The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Patrick White uses the convention of the voyage in order to trace Theodora’s changing psychological states. As a child, Theodora travels only imaginatively; her family home is named for some far-off, exotic place she never sees, but her father’s tales about the other Meroe stimulate her fantasies. When Theodora embarks on her actual voyage of discovery, she trades her few family connections and a colonial past for a disintegrating culture on the brink of war. The Hotel du Midi serves as a metaphor for the madness of the times, and Theodora epitomizes the general breakdown in morals and ideals. White uses increasingly fragmented sentences to impressionistic effect in order to render the confusion in Theodora’s mind between dream, fantasy, and reality. She loses her own identity in the maelstrom of events to the extent that it becomes impossible to know whether characters such as Sokolnikov, Pavlou, and Holstius are not simply projections of Theodora’s imagination. Not until both the Hotel du Midi and its guests disappear does Theodora embark on her final journey. She travels first to and then through the heart of the New World, pausing only to shed all vestiges of her former life. Her physical voyage ends in a simple shack in no-man’s-land, but her spiritual journey back to wholeness is, as Holstius assures her, only beginning. Theodora’s entire trek involves discarding the superfluous and paring down to her essential self; the journey motif charts the...

(The entire section is 522 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Theodora Goodman

Theodora Goodman, an unmarried woman in her forties. Theodora has devoted much of her adult life to caring for her difficult, antagonistic mother. Once old Mrs. Goodman dies, Theodora decides to travel. She journeys first to pre-World War II Europe and then to America. Before leaving, she recounts the story of her youth to her young niece and soulmate, Lou Parrott. Theodora was decidedly unfeminine as a girl, all bones and angles. She would say startling things and preferred going hunting with her beloved father to practicing the piano. Although clever and perceptive, Theodora has few friends; men in particular are repulsed by her. Except for occasional illuminating encounters with fellow individualists such as Moraïtis, Theodora has led a quiet life with her domineering mother. Following her tour through the Old World, Theodora lingers at the Hôtel du Midi, where her own fragile identity and grip on reality start to unravel as she comes into contact with other eccentric guests. For one (a Russian general), she takes on the role of his deceased sister Ludmilla. Theodora becomes increasingly confused, and as her sense of self begins to disintegrate, the other characters come to seem merely projections of her fervid imagination. Tensions mount in the hotel, and it self-combusts; Theodora escapes and resurfaces in the New World. She rides a train across the United States and gradually divests herself of all of her worldly possessions. It is only once she encounters Holstius that the healing process begins: He speaks to Theodora’s higher self, helping her to gather the pieces of her fractured spirit. Like the characters in the hotel, Holstius seems not to exist except in Theodora’s imagination. Eventually, she is taken away to an asylum by concerned, well-meaning people.

Frank Parrott

Frank Parrott, Theodora’s brother-in-law, a beefy and inarticulate man. He and Theodora were good friends at...

(The entire section is 802 words.)