Green Mansions By William H. Hudson Summary and Analysis Chapters 16-17


After eighteen days, the three travelers arrive at the cave where Nuflo had first seen Rima's mother. No one is in the vicinity, of course, but Rima, still hopeful, climbs a nearby mountain to try to see some signs of human life. Abel follows her and endeavors again to convince Rima that the bird people no longer exist. Although Rima becomes angry and resentful at Abel's logical arguments, she finally listens to his frank, honest analysis of what probably happened to her mother's people. Abel's deduction that they were destroyed by hostile Indians so upsets the sensitive and overwrought girl that she falls unconscious, and Abel, alarmed, carries her back to the cave.

Nuflo, believing that Rima is dying, begs her not to forget her promise to pray for his salvation in the afterlife; and Abel is annoyed by the old man's selfishness during this crisis. Watching over Rima, Abel observes that she is gradually regaining consciousness. He kisses her, and she awakens fully. They declare their love for one another although Rima still regrets the loss of any of her own people with whom she could speak more intimately in their mysterious language. Abel and Rima make plans to live together in the forest, but Rima suddenly insists that she must go back immediately to the woodland in order to make new clothes for herself. She wants to welcome Abel when he and Nuflo come back to the "green mansions" as Nuflo first saw her mother, "standing before him, all in white — a dress that was like snow on the mountain-tops, when the sun is setting and gives it rose and purple colour." Stunned by this surprising decision and fearing for her safety, Abel is too dismayed at the thought of their separation to argue rationally with Rima. By the time he can run after her, Rima has already vanished "on that long journey alone."


Rima dominates the action of these two chapters because she comes to the moment of truth about her dreams regarding any survivors of her race, passes through the inevitable crisis when her hopes are shattered by reality, accepts the truth, and turns to Abel for his love. Ironically, at the moment when both lovers are happy, Rima shatters the joy of Abel by leaving for the "green mansions" alone. Indeed, Rima now disappears from the action — and does not reappear in the remaining chapters. Thus, the idyll between Abel and Rima has gone from one extreme to another, from the heights of ecstasy of a newly found love to the depths of depression over their separation. And Rima, of course, is the one responsible for this unfortunate decision — not Abel.

Rima's character has certainly unfolded during these two chapters. Again, as at Ytaioa, a dramatic encounter takes place between the two lovers on a mountain where the panorama of the natural setting lends a majesty and beauty to their emotional speeches; and again, the time of day is significantly indicated to augment the romantic mood of the meeting. On the first occasion, Hudson writes that "the day was windless and bright, with only a few white clouds floating at a great height above and casting travelling shadows over that wild, broken country"; on the second occasion, Abel begins "to feel a dry, bracing wind in my face and to see the desert spread out for leagues before me in the brilliant white light of a full moon." The bright light of the sun and the white light of the moon provide two different backgrounds for Hudson's canvases, but the scene is ironically illuminated greatly by these contrasting natural phenomena. One should, in fact, compare and contrast carefully the two trysts of the lovers at the peaks of Ytaioa and Riolama.

The former is lengthy, descriptive, and digressive; the latter is set in a more emotional atmosphere, moving inexorably toward a major change in the lovers' fortunes. Rima, again, occupies the front of the stage, but she is no longer the exuberant and carefree creature of the "green mansions" after her disappointment at the cave where she must come to terms with fate. Rima betrays her emotional tension by the angry outbursts with which she greets Abel's gentle admonitions and remarks. He sees in Rima a wild and savage aspect, "a beautiful human wasp, and every word a sting." Twice previously, when she prevented him from killing the snake and when she berated Nuflo for his concealment of her past, Abel has witnessed an irate Rima. Nevertheless, she is a very insecure, lonely, and frightened young girl, and her love compels Rima to listen to Abel's words. He has already grasped that his influence with Rima, after their discussion on Ytaioa, weighed heavily in her decisions; and now, at this most important crisis, Abel has again influenced her. Rima is so crushed, however, that Abel is frightened by this extreme — and dangerous — change in her, when "all that bright life seemed gone out of her." The deathlike swoon of Rima, so melodramatic and romantic, almost as in a play, brings down the curtain quickly on this chapter of Green Mansions.

