Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

As in earlier Callaghan novels, particularly Such Is My Beloved, this novel attempts to be both a realistic social commentary and an allegory simultaneously. On the surface, the theme is racial prejudice and the difficulty whites have accepting the love of a white woman for a black man. More specifically, the story is about Jim McAlpine, who is torn between social respectability and the appeal of the bohemian life—a conflict which is made more complex by his confusion about Peggy Sanderson’s love for black men. Yet it is precisely this mysterious “love” for a race, not for a particular individual, that makes it difficult to accept the novel on realistic terms. The motivation for this love—Peggy’s seeing a naked black boy at the age of twelve and her friendship with the boy’s family—seems less a social or psychological motivation than a weak excuse for a symbolic conflict.

Indeed, the multitude of Christian, classical, and medieval allusions and images which pepper the novel suggest that Callaghan is more interested in presenting a metaphysical story about the mysterious nature of love than he is in writing a realistic novel of social criticism. The central mythic allusion which dominates the novel is the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Claude Gagnon, one of the newspapermen who frequent the Chalet bar, says that McAlpine makes speeches like music to Peggy, who is lost in the dark underworld of Montreal; thus, he is her Orpheus....

(The entire section is 458 words.)