Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Mexico. North American country whose tortured history—conquest and enslavement, revolution and unrest—serves as backdrop to the consul’s tragedy. The Mexico through which Geoffrey Firmin walks (or stumbles) is a surreal landscape of ruined gardens and stinging insects, where vultures perch in washbasins and thieves clutch bloodied coins stolen from the dead but Geoffrey recognizes it as a mirror of his private hell.


Quauhnahuac (kwah-NAH-wehk). Fictional Mexican town that is Malcolm Lowry’s nightmarish vision of Cuernavaca, a real city south of Mexico City. “Quauhnahuac” is, in fact, its original Nahuatl name, which means “among the trees.” The Nahuatl name refers to the forest that surrounds Quauhnahuac, a forest through which the characters wander in the book’s final chapter and which is linked to Dante’s dark wood. Lowry in fact conceived Under the Volcano as a part of a modern Divine Comedy he planned to write. Mexico for him was Hell, just as the northern wilds of British Columbia, Canada, dreamed of but never attained as a refuge for the consul and his wife Yvonne, was an earthly paradise.

Many landmarks in Quauhnahuac have thematic significance. Jacques Laruelle’s house, owned by Geoffrey’s friend and Yvonne’s former lover, recurs in several scenes, highlighting the consul’s fatal flaw: He cannot fully love and forgive Yvonne or...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

To understand how Lowry's novel evolved throughout a decade's constant and frustrating revisions from one addict's case history into what...

(The entire section is 454 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Under the Volcano did not belong in its postwar timeframe. When it was published, the world was still digging out of the ruins of the...

(The entire section is 781 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The "Lowry industry" has stimulated what the late R. P. Blackmur, speaking of Ulysses (1922), called "the whole clutter of exegesis,...

(The entire section is 271 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Under the Volcano, on one level, is a cinematic novel written by a novelist who loved films. Some of the early enthusiasts of the...

(The entire section is 488 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

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” and the Cabbala. New York: Henry Holt, 1969. Examines Lowry’s use of myths and symbols for conveying the theme of Under the Volcano. Likens Lowry’s use of Mexican folklore to the Cabbala.

Gass, William H. “In Terms of the Toenail: Fiction and the Figures of Life.” In Fiction and the Figures of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970. Argues that Under the Volcano is a day-in-the-life story of British consul Geoffrey Firmin.

Markson, David. Malcolm Lowry’s “Volcano”: Myth, Symbol, Meaning. New York: Times Books, 1978. Probably the most thorough investigation of Under the Volcano. Explains Lowry’s use of symbols, allusions, and themes.

Spender, Stephen. Introduction to Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. New York: New American Library, 1971. Spender’s introduction is a must for anyone reading Under the Volcano for the first time. Puts the novel into its context in Lowry’s canon.