Rima continues to run the gamut of emotions in the following chapter, which presents the culmination of the love between the two young people. Abel's kisses not only help to revive the despondent Rima but, more important, overcome her reluctance to confide completely in Abel. Abel now understands why Rima has avoided him on so many occasions, and he can explain forthrightly to her the reason: She has wanted to talk in her own language to her own people who will aid her to solve the mystery of this strange, new emotion — love. This answer, simple in explanation and not illogical in view of Rima's isolated life, provides the answers to what has happened in other chapters. Striving to erase past memories, and hoping to speak to Abel despite the language barrier, Rima remarks very maturely, "Oh, why do we cry for what is lost? Why do we not quickly forget it and feel glad again?" Love, on the verge of bringing happiness, trust, and understanding to Rima and Abel, is interrupted by the girl's announcement that she must return alone to the forest.

Rima's final change of emotional mood is, then, not unmotivated, especially as Hudson has depicted her in these two chapters. After all, Rima is essentially a romantic heroine who has reacted throughout the book as a character living an exotic existence and behaving intuitively. Rima does display a very realistic attitude at times, particularly in her initial hopes for the future with Abel, but she is fundamentally also an idea, or even an ideal, in Hudson's romance. For these reasons, therefore, Rima ignores the feelings of Abel about her departure, says innocently that she must weave for herself a new gossamer dress in which to greet him, and leaves so suddenly that she does not say farewell to Nuflo, or even take provisions.

Like Rima, Abel, despite his steadfast reliance upon reason and logic in winning Rima's love, is basically a romantic hero. All his speeches to Rima are expressions of his profound emotional involvement in her destiny, and he is lyrical in his several declarations of love for the girl. For example, Abel follows a pattern familiar by now in Green Mansions. Thoughts about Rima, now unconscious in the cave, lead Abel to remember something observed in nature; then comes a detailed description in poetic prose about the natural phenomenon and finally appears the moral or at least the practical application of this episode to life. In this particular passage, Abel has been gazing at "the mysterious loveliness of the still face" when he, "in that profound silence and solitude," senses "a strange feeling in me, hard, perhaps impossible, to describe." Drifting into a reverie, Abel recalls a time in the mountains when the sight of a single, white flower compelled him to come back repeatedly to view it. This Hata flower, as the Indians call it, is also the source of a beautiful legend: The flower appears for a month and vanishes at will, is unique, and brings good fortune to the discoverer. This combination of a local color sketch, peculiarly South American, and a scientific description is then expanded into a didactic conclusion. Why, thinks Abel, does life survive and bloom for one but is destroyed without reason for another? Applying his observation and thought to the immediate situation, Abel again moralizes: Why is not Rima another Hata-unique, immortal, and the bearer of happiness?

While Hudson has been advancing toward a profounder artistic expression in Green Mansions, the episode of the Hata flower, included in one of the most important chapters of the book, illustrates clearly and forcefully four aspects of the writer: his utilization of poetic prose as a basic feature of style; the employment of regionalism or indigenous elements as a background; his experience and reputation as a naturalist to provide accuracy and authority for the settings; and his moralistic or philosophical ambitions for the story. While little is directly added to the plot by such digressions, the value of Green Mansions would be diminished by the omission of vignettes such as the tale of the Hata.

Abel, then, in these chapters emerges as a tragic hero, doomed by his romanticism. He has idealized Rima to such an extent that he is almost unaware of the real setting and of Rima's personality. Abel dominated the situation and mastered the crisis when he conducted himself realistically without any neglect of his love for Rima. Now, at the apparent time of his success, Abel throws aside all thought of practical considerations — and loses Rima. For example, he is so immersed in his romantic idyll that he fails to prevent Rima from abandoning him for her impractical scheme of making the return trip alone. When Abel does finally respond to the demands of the real world and the practical issue at hand — Rima's flight-the girl has reached the lower plateau. Abel, "recovering my faculties" as he correctly analyzes his error, can only sink into a state of mental depression. Nevertheless, Abel's speeches to Rima, in addition to the obvious poetic qualities of the lines, reflect his deep passion, sincerity, and devotion to the girl.

These two chapters, therefore, are the high point of Hudson's idealization of Abel and Rima; this section is also the apex of their mutual love. The story's trajectory starts downward very definitely when Rima says to the young man: "I must go back alone, Abel."

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