Even though the reader’s perspective on this “history” is cosmic and is shared by the main characters in their more ethereal forms, Lessing creates interest in her characters in their human forms. By accepting incarnation, one gives up cosmic knowledge. Even the Canopeans Johor and Taufiq lose memory of their true identities. Taufiq is spoken of as captured by the enemy when he makes the wrong choices in his human life as Brent-Oxford and begins to live for self rather than for the Purpose. This inner conflict is even more difficult for the human souls Johor selects to join his family for the last days. This forgetting means that each character must strive against the discord of Shammat to realize his or her true potential and to act consistently with it. The struggle leads often to moving events such as when Taufiq is reclaimed by Johor out of a painful and confused web of self-assertion.
Characterization is unconventional in that the perspective on the main characters is cosmic. Because the characters appear in the book mainly as observers and because of the cosmic perspective of the reader, few characters are deeply engaging. The selections from Rachel Sherban’s journal cause the reader to care for several characters much as she does, but behind this caring is a constant awareness of the Purpose, which leads the reader to uncharacteristic judgments. For example, while Rachel disapproves of George’s wife, Suzanna, the reader gradually comes to...
(The entire section is 445 words.)