Under the Volcano Under the Volcano
by Malcolm Lowry

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Under the Volcano

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Set in Quahnahuac, Mexico, in the late 1930’s, the novel is governed by the mind of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British consul. He has recently resigned his post and is in despair over the loss of his wife, Yvonne, whom he cannot believe will be his again--even when she returns after their divorce.

The continuity of Firmin’s thinking is often hard to follow and seems at the mercy of how much he has had to drink, but if his life is in ruins, so is the world which is tearing itself apart in conflicts like the Spanish Civil War.

Given his disappointment in human beings, Firmin’s stubborn probing of how people treat one another is heroic. He simply will not let go of ethical issues even though his debilitation seemingly disqualifies him from being taken seriously. As the consul quite rightly insists, he is battling for “the survival of the human consciousness.”

Firmin forgets nothing. Other people pretend “not to know” about the causes of volcanic eruptions, which, in their built-up pressures, are so like the political history of the 20th century, but he realizes that, both in the cases of individuals and nations, people have interfered with one another and explosions are the result. Ultimately it is Firmin’s surprising integrity of character and language, his way, as he says, of stretching a point, that makes this novel an indispensable exercise of the modern imagination.


Day, Douglas. Malcolm Lowry: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. Demonstrates how the novel is intent on making a moral statement, which is achieved by Lowry’s presentation of the four major characters.

Epstein, Perle E. The Private Labyrinth of Malcolm Lowry: “Under the Volcano”...

(The entire section is 430 words.)