Green Mansions By William H. Hudson Summary and Analysis Chapters 20-22

Summary

When Abel reaches Managa's village, he immediately starts to incite the chief to annihilate Runi's tribe. He is very successful in causing a massacre of the Parahuaris, but the sight of old Cla-cla, covered with blood, shocks Abel into a reaction of horror against the evil he has wrought in his revenge. Seeking isolation deep in the jungle, Abel undergoes many privations because he cannot trap enough animals for food and has difficulty in building an adequate fire to keep warm. Approaching Nuflo's hut almost compulsively, Abel is horrified to discover the skeleton of the old man, who has been murdered by the savages. After burying the remains of his dead companion, Abel recovers the cache of provisions which he and Nuflo hid before they set out for Riolama. These supplies save Abel from possible death, and he sets to work in a new mood. Erecting a shelter on the spot where Rima had lived, Abel rests and gradually recovers. He is, however, disturbed by the shocking memories of the past; in this solitude, Abel begins again to deteriorate in mind and body. He grows thin and weak because of the agonies of recent events. He begins to act irrationally, as when he hurls a stone into the water in order to destroy the reflection of himself.

Abel endeavors to convince himself that Rima may be alive. He hopes that the Indians lied or that Rima survived in some miraculous way. Searching through the woodland for Rima, Abel of course has no luck; he then looks for the site of the fire. When he locates the place where all signs indicate that Rima perished exactly as the Indians related, Abel carefully gathers the bones of Rima. He takes them back to his shelter, where he spends many hours decorating a clay jar for them. On the urn, Abel inscribes the words: "Sin vos y sin dios y mi (Having lost you, I have lost both God and myself.)"

Another crisis, however, overcomes Abel: He is unable to sleep because nightmares destroy the pleasure of the loving task that had comforted him during the daytime. Abel is in a dilemma: He reasons with himself that he will die if he does not leave the woodland, yet the thought of abandoning the place of his happiest days in life is unbearable. After catching a sloth, which reminds him of another incident with Rima, Abel has some meat which will feed him during the trip to a settlement. His mood is inclined to laughter for the first time in months, but in the cold light of morning he is sadly reflective as he bids farewell to Rima's homeland. He weeps upon setting out on the trail to civilization.

After a difficult time in the jungle, beset by many natural obstacles and victimized by an overwrought imagination, Abel reaches the coast. But his full recovery is slow. When the sufferings of the body are forgotten, Abel must still live — forever — with the memory of Rima. He slowly tries to apply all his experiences to his life and to be worthy of Rima.

Analysis

There is very little action in the long, introspective chapter twenty, but the chapter is one of the most important in Green Mansions for an explanation of Hudson's philosophy. Abel's foray into Managa's camp that results in the attack upon Runi's people is described in very muted fashion, and there is little dialogue in the chapter except for Abel's combative speeches to himself. Here, nevertheless, is where Hudson, speaking through Abel, argues with fate and seeks to comprehend the turns and twists of destiny. It is impossible to struggle against the pitfalls of life, Hudson concludes, and one must accept tragedies, though sadly. Nature is cruel, but the one at fault is God. Yet everything comes from "the Author of my being," as Abel has called God. Abel then concludes that both good and evil, love and hate come from God; prayers and defiance of destiny have no effect upon his plight.

Abel, nevertheless, emerges from this dark night of the soul, or, as he calls it, "the blackest period of my life," by will power and rationalization. His revolt will avail nothing against God and against the inscrutable workings of the divine instrument, nature; and the rebel will only destroy himself in the struggle. But Abel undergoes a frightening "period of moral insanity" before he grasps the fact that he is committing suicide in his rebellion against God. He then accepts the responsibility for the crimes of which he is guilty — the murder of Runi and his people. He at last blames no one, not even God, for this wickedness; he makes no excuses for passion as the motivating factor.

Abel always believes in God and never denies the possibility of the divine existence, but during a moment of his defiance, before realizing how he injures himself, Abel wants to play the role of God. Imitating God, Abel will plunge into violence, a manifestation of God in nature; he vows to eradicate from his soul all the good traits of humanity. The concrete result, however, turns Abel away from vice, and the sight of old Cla-cla, murdered because of his violence, sends him back in search of himself. Then, in addition to his growing revulsion at the harm he is doing to his soul and life, Abel returns to another concept, temporarily forgotten: Nature has a benevolent as well as a cruel side. Nature, as though hearing him, comes to Abel's aid: He sleeps outdoors on the cool grass, the sun warms him, and a few morsels of food afford him momentary pleasure. Abel's inner humanity comes surely to the fore when he goes to Nuflo's hut, decides to establish himself there, and buries the bones of the old man.

Nevertheless, Abel's attempt to build a new life for himself away from civilization and even from any inhabitants of the jungle is not successful. Abel broods in his solitude; the whole area, where so many memories plague him daily, constitutes an unhealthy source of his inner strife. Hudson very skillfully exploits two small episodes to augment the impact of his thematic and philosophical arguments: Abel's observations of a spider and a moth. Abel plays at God with the spider: he could kill the creature at any moment; he could cripple the spider by striking off one of its legs as he is tempted to do; or he could leave the spider alone with its delusion of security. The clue to Abel's salvation is his recollection of Rima's love for all life so that he spares the creature. The moth, on the other hand, directly resembles Rima. Its beauty attracts Abel; its unconcern with danger reminds him of her perilous trip from Riolama; and the moth's sudden fall into the fire, when Abel opens the door to let it escape outside, symbolizes what actually happened to Rima. There has been, according to Abel's tortured view, no justification for the life — and death — of the moth; and Abel, in his feeble efforts to help the moth, perhaps has inadvertently aided in its destruction.

