The characters in Outer Dark are drawn in broad surface strokes. The reader rarely enters their minds, and he is often left to guess at their motivations, which may be quite different from their stated purposes. For example, Culla Holme is ashamed of his incestuous coupling with his sister. When Rinthy is in labor, Culla refuses to summon outside help, even that of an old witch, a “midnight woman,” because “She’d tell.” “Who is they to tell?” Rinthy asks. “Anybody,” Culla answers. Although he himself helps with the birth, he does so only at the last minute, after his sister has undergone great pain. Clearly he is giving her a chance to die, hoping that she will take the proof of their sin with her.
Culla’s attempt to rid himself of the child after its birth is also marked by a combination of cruelty and cowardice. Rather than simply murder the child, he leaves it to die in the midst of the night swamp and flees in dread and panic from the sight and sound of his wailing son. Yet in his flight he becomes lost and circles unknowingly back to the scene of his guilt, where the baby still howls in outrage and accusation.
The pattern is repeated after Rinthy takes off in search of the child. Culla comes after, perhaps to find Rinthy, although he never asks of her from the strangers he meets on the way. Indeed, it is possible that Culla’s following his sister is more a matter of fate than intent, and that his movement is still flight rather than search. Moreover, his journey continues to circle, and the book ends as he walks along a road leading to a swamp, likely the very one in which he was lost at the beginning.
Rinthy Holme owes much of her characterization to William Faulkner’s Lena Grove in Light in August. Like Lena, Rinthy is, despite her obvious sexual experience, an innocent in the alien world. She has true love for her child, who causes her neither shame nor regret. When Culla tells her that the child is dead, she wants to see the grave, to lay her baby in the earth. When Culla confesses that the child is still alive, she simply sets out after it. Her breasts continue to make milk months after...
(The entire section is 888 words.)