Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Much of the overt presentation of theme in The World My Wilderness is filtered through Richie’s point of view as he contemplates first France with its cycles of war and peace and then the whole of what is or has been civilized society. Peace, Richie thinks, is simply a mask, a facade covering up humanity’s need for savage behavior, torture, and murder, where the hunted become the hunters and in their turn kill and maul. For Richie, Western culture is now on its downswing; it has had its day.

Helen, too, recognizes the relationship between England and France, between the “maquis” of the London ruins and the French Resistance, whose members lived in the Foret de Sorede. Helen knows why Barbary felt at home among the wrecked streets of London: “Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt: the maquis is within us, we take our wilderness where we go.”

Helen might have added: We drop our own bombs, real or metaphoric, even on those we love, when a greater need compels us. Though the action of The World My Wilderness takes place after World War II, the wartime experience is central to Macaulay’s conception, providing a base for the theme of barbarism-versus-civilization that permeates the novel and gives it its title.