The Search for Meaning
Perhaps the most important theme in Henderson the Rain King is the search for meaning. At the beginning of the novel, fifty-five-year-old protagonist Eugene Henderson suffers a midlife crisis after the unexpected death of Mrs. Lenox, a woman in his employ. This prompts some long overdue soul-searching in the hot-tempered Henderson, who travels to Africa in hopes of discovering a land that has been untouched by the modern world. He hopes to connect with nature at a primal, visceral level and to understand what has led him to this point. Prior to his voyage, he tries to sum up his life, only to discover that it is a complete mess and that if he doesn't change, things will only get worse. It takes flying to Africa and temporarily abdicating all responsibility for his children for Henderson to realize just how important his family is to him. His journey of self-discovery is really an opening of possibilities, as he allows himself to express his deepest feelings, to believe himself worthy of love, and to connect with others at a meaningful level.
Henderson's search for meaning is inspired by a death early in the novel: that of Mrs. Lenox, the woman who cooks breakfast for Henderson and his family every morning. Mrs. Lenox suffers a heart attack in the middle of an argument between Henderson and his wife, Lily. Assuming that his shouts caused Mrs. Lenox's heart attack, Henderson flees to Africa, where he travels the continent, struggling to come to terms with his own mortality. Dahfu, the philosopher-king of the Wariri tribe, notices this fear of death and urges Henderson to overcome it. Dahfu encourages Henderson to spend some time with a lioness, Atti, that Dahfu has captured (the philosopher-king has built a lion cult with lions like Atti). For Henderson, overcoming his fear of Atti is equivalent to overcoming his fear of death itself. His success in this endeavor puts him on the path to self-transcendence, allowing him,...
(The entire section is 825 words.)