Under the Volcano Questions and Answers
by Malcolm Lowry

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How is death a central theme in Under the Volcano?

Malcom Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano starts on the Day of the Dead in 1939, and the theme of death dominates the rest of the novel. There are the physical deaths of the Consul, Geoffrey Firmin, and his wife Yvonne. The novel is also about the death of love, expressed in the end of their marriage and in the book’s enduring line: no se puede vivir sin amar (we cannot live without love).

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The novel begins in Mexico in 1939, one year after the deaths of Yvonne and the Consul, who both died on the Day of the Dead the previous year. This framing puts death in the center of the novel, and the book is not only about physical death but also about the spiritual death of the Consul and the death of his marriage with Yvonne. A deeper look at the novel, set in 1939, also shows that the impending death of civilization itself is also a theme.

In the main, however, the subject of death involves the Consul, Geoffrey Firmin, his wife Yvonne, and their marriage. Separated for a year, during which time the Consul’s alcoholism has taken over his life and Yvonne has embarked on affairs with Geoffrey's half-brother Hugh and his friend Laurelle, the couple appear to be headed toward reconciliation when Yvonne shows up on the eve of the Day of the Dead. But the Consul’s...

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