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.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bertens, Johannes. The Fiction of Paul Bowles: The Soul Is the Weariest Part of the Body. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1979. Examines the work in light of Bowles’s nihilism and attempts to connect the writer to a Calvinist tradition in American literature.

Bowles, Paul. Conversations with Paul Bowles. Edited by Gena Dagel Caponi. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, c. 1993. Bowles discusses the genesis of The Sheltering Sky. Interesting background information for study of the novel.

Caponi, Gena Dagel. Paul Bowles: Romantic Savage. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994. Interpretive biography that examines the parts of Bowles’s life that provide insight into his work. A section on The Sheltering Sky examines its influences, its critical reception, and the central characters’ relationship. Bibliography and index.

Patteson, Richard F. A World Outside: The Fiction of Paul Bowles. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987. Examines this novel and others through formal and thematic architectural concepts: the story as shelter, both necessary and fragile. Considered the most comprehensive of the full-length studies. Includes bibliography.

Pounds, Wayne. Paul Bowles: The Inner Geography. New York: Lang, 1985. Using psychological theories, the author compares The Sheltering Sky to Bowles’s other works and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838).