Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Home of Carlos, Esteban, and Sofia

Home of Carlos, Esteban, and Sofia. Havana residence of the three orphaned young-adult members of a prominent, although never named, merchant family. Both the dwelling and the offspring have been neglected by the late father, and in her new role as female head of the household, Sofia decides to refurnish the home completely. The result is a material avalanche of furniture, crockery, books, and musical instruments that turns their living quarters into a labyrinth of stacked packing cases and narrow passageways. Carlos, Esteban, and Sofia move among these as if gingerly exploring a strange new world, while delighting in their random encounters with this profusion of worldly goods.

The bizarre manner in which these mostly European objects are treated, and in particular the many descriptions of how Havana’s heat and humidity lead to the rapid deterioration of the new furnishings, exemplifies the novel’s related theme of the breakdown of meaningful communication between Europe and its New World colonies. Although Carlos, Esteban, and Maria are initially delighted with the imported luxuries that their colonial wealth enables them to buy, they soon tire of this essentially meaningless pastime, and welcome the help of the Haitian merchant Victor Hugues in restoring their family’s place in the world. Subsequent plot developments will provide many additional examples of colonial frustration with an inappropriate imperial heritage, and the novel’s graphic portrayal of Old World materials literally destroyed by New World...

(The entire section is 648 words.)