Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Anopopei. Imaginary island in the South Pacific on which the novel is set. The island’s dense jungle terrain is itself almost a character in the novel—a constant reminder of how primal Nature is when seen in the raw. From the novel’s earliest sections, Mailer uses the jungle to remind readers that this is also true of human beings. One of the foot soldiers thinks that the jungle looks like the Garden of Eden, and there is, in some sense, a parallel. However, this is a post-Fall Eden, not Paradise. Anopopei’s jungle is primal, a force unto itself, and it stirs some ancient, atavistic recognition in the men who try to survive it.

Another soldier feels a deep excitement, “as if he were witnessing creation”—a feeling that seems to typify the soldiers’ reactions to the jungle. Their experience in the jungle is instinctive, pre-verbal, almost visceral in many cases. The experience precedes what the rational mind can codify, what the reasonable mind can articulate.

Not even a mind as reasonable and as fine as that of General Cummings can quite put into words what the jungle means; however, he comes closest. He is obsessed with bringing order to the primal world in which he finds himself, ordering the land cleared and a world of officers’ tents set out in a neat alignment of ninety-degree designs, only to have the clearing overgrown in a few days or to have an unexpected storm play havoc with his plans and...

(The entire section is 510 words.)