The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Although Harris’s characters stand out as individuals, he wanted to represent all the different types of people to be found in multiracial, multicultural Guyana. His characters therefore are also chosen to represent the population spectrum. The crew members fighting their way upriver in Palace of the Peacock represent most of the ethnic types to be found in Guyana, including a mysterious old Arawak Indian woman who symbolizes the original inhabitants of the land before the time of Columbus. Again Harris can be compared to William Faulkner, who sought to represent the entire South of the past and present in the panorama of characters he presented.

Harris does not limit himself to a single point of view or even to several points of view in his novels. He feels free to take readers inside any character’s mind to reveal what that character is thinking and feeling. This is sometimes confusing and occasionally threatens to destroy the illusion of reality.

Harris has often stated that he is not interested in portraying characters in the traditional manner most commonly associated with nineteenth century fiction. He does not confine himself to a particular time frame but feels free to go backward and forward in time, with sometimes confusing results. In The Far Journey of Oudin, both Oudin and Beti seem to be simultaneously taking two separate journeys at different stages of their lives. Harris enters his characters’ memories...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Conscious of the cry of futility uttered by some Caribbean writers, Harris has argued that there is a historical stasis by which their sensibility has been affected. To help them escape this “prison of history,” he suggests that the breach between the “historical convention” and the “arts of the imagination” in the Caribbean should be repaired. Consequently, Harris rejects the Anglo-European “novel of persuasion,” which “consolidates” character, in favor of a “vision of consciousness” through which the personality of the West Indian can be expressed.

A discussion of Harris’ approach to characterization must take into consideration this fictional principle. Harris resorts to the poetic-symbolic language of mythmaking in order to subvert the linear shape of time. He also resorts to several superrealistic devices in the shaping of his novels and, consequently, in the portrayal of his characters. By using such devices as dreams, visions, fantasies, and hallucinations, he allows his characters to transcend the limitations of time and space. As they live in the fictional present, they also carry the burden of the past with them. Such is the case, for example, in the portrayal of Donne and his crew in Palace of the Peacock. Because of the incestuous nature of community, as Harris sees it, the characters not only resemble or reflect one another but also are incorporated into one another’s personalities. The individual members of the crew share Donne’s identity.

Harris, moreover, resorts to the twinning of characters. In The Far Journey of Oudin, there is an uncanny resemblance between Oudin and the murdered half brother, between Mohammed and Kaiser, between Mohammed and the...

(The entire section is 713 words.)