The Solid Mandala

by Patrick White

Start Free Trial

What is the primary motif in The Solid Mandala, and how does it reflect the Australian diaspora?

Quick answer:

The primary motif in The Solid Mandala is the mandala. This term refers literally to the marbles that Arthur treasures and collects, and metaphorically to the concept of wholeness and unity among differences. The idea of the mandala reflects on diasporic Australian identity through Arthur’s gifts of marbles to others and through the differences in characters’ heritages. These are English and Protestant in the Brown family, and Jewish for Dulcie Feinstein.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The mandala’s representation of totality can apply specifically to the Brown brothers who, as twins, have a complex symbiotic relationship. In addition, the entire Brown family can represent a microcosm of the British Australian diaspora, as both parents and children emigrated. While the parents tried to hold onto Englishness, in part by upholding social conformity, the boys grew up with little firm memory of their ancestral homeland. Their idiosyncrasies can be taken to represent different, unique strands of national identity.

The sociability that characterizes Arthur is related to the mandala and diaspora through his marbles. He treasures them for their intrinsic qualities—the unique opacity so unlike other, clear marbles. But they are also emblems of his earlier life and country. Rather than remain attached to them, as his parents try to cling to their past, he bestows them (or tries to) as gifts on the people he cares about; in Waldo’s case, the gift is refused. One of these gifts goes, similarly to his friendship, to a person of very different heritage. Dulcie Feinstein, who is Jewish, accepts both his marble and his friendship. This acceptance, also symbolized by her giving her son Arthur’s name, can be taken to stand for the weaving of diasporic strands into post-war Australianness.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The mandala motif in The Solid Mandala is a reflection of the diasporic Australian identity. Discuss this concept in detail.

Before I help you think about the ways in which the mandala motif reflects diasporic Australian identity, I think the terms motif and diasporic should be clarified.

A motif is a central theme or idea in a book. In Patrick White’s novel The Solid Mandala, you might argue that one of the key themes involves wholeness or harmony. That theme could connect to diaspora. Diaspora refers to people who’ve been dispersed from their country of origin. It might be kind of hard for someone to feel whole or complete if they’re separated from their homeland.

The tension between diaspora and completeness could be symbolized in the mandala. Perhaps you noticed this quote near the end of the novel: “The Mandala is a symbol of totality.” Throughout the book, it seems like Arthur tries to attain a kind of totality. You might see it in the flashback of Arthur on the ship with his family. Remember, Arthur comes close to falling off. When his mom tells him that he might fall into the water and be lost forever, Arthur replies: “Yes. I might. For ever.” You could argue that the appeal of falling into the sea and getting lost “for ever” has something to do with Australian diaspora. You might argue that it’s tied to his longing for a permanent, stable home. Remember, Arthur and Waldo weren’t born in Australia: they migrated there from England.

You could also discuss the mandala and diaspora in the context of the marbles. Perhaps Arthur’s “silly old marbles” aren’t so silly. Maybe they indicate the mobility of Australian/British identity. No matter where a person is, they can still carry their homeland/ adopted homeland with them in a figurative or symbolic way.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on