Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Thoreaux’s predecessors on the one hand include Daniel Defoe, whose Robinson Crusoe (1719) demonstrates how a young man can leave home, venture into a solitary world, find God, and return home enriched beyond measure. On the other hand, Theroux seems particularly indebted to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), which aptly illustrates the depths of depravity to which humans can fall without social props. Conrad’s antihero Kurtz is viewed through Marlowe’s hypnotized eyes in a manner reminiscent of Charlie’s view of Father. Natives adore the insane Kurtz, who voices his desire to return to a primitive state and crawl on all fours. Similarly, when the natives bow before Father after he creates ice, he too becomes a god, later fulfilling Kurtz’s desire by crawling on all fours to his death. Theroux ultimately delivers the messages that people cannot look to the past to solve their problems and that while the modern world may not be perfect, there is a certain amount of splendor in radios and taxi cabs.

An immensely successful writer, Theroux has published more than twenty books and countless short stories. The Mosquito Coast chronicles the author’s deep knowledge of and intense concern with metaphysics, literary criticism, science, and psychology. The novel won the 1981 Yorkshire Post Novel of the Year Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.