Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Elizabeth’s journey in and out of madness leaves her with a clearer view of the nature of God and man, and this heightened insight helps her to answer some crucial questions about the plight of the African people. Sello introduces her to a vast company of sad, “fire-washed” people. They are those who have been killed seeking the liberation of mankind. With such people, the line between God and man blurs. Elizabeth exclaims, “Why, an absolute title has been shared. There are several hundred thousand people who are God.” Man’s error is in relegating God to some unseen heaven, removed from daily life. Elizabeth formulates her own definition of God: “God is the totality of all great souls and their achievements; the achievements are not that of one single, individual soul, but of many souls who. . . make up the soul of God, and this might be called God, or the Gods.” She also redefines heaven, removing it from the realm of the mystical and unseen:Oh no, a heaven had been planned directly around the hearts of men and as, bit by bit, its plan unfolded they called it so many names: democracy, freedom of thought, social consciousness, protest, human rights, exploration, moral orders, principles, and a thousand and one additions for the continual expansion and evolution of the human soul.

Man’s inhumanity to man, as evidenced by the rigid caste system of South Africa, for example, is possible only because of man’s inability to see the godlike in all men. Elizabeth perceives her purpose in life to be to proclaim the equality of all human souls. She also realizes that when people see into the power of their souls—into the energy and mystery that reside there—the insight drives them mad. She draws herself out of her madness, however, into a sense of belonging in her land of exile.