This novel follows the format: the protagonist wants something badly and it matters what he’ll go through to get it. While we’re still not completely sure what that something is exactly, we follow Henderson as he guesses that he can find it with this adventure through Africa. He senses that if he can save the Arnewi tribe from the frogs that had taken over their water cistern hence preventing them from allowing their cattle to drink it, he would have saved himself as well. He fashions a bomb from black powder and a flashlight case, planning to blow the frogs out of the water.
I had gotten more of a result than I could have known in the first instants, and instead of an answering cry I heard shrieks from the natives, and looking to see what was the matter I found that the dead frogs were pouring out of the cistern together with the water. The explosion had blasted out the retaining wall at the front end. The big stone blocks had fallen and the yellow reservoir was emptying fast. "Oh! Hell!" I grabbed my head, immediately dizzy with the nausea of disaster, seeing the water spill like a regular mill race with the remains of those frogs. "Hurry, hurry!" I started to yell. "Romilayu! Itelo! Oh, Judas priest, what’s happening! Give a hand. Help, you guys, help!" I threw myself down against the escaping water and tried to breast it back and lift the stones into place. The frogs charged into me like so many prunes and fell into my pants and into the open shoe, the lace gone. The cattle started to riot, pulling at their tethers and straining toward the water. But it was polluted and nobody would allow them to drink. (p. 107)
Henderson, instead of cleaning it up, has blown up the tribe’s water supply. The building up of this plan, of it being the salvation for others as well as Henderson himself has just, in a flash and boom has completely backfired. We recall now his feelings of how, even with the best of intentions and the basics of knowledge, he always manages to screw things up. We must wonder, as he leaves the village in shame, what he’ll tackle next.
So he continues on through to another village, along with the faithful Romilayu, where the natives aren’t quite so friendly. Tipped off by a tribesman they meet on the way, the villagers armed with old guns, ambush the two travelers.
A dozen guns massed at you is bad business, and therefore I dropped my .375 and raised my hands. Yet I was pleased just the same, due to my military temperament. Also that leathery small man had sent us into an ambush and for some reason this elementary cunning gave me satisfaction, too. There are some things the human soul doesn’t need to be tutored in. (p. 114)
Here is where Bellow gives us some indication that this whole thing is bigger than Henderson, and that he is not alone in his belief that he is laden with flaws. "There are some things the human soul doesn’t need to be tutored in." So, like Blake, and many others, Bellow has Henderson believing that human nature is basically evil, its goodness being something that is learned. Maybe that’s why I relate so well to Bellow’s main character.
That, and the fact that this sequence made me recall the summer I didn’t get to clean the pool early enough to prevent thousands, tens of thousands, of tree frogs from hatching and taking over the pool, its surface completely rippling with life, a good solid foot down through the water. What did I do? Don’t ask.