Abel, the main character, serves as the narrator in Green Mansions except during the short prologue when an unnamed British official in Georgetown sets the stage for the story. The reader is then alerted to one fact which must remove a certain amount of suspense: The hero, despite all his travails, large and small, has survived.
Abel is well prepared for his encounter with nature and Rima because he has deliberately sought to escape from the realistic, artificial, and corrupt atmosphere of modern civilization; in short, Abel is psychologically motivated for the venture which is to befall him. Although he had originally journeyed inland to seek gold, which would have restored him to power, wealth, and his former way of life, Abel responded enthusiastically to the stimulus of primitive nature.
Even his initial experiences with the Indians contain favorable impressions, and the episode of the drinking bout with the Parahuaris is humorous as Abel adjusts to his new way of life; he would not have been opposed to spending a term of exile among the savages, enjoying nature and analyzing the habits of the natives.
Abel's curiosity, however, leads him to enter the forbidden "green mansions" of the South American hinterland, and the slow, suspenseful realization that a human being lives in the woodland arouses the young man's ambition to become acquainted with this mysterious person. During the second phase of Abel's development, considerable emphasis is placed on analyzing his various reactions; the effect is a sound, psychological study of his moods. The whole section also has some amusing moments when, for example, he stays away from the forest in order to force Rima to appear. Although a great deal is learned about Abel during these two stages, the chapters are only preliminary to the meeting between the youth and Rima.
The emotional and romantic height of Green Mansions is of course the relationship between the two, but the love affair reaches a level of mutual understanding for a short time. Prior to Abel's explanation to Rima at Riolama about the disaster to her people, he has met rebuffs and shyness from the girl. His love for Rima increases during the difficult period of frank communication between the two. Finally, at the mountain of Ytaioa, Abel ironically provides happiness for Rima by mentioning accidentally the name of Riolama because he causes the beginning of the tragedy. He shows tragic features also, symbolizing in his quest the plight of modern people pursuing the ideals of love, beauty, and perfection.
Going from a realistic to a romantic attitude, Abel at last emerges as the tragic hero after Rima's disappearance from the story. Rima thus liberates Abel in a certain sense as he only develops completely when he remains alone after the end of their friendship. The book is certainly not a character study, but the chapters after Rima's flight belong to Abel; he increasingly dominates the narration. The deepening tragedy is paralleled by the importance of Abel in the story and by the manner in which his character unfolds during the various crises.
Abel, suffering from a traumatic shock because of the sure signs of Rima's death, almost goes insane under the burden of his self-imposed isolation. The loss of his one value, without any specific ideal to replace that security, leaves him in a void. He falls from the state of innocence and idealism to a condition of barbaric primitivism and violence. Abel, in short, turns from goodness to evil. He resorts to trickery, betrayal, and murder in the same degree that the Parahuaris had done in their behavior toward Rima.
During his final descent into isolation and crime, Abel borders dangerously on a decision which could lead him to suicide. Only Rima's memory saves him, and his determination to conduct himself as her servant brings him back to civilization. Too much attention may have been given to Abel's development in these closing chapters, as some critics and even the author conceded.
Nevertheless, the intimate analyses of Abel's agony after Rima's death, in particular, are poignant, plausible probings of the young man. He is a youth who has fallen in love, looks upon the future optimistically, and suddenly sees all his expectations dissipated by the aspect of the life he has ignored. Nature, so vital a force throughout the romance, triumphs in showing a cruel side. Abel, so enamored with nature, suffers grievously because he has not expected such swift, heartless treatment from the blind forces of natural circumstances. His hopes were raised too high, and his romanticism allowed him to lose sight of the adverse aspects of human existence.
Nevertheless, the chapters in which Abel sinks into despair are the ones his character is best traced. Although the constant and sole attention is placed on the hapless youth, alone in the "green mansions," interest is sustained by the concentration on his predicament. Hudson's beliefs — and doubts — are brought out very fully during his hero's final crisis. Abel is the young man of Hudson's own time who must search for an ideal if the materialism of the age is not to stifle his spirit. Hudson is also frank in sketching what befalls the youth who tries to embody a dream. Abel's idyll, vanquished by the elements he had accepted, sustains him for the rest of his life by providing a stoical base of service and devotion.
Abel, then, possesses evident and marked autobiographical traces which are also convincing by use of the first person as the narrative device in Green Mansions. Hudson, too, came up against the brutalities of universal suffering when he was almost fatally stricken by illnesses. His recovery, however, ended his dream of a vigorous, outdoor life, and, like Abel, Hudson found himself cut adrift from his moorings in nature. Although critics of Hudson's romance are unanimous that the work is in many ways the story of the author's own quest, they have been unable to show precisely the influence of the writer's life as clearly as they believe exists in Green Mansions.