Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Northwestern Africa

*Northwestern Africa. Vast arid region overlapping modern Algeria and Mali in which the novel is set and where author Paul Bowles spent a year touring before writing this, his first novel. He later traveled extensively through the Sahara and eventually settled in North Africa, the scene of most of his later fiction.


*Oran. Algerian port city on the Mediterranean coast in which the novel opens. The freighter on which the Port and Kit Moresby arrive spews them out onto hot docks and into a cluttered and disorganized city. When the husband, Port, awakens from an afternoon nap, he is initially aware only of being “somewhere” after experiencing a vast “nowhere.” This duality of his mental landscape makes place essential to the novel. Port considers himself a “traveler” and not a “tourist,” one who lives by moving from place to place; however, he also seems foolishly unaware of the dangers of the North African climate and alien culture ahead.

Port walks alone in the native Algerian section of the French-ruled city, wandering toward the outskirts of town, observing crowds of impoverished people, whom he finds merely repetitive, spiritless beings. He passes through dark, narrow streets lined with increasingly dilapidated shacks. At the city’s edge, he slides down a hillside dump through a litter of fish bones and similar garbage. From there he sees the glistening salt beds (“sebkas”) stretching out into the desert below, illuminated by a “giant rift” in the sky—the Milky Way, from which a filtered white...

(The entire section is 660 words.)