Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 352
The Solid Mandala is a novel about love and the destruction it can cause. The deep bond between the two brothers, Arthur and Waldo, holds them together throughout their lives, but their competition and jealousy force them apart. As each becomes more firmly committed to the idea that he is superior to the other, their codependency also intensifies.
Because the author presents them as fraternal—rather than identical—twins, the boys are more easily able to discern and stress the differences between them. Although Arthur seems more socially adept, neither develops lasting emotional relationships with other people that can rival their unhealthy mutual obsession with each other. This extreme arrested development plays into the inevitable conclusion of fratricide.
In his modern version of the Cain and Abel story, Patrick White extends the rivalry between the brothers into old age. The rivalry between them over the same woman, Dulcie, suggests that it owes a debt to another version of that story: John Steinbeck's East of Eden. The characters that are clear opposites in many ways—one is a bookworm, for example, while the other is a jock—often seem to be stereotypes rather than individuals. This extreme opposition, combined with their extreme intimacy, raises the suspicion that they may be alter egos, such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, leaving the reader to wonder how firmly the novel is rooted in realism. Other co-dependent pairs, such as Estragon and Vladimir in Waiting for Godot, are suggested by these characters and the fact that they are going nowhere.
The symbolism of the title raises spiritual issues that are played out by the depth of feeling between the brothers and their inability to share those feelings openly. The marbles referenced by the title are unique in being opaque, as their emotions are to them. Part of Arthur's uniqueness lies in his hobby of collecting the marbles and selectively sharing them with others; his brother not only lacks the ability to share but rejects Arthur's gift because he cannot freely choose it. Their inability to understand true generosity of spirit is symbolized through this frustrated exchange.