characterizations of Arthur and Waldo.

As the term implies, characterization connects to a character. In fiction, it relates to how an author creates and builds a given character. It deals with the features and behaviors that separate one character from another.

In White’s novel, characterization communicates that Waldo and Arthur, though twins, are not alike. The characterization of Waldo centers on his intellect. Waldo is described as the “clever twin.” Later on, he’s deemed “too clever.” He’s also defined as punctual and tidy. Conversely, Arthur is presented as someone who lacks intellectual capabilities and fastidiousness. He’s “lumpy,” “slobbering,” and replete with “imbecile excitement.”

It’s possible to label White’s characterizations a ploy because they’re devices that White uses to his own advantage. He intentionally crafts conflicting characters to emphasize the aforementioned themes of totality. Despite their stark differences, Arthur and Waldo stick together. As the image of them holding hands as they walk down the street indicates, they need each other. It’s like they are each other’s mandalas.

If Arthur’s and Waldo’s characters were constructed in a way that didn’t make them seem like such polar opposites, then their union might not be so noticeable and the themes might not be so forthright.

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