THE RHYTHM OF SOCIETY AND LANDSCAPE (Mittelholzer, Carew, Williams, Dathorne)

The essential nature of phenomena finds a double in the physical and moral attributes of characters:

Casaurinas are tall and slim and always moaning softly, even in the faintest drift of breeze, they are wraith-like but unfrightening, furry but not fierce, fumbling at the sky but with a secret purpose rather than futility. Susan Sedge looked like one herself — slim, tall, her hair fuzzy as it usually was early in the morning. [Trees, p. 10]

Manchineel trees and bougainvilleas and casuarinas all exert controlling influence on the characters. In them lurk the inner mysteries of phenomena which fuse with the unknown psychic dream conditions or states of mind of characters. “Manchineels are solemn trees, huge and filled with deep frowns within their dense foliage.” (Trees: p.7). From the very beginning of the novel, Mittelholzcr plunges directly into this association between trees and states of mind, the sea and the possibility of tensions. At the opening of the novel, the ominous nature of the sea portends the tensions and problems which will engulf the newly arrived English couple, the Worts:

They continued to lie a little longer, listening to the sea. When the wind came from the north-east, the sea sounded muffled: a mere mystery brewing beyond the dark green density of the manchineels. But when breakers dropped their brooding and became brash in menace, as though at any instant they might smash across the strip of terrain that lay between the cottage and the beach, and come pouring through the foliage of the trees to engulf them, salty and foam­ing, and bringing garlands of sea-weed to encircle both their necks. [Trees, p. 9-10.]

Patricia Wort had dreamed of menacing her husband, threatening to kill him. The ominous men­acing sound of the sea harmonizes with this dream. And in the structure of the novel, Mittelholzer con­structs parallel states of mind, picking up in turn the main voices which move through the novel. As in The Weather Family, the resolution of the novel is swift and somewhat hurried. The artifact used by Mittelholzer in Of Trees and the Sea is the discovery of family ties amongst the various characters, for Mittelholzer is completely caught up in the sequence of family genealogy and the genetic implications of blood.

In his autobiography, Swarthy Boy, Mittelholzer presents his family genealogy and the historical dimensions of his family tree. Swarthy Boy is the autobiographical statement of Mittelholzer’s early years leading up to the beginning of his novelistic career. We are told of his Germanic ancestry, with­out, however, being given the genetic influences which derive from that ancestry. Mittelholzer seems to have admired his grandfather, whose eccentric and non­conformist pattern of living appealed to him. His grandfather came and went like a vagabond and died under peculiar circumstances.

Later on Mittelholzer too, a vagabond artist, died under peculiar circumstances. There existed an ambivalent relationship between Mittel­holzer and his father, who resented the boy be­cause of his dark complexion, but who at the same time seemed to have a measure of love for him. Mittelholzer’s mother, who was protective to the point of being possessive, was constantly preoccupied with the boy’s health.

This preoccupation, when mixed with her own gentility and snobbish attitudes, deprived Mittelholzer of the companionship of his peers. In Swarthy Boy, Mittelholzer speaks of his delight in the spider world, in the vegetal world, in the shadows on the rafters of the school house, and in the ritual of religious ceremony. Swarthy Boy reveals the colonial attitudes which surrounded the early years of Mittelholzer, infesting them with the complexities of colour and caste and class. The author tries to recapture many details of his early life, often over stressing or rather attempting to saturate and draw from each detail, a super-meaning.

The reaction of Mittelholzer and his sister to the world of spiders and shadows has probably served as the basis for many of the reactions of Olivia and Berton in the novel Shadows Move Among Them:

my sister and I would huddle together in an excited group, gazing upwards at the furry black blob daringly poking about in the lofty twilight, some ugly black lump of curdled legs — a spider jerked from its dusty, lamp­black crevice amidst the thousands of other lamp-black crevices far up there. (Swarthy Boy, p. 26).

In this novel, many of the racial elements of Guyana are blended. The world of Shadows Move Among Them is one which “is full of psychic pheno­mena”, all the characters react to these phenomena:

Joan and Mabel are about the least sus­ceptible. The rest of the family have high voltage personalities, and this environment, coupled with our religion, tends to stimulate our imaginations to unorthodox behaviour. [Shadows, p. 66].

In the novel, Mittelholzcr has cleverly blended the old mustiness with the weblike quality of the area. Words bespeaking age abound and are interwoven with those of texture and gauze and threads and spider webs. The landscape is animate, alive with eyes and evocative of history and ruins. In Berkel-hoost, belief is linked to the senses and the reality beyond the shadow. There, God is the father of myth. After death too. there are only shadows:

Life is an interlude between one mystery and another—the mystery that precedes birth and the mystery that succeeds death. It is only we who have imbued this gap between dark and dark with articulation and signi­ficance. [Shadows, p.197-198]

But yet the structure of the society still recalls colonial times. At the top is the dominant white Mr. Harmston, who has set up his own code of ethics and behaviour, at the bottom are the sadistic figure of Ellen and the black figure of Logan. Landscape is all important in this novel in which Mittclholzer achieves an amazing harmony between natural pheno­mena, human emotions and stylistic formulations.