With The Mosquito Coast, Paul Theroux continues an American tradition of starting a new, idealistic society in the wake of disillusion with the United States and its values. This theme is a direct descendent of the works of Henry David Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper, Herman Melville, and Mark Twain. The Mosquito Coast is told in the first person by fourteen-year-old Charlie Fox, who is perceptive but sees his father, Allie, or Father, through the mixed emotions of love, apprehension, fear, admiration, and terror. The major irony between Father’s goal and his failure to bring self-reliance and self-improvement to the indigenous Hondurans is matched by the irony between the story Charlie tells and the story the reader interprets from the telling. Because the narrator is a teenager and sees events through emotional eyes, he is unreliable, so the reader must interpret the more disturbing aspects of Father’s behavior. There is a difference between Father’s actions, Charlie’s interpretations of them, and the reader’s interpretations, another subtle irony that serves to increase the horror of what actually takes place.
While the book adheres to the traditional novelistic structure in which the plot proceeds in a linear fashion, the development of the personalities of father and son take place within this structure. The son changes during the events and grows more mature, more equipped to judge his father’s mistakes, and more responsible. Charlie is the one who takes matters into his own hands once he realizes that continuing up the river is futile; he is the one who acquires the key to the Reverend Spellgood’s vehicle; and he is the one who fells his father in the anchor chain when people are shooting at the family from the mission.
Father develops in an opposite direction,...
(The entire section is 748 words.)