The Solid Mandala

by Patrick White

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What is the primary motif in The Solid Mandala, and how does it reflect on the diasporic Australian identity?

The primary motif in The Solid Mandala is the mandala. This term refers literally to the marbles that Arthur treasures and collects, and metaphorically to the concept of wholeness and unity among differences. The idea of the mandala reflects on diasporic Australian identity through Arthur’s gifts of marbles to others and through the differences in characters’ heritages. These are English and Protestant in the Brown family, and Jewish for Dulcie Feinstein.

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The mandala’s representation of totality can apply specifically to the Brown brothers who, as twins, have a complex symbiotic relationship. In addition, the entire Brown family can represent a microcosm of the British Australian diaspora, as both parents and children emigrated. While the parents tried to hold onto Englishness, in part by upholding social conformity, the boys grew up with little firm memory of their ancestral homeland. Their idiosyncrasies can be taken to represent different, unique strands of national identity.

The sociability that characterizes Arthur is related to the mandala and diaspora through his marbles. He treasures them for their intrinsic qualities—the unique opacity so unlike other, clear marbles. But they are also emblems of his earlier life and country. Rather than remain attached to them, as his parents try to cling to their past, he bestows them (or tries to) as gifts on the people he cares about; in Waldo’s case, the gift is refused. One of these gifts goes, similarly to his friendship, to a person of very different heritage. Dulcie Feinstein, who is Jewish, accepts both his marble and his friendship. This acceptance, also symbolized by her giving her son Arthur’s name, can be taken to stand for the weaving of diasporic strands into post-war Australianness.

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