Although Stephens and Catherwood are the main characters of Journey to the Sky, they are not the most interesting. As archaeologists, they are gifted amateurs, nineteenth century gentlemen who have a yen to traipse through the jungle but who say things like “Shocking, shocking!” Instead of worrying about snakes and bandits, they worry about getting their clothes muddy or not getting their meals on time. One reward of the novel is to see them devoured by mosquitoes and niguas while their Indian servants remain untouched.
Stephens and Catherwood, however, are adaptable. By the end of the novel, they have begun to dress and smell like their mule drivers, though they still do not repel mosquitoes. Yet their adaptation only fits them to exercise their sense of Manifest Destiny with greater assurance. They investigate the Palenque ruins despite a Mexican ban on archaeologists; indeed, Stephens plans to buy the Palenque ruins and transport them to New York City. His plans never succeed, though at one time he is willing to marry a local girl to qualify as a purchaser. One thing to his and Catherwood’s credit is their intense interest in the Maya, for whose civilization they helped develop a new appreciation.
More interesting than the explorers are the local people, mostly descendants of the Maya. These people are extraordinarily gentle and hospitable, easily impressed by the strangers, especially when Stephens dons his...
(The entire section is 402 words.)