At this point, Abel again declines; the values of civilization are useless in his fight for survival. The will power of the young man has been sapped to the point of exhaustion. His intelligence, reason, and education seem powerless against the terrors of the imagination and nature. Hudson may be questioning the role of civilization in dealing with primitive forces, and he may be showing the tragedy of modern man who has lost all touch with nature. Abel's continuous dialogue with himself, his repeated calling of Rima's name, and the illusory hope that she may be alive in face of all the contrary evidence present tragic indications of his pitiful condition. Ironically, at the occasion of a seemingly irrational act — the search for Rima's bones — Abel finds the means to save his sanity. He can now grapple with a specific task, concentrate his thought upon the artistry of the urn, and try to decide about the future. Of course, the mystery in the prologue about "a darkened chamber" in Mr. Abel's house is solved by this explanation of the origin of the "cinerary urn."

However, there may be some objections to Hudson's description of this vignette of the bones and urn as morbid and melodramatic, but the idea is certainly within the framework of nineteenth-century Romanticism. And it is logical and consistent for Abel to behave thus in the light of his many romantic actions in Green Mansions. The imagery of "a frail white-winged moth" which has disintegrated into "the finest white ashes" is not only beautiful poetry but the metaphor recalls the episode of the moth in the twentieth chapter, an experience affecting Abel a great deal. Although Abel has lost faith in God, his devotion to Rima's remains is converted into a religious symbol for the young man. He has deified, or at least sanctified, Rima; and the urn with the calcined bones is very much like a shrine built for the relics of a saint. Indeed, one should note carefully throughout the remaining pages how Abel increasingly raises the memory of Rima to a metaphysical level. At the conclusion of Green Mansions, in fact, Rima is the inspiration for Abel's belief in life.

This conversion of Rima into a symbol, even perhaps a religious symbol, results in Abel's statement several times that he now communicates with "a Rima of the mind." In the course of conversations, real for the disturbed Abel, the inspiration to leave the "green mansions" comes from the "phantom" of Rima. There is obvious weakness in Hudson's solution of his hero's crisis. Motivation for the plan is lacking because of reliance on the sudden voice of Rima as the cause for Abel's recognition of his plight. The whole passage is also very Victorian in the repeated moralistic and didactic sentences. But the device solves the problem for Hudson — and the hero. In short, the question for the writer is: Should he allow Abel to perish in the jungle retreat, or should he rescue him? By selecting the second course, Hudson has likewise adhered to another Romantic credo: that the hero should linger long and sorrowfully after his lover's demise.

Abel's struggle finally emerges as a war between the imagination and the will. Thanks to his highly imaginative confrontations with Rima, Abel is ironically able to assert his will — and to reach Georgetown. His strong imagination is also displayed in the several instances where Abel describes the creatures of the "green mansions," such as the snakes — familiar already as a favorite object throughout the book. For example, Abel sketches a vividly savage picture of a serpent, "cold enough to freeze a victim's blood in its veins," and the remark is made that this monstrous creature is no coral snake like the one that Abel encountered during his first, loving gaze at Rima. The last pictures of the "green mansions" and the South American hinterlands offer forceful impressions of nature, awesome and formidable, in its untamed independence.

Thus, Abel muses upon his departure that a dozen miles here will be one hundred in Europe; that the land will be pockmarked by mountains, rivers, and forests; and that the whole aspect, in short, is "wild" and "savage." For example, Hudson refers to Roraima, the "gigantic wall" of British Guiana, the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's fantasy adventure The Lost World. Nowhere, perhaps, in Green Mansions does the background of nature in the South American continent play such an impressive part as in the days when Abel sets out for civilization. Structurally and thematically, the descriptions of nature mirror the trials and moods of the hero. While nature in these concluding chapters is not as kind as in the opening and middle chapters, the shift has been somewhat made from a completely unfavorable (or evil, during Abel's agony) element. However, nature is now depicted as a "purgatory" and an "inferno" to be visited before coming to safety. The vision of nature by Abel is, then, a reflection of his developing mood as he leaves behind the romantic days in the woodland and resumes his life in the realistic settings of cities.

The last, brief chapter is somewhat like an epilogue to the romance, and there is principally a renewed emphasis to ideas stated previously. Several points in the prologue are reinforced although Abel, of course, is the narrator as he has been throughout the adventures. Striving to understand how he has eluded death, Abel at last concludes that he has been saved the same way as when the coral snake bit him-through frantic exertions of the will. He has thereby acquired "a new desperate courage" to face the rest of his life without Rima. Now, he plans to exist only for the purpose of rendering homage to Rima and preserving her memory by dint of his existence. Abel's philosophy — or religion — is one of stoicism; he still does not fathom the inscrutable actions of God. Only one fact stands out clearly for Abel: Rima's belief in him. Thus, he will do good works so that he can merit her respect.

In the three last chapters, therefore, Hudson has set forth many of his philosophical queries and replies regarding human existence, and he has also presented a plausible explanation of his hero's agony.

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