LITERATURE: Henderson The Rain King – Character Change

While Henderson grits his teeth and plays with the king’s lioness in order to learn something about himself, we’re not sure if he’s really gotten it yet.  The entire premise of this book is based on character change–one of the biggies of story–and God, how badly we want Henderson to succeed.  He’s gotten it into his head that he’s going to go back to school and become a doctor, thus helping humanity. This, in a letter to his wife–which idea to write to her at all may be one sign of change–is still, pure Henderson and just too great to keep to myself and those who’ve already had the pleasure of this novel:

Aren’t you excited?  Dearest girl, as a doctor’s wife you’ll have to be more clean, bathe more often and wash your things.  You will have to get used to broken sleep, night calls and all of that.  I haven’t decided yet where to practice.  I guess if I tried it at home I’d scare the neighbors to pieces.  If I put my ear against their chests as an M.D., they’d jump out of their skins.  (p. 268)

By the way, he’s just asked her in this letter to call a few places such as Johns Hopkins to try to get him signed up.  The letter goes on:

Therefore, I may apply for missionary work, like Dr. Wilfred Grenfell or Albert Schweitzer.  Hey!  Axel Munthe–how about him?  Naturally China is out, now.  They might catch us and brainwash us.  Ha, ha!  But we might try India.  I do want to get my hands on the sick.  I want to cure them.  Healers are sacred.

I love it!  Henderson doesn’t walk, he leaps, thus missing a few steps along the path.  He assumes that with his new outlook the only thing he has to worry about to make it all perfect is warn his wife to wash.  There’s also a touch of self-indulgence, well, more than a touch, in his words that taints the nobility of the intention:  Healers are sacred.

There’s also Henderson’s thoughts interspersed with this that don’t get written into the letter.  At the end of the above quoted section, this:

I have been so bad myself I believe there must be a virtue in me, finally. 

These private reflections are a bit more telling; of what Henderson more honestly believes and of what he still cannot communicate.  Here, we get an idea that he may be catching on:

I had a voice that said, I want! I want!  I?  It should have told me she wants, he wants, they want.  And moreover, it’s love that makes reality reality.  The opposite makes the opposite. (p. 269)

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