Henderson the Rain King

by Saul Bellow
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In Henderson the Rain King, what are Dahfu's characteristics and what makes him unique?

Dahfu is a living contradiction - part Westerner, part African; part scientist, part mystic. Dahfu is a man of many layers, each more complex than the last; this makes him as much an enigma to Henderson as it does to the reader. Most important is Dahfu's ability to relate and communicate with Henderson in a way that helps him (Henderson) see his life in a new light. This makes Dahfu unique in the novel. This question was asked by Anonymous and answered by M.L.

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King Dahfu is the only person in the novel capable of discoursing with Henderson in a way that builds an understanding. Henderson is challenged to find anyone who can related to his angst, his turmoil, and his need to do something important - to make a meaningful mark in the world. 

Unable to articulate this conflicting set of impulses, Henderson encounters only one man with the capacity of intellect and a recognition of Henderson's tragedy that makes real communication possible. This is Dahfu and this is one reason Dahfu is unique. 

Educated in the West yet dedicated to pursuing the rites and the duties outlined by his tribe, Dahfu is a contradiction (not unlike Henderson in this regard).

Dahfu...seems a rich combination of genius, madman, charismatic leader, sexual athlete, courageous warrior, and nurturing friend.

The clear contradictions in his character make Dahfu complex and complicated, again resembling Henderson.  

What Henderson sees as unscientific magic, Dahfu is still able to regard as real, despite his Western education. When Dahfu's beliefs are borne out after a success practice of rites, Henderson finds himself in submission to Dahfu. 

However, Dahfu's power is contingent on another set of rites (he must capture the lion - his father - or he will be killed). This makes Dahfu both a ruler and one of the ruled.

No single category seems sufficient to define his character.


This, ultimately, is Henderson's conundrum, the spiritual challenge at the heart of the novel, navigating the contradiction that life may be meaningless but life is the only "thing" available from which to make meaning.

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