An English official in Georgetown, British Guiana, describes his friendship with a mysterious Venezuelan, Abel Guevez de Argensola, known generally in the colony as Mr. Abel. When the Englishman arrived at his post in 1887, Mr. Abel had been living in Georgetown about twelve years, and he enjoyed the respect of the British residents. The narrator, however, is the only person who has established a close relationship with Mr. Abel as a result of their mutual interest in poetry; but the British official still did not learn from his friend's own lips the explanation of his hidden past. After a minor quarrel between the two friends, Mr. Abel, stung by the other's accusation that his life was "a closed and clasped volume," invites the English official to dinner and explains the true story of his youth. Later, presumably after Mr. Abel's death, the narrator prepares to repeat his friend's story in print.
The principal purpose of this brief prologue is to create a mood of mystery and wonderment, and to arouse some curiosity in the reader. Some clues, interesting pieces of information but apparently unconnected in any logical pattern, are provided about Mr. Abel: the reticent, though not antisocial, behavior of the Venezuelan exile, and the darkened room in his house, the urn containing ashes, and his refusal to supply details of his early life.
The two friends represent two different worlds and the contrast is sharply noted. Mr. Abel is "the nervous olive skinned Hispano-American of the tropics"; and the British official is "the phlegmatic blue-eyed Saxon of the cold north." Green Mansions is, in several ways, a novel belonging to South American literature; Hudson pioneered in interpreting Latin America for English-speaking audiences. Perhaps the most important observation of the English friend of Mr. Abel is that the latter's world consists of "the world of nature and of the spirit."
The device used in the prologue by Hudson is a familiar literary technique: a story within a story, or the entire history narrated by a character other than the main protagonist. The British official disappears from the plot after this prologue, and Mr. Abel becomes the teller of the tale. In short, the prologue serves as a useful frame of reference for Hudson to proceed more quickly and to develop his story chronologically without the necessity of some explanations or digressions about Mr. Abel's background in the following chapters.