Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The main theme of The Guyana Quartet is succinctly expressed by the character Ram in chapter 11 of The Far Journey of Oudin:This country so mix up, one never know who is Christian, Hindu, Moslem or what, black man, white man’s fable or red. Sometimes is all the same it seem but it got a technical difference.

Harris wishes to see Guyana become a nation rather than a colony. He sees that if this is to happen, Guyanans of all racial and religious backgrounds will have to develop a national consciousness. He believes it is the duty of writers such as himself to lead the way. Like Irish novelist James Joyce, a writer to whom he has often been compared, Harris wishes “to forge the uncreated conscience of his race.”

It has been Harris’s lifelong goal to define the essence of Guyana as a land and as a nation. The four novels of The Guyana Quartet attempt to survey the entire landscape and the entire population, including those who live in the wild interior, along the river banks, in the cultivated regions, and along the coast. Harris evidently believes that the only viable consciousness for the heterogeneous people of Guyana is socialist. He is not sympathetic to traditional religion or to any traditional views of the world. He seems to be in sympathy with many radical political thinkers of the Caribbean region and Africa.

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In these novels, the myth of El Dorado, which has been associated with the futility of life past and present in the Caribbean and Guiana, becomes a window through which the author and his readers enjoy a “vision of consciousness.” To discuss Harris’ The Guyana Quartet in terms of the various elements of the conventional novel is most difficult and, in fact, inadequate, since the author himself rejects the “novel of persuasion” as unsuitable for the Caribbean writer. Instead, he attempts to visualize the fulfillment of the Caribbean personality through the principle of creative mythmaking.

Palace of the Peacock shows how a genuine confrontation of one’s past can result in the cleansing of the doors of one’s perception, the reintegration of the disparate elements of personality and of the community, and a realization of the potentiality for new beginnings and rebirth. The dreaming narrator, by confronting the illusions of his past and his fear of death, eventually understands that he is not only a part of the crew but also part of a larger unit, mankind.

The Far Journey of Oudin deals with the question of inheritance and the quest for an heir in a particular community. This community represents the community of both Guiana and of the world in general. The search for an heir, therefore, takes on biblical and mythological dimensions. The quest becomes one for a positive force which will counteract the decadent and selfdestructive conditions of community and landscape that threaten to become ossified. The novel, therefore, deals with a community in transition.

Oudin’s flight through the forest, after the abduction, is also a symbolic flight through his heart of darkness. Like Conrad’s Marlow, Oudin must run the gamut of introspection, self-awareness, and self-acceptance before he can experience true self-fulfillment. Only then can he understand his role as a revolutionary and a man of destiny. Like the knights of the grail legend, he must make the hazardous journey to the Castle Perilous before he can discover the grail of meaning which will restore fertility to the barren land and sterile community of the impotent Fisher Kings. While Oudin succeeds, the others fail because they cannot free themselves of their earthly encumbrances—from the...

(The entire section is 950 words.)