Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Sarsaparilla. Fictional suburb west of Sydney in which most of the action unfolds. It is probably based on Castle Hill, the actual Sydney suburb where White lived from 1946, when he returned to Australia after serving in World War II, until 1963, when he moved into the city. Although White had previously set plays in Sarsaparilla, this is the first time he used it in his fiction.

While inner Sydney offers spectacular views as it stretches gracefully around the magnificent harbor and along the ocean cliffs, the landscape changes dramatically once the harbor and sea disappear. Sarsaparilla is situated in this colorless, flat, and dusty expanse. Once a rural area of small farms, it gradually became more thickly settled as working-class families moved out of the city into housing developments in their search for a better life. Their cheap, poorly built houses, each with a well-tended yard, may represent security and happiness for their inhabitants, but White unmasks this supposedly ideal community. His version of Sarsaparilla is dominated by hypocrisy, ignorance, cruelty, rigid conformity, and just plain bad taste. Another suburb, Paradise East, may be more upscale, but underneath its pretentious exterior it resembles Sarsaparilla.

In spite of the physical ugliness and personal emptiness of these suburbs, four of the characters conquer the environs, discover their potential, and become “riders in the chariot.”...

(The entire section is 540 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bliss, Carolyn. “Riders in the Chariot.” In Patrick White’s Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. Argues that the four protagonists, the “riders in the chariot,” represent qualities, if they were combined, that “would produce a complete human being or society.” Concludes that they reach wholeness through their “acceptance of failure.”

Chapman, Edgar L. “The Mandala Design of Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot.” In Critical Essays on Patrick White, edited by Peter Wolfe. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. Examines the novel in the light of its mythological sources, including William Blake’s visionary poetry, the biblical prophets, the apocalypse, the Jewish cabbalistic tradition, Jungian thought, and the mandala symbol. A complex but readable and illuminating essay.

Dutton, Geoffrey. “White’s Triumphal Chariot.” In Critical Essays on Patrick White, edited by Peter Wolfe. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. Admires all aspects of the work—its scope, vision, characterization, and language. An excellent general introduction to the novel.

Edgecombe, Rodney S. “Riders in the Chariot.” In Vision and Style in Patrick White: A Study of Four Novels. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1989. Analyzes each of the chariot’s riders in detail, showing their roles in the elaborate allegory and their relationships with one another. Combines this discussion with an examination of the work’s complex structure.

Morley, Patricia. The Mystery of Unity: Theme and Technique in the Novels of Patrick White. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1972. Remains an important and standard study. Places White’s work in the mainstream of European writing and investigates how it employs the Western tradition along with archetypes that dominate Western literature. Helpful as a background for Riders in the Chariot.