LITERATURE: Henderson The Rain King – Language, Simile and Wisdom

Bellow uses very out-of-place similes in this adventure in the remotest parts of Africa:

Through my depths as in a tunnel went a shock like the ones big buildings get from trains which pass beneath.  (p. 164)

All the noise had died, had gone like the wrinkles of a cloth under the hot iron. (p. 165)

While we know that Henderson is an American, it seems as if Bellow seeks to remind us with both reference to past events in his life and his similes known only to a civilized contemporary world, that we musn’t get lost with him in the jungle here.  I do find myself very much into Henderson’s experience and already have found that much of his thought is spoken in an oddly formal and yet very colloquial manner:

I was dying to say what I felt  Like, "Oh, King, that was royally done.  Like a true artist.  Goddammit, an artist!  King, I love nobility and beautiful behavior."  But I couldn’t say a thing.  I have this brutal reticence of character.  Such is the slavery of the times. We are supposed to be cool-mouthed.  As I told my son Edward–slavery!  And he thought I was a square when I said I loved the truth.  Oh, that hurt!"  (p. 166)

The mixture makes for interesting reading and pins the character down by its eccentricities.  There may also be another purpose for Bellow’s similes and style besides imagery and grounding, and that may be to specifically contrast the two worlds; the one that Henderson comes from with which we are familiar, to the one we see–and he feels still is the answer he seeks–in this primitive village setting.

One more thing caught me in this portion of the reading, this immediately following the quote above:

Anyway, I often want to say things and they stay in my mind.  Therefore they don’t actually exist; you can’t take credit for them if they never emerge.  (p. 166)

What is Bellow the author, through Henderson, telling us about communication, perhaps writing in particular?

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