The Plumed Serpent provides a stage for the talents of the modernist period’s least understood novelist. In this tale of revolution and romance, D. H. Lawrence combines many of the striking aspects of his better-known works of fiction. The novel is set in Mexico, a country that represents a frightening and intriguing exoticism to Lawrence’s English-speaking characters. Lawrence chose Mexico not only because of his personal fascination for the country but also the turbulent political climate he describes with hope and fear. The Plumed Serpent is an attempt by Lawrence to work out the conflict within himself concerning issues of social class and political power. Bound up in the interweaving of fear and hope, Lawrence’s political philosophies found a topical context in a fictional Mexico. For contemporary readers, the novel may be read as a discussion on the relationship between the individual and society.
In the consciousness of an individual, Kate Leslie, The Plumed Serpent’s heroine, the novel does its finest work. The narrative displays Lawrence’s unique ability to construct characters whose physical, spiritual, and psychological characteristics impress readers as the kind of truth about the human condition that only good fiction can tell. The relationship between Irish Kate and the Mexico and Mexicans she encounters engenders the thematic and artistic accomplishments that should give readers of Lawrence good reason to reappraise The Plumed Serpent.
Mexico’s role in the novel serves many artistic purposes for Lawrence, and must be understood by The Plumed Serpent’s readers as a complex entity that is setting and symbol. Lawrence was drawn to and made a study of Mexico and New Mexico. The Plumed Serpent can be compared to E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924); the non-English settings of both works are wrought with painstaking authenticity. The literary critic F. R. Leavis thought that the long passages of the novel describing indigenous rituals and costume must have entertained Lawrence but were likely to bore readers. This sentiment was not shared by the novelist Katherine Anne Porter,...
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