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Study Questions for The Kingdom of This World

The Kingdom of This World breaks with a more traditional concept of the novel as the development of a plot or intrigue; it is more like a series of episodes or scenes. Eventually you will want to compare the way this novel is structured with what you have just seen in the other novels. The novel is set against the backdrop of a great epoch of historic transformations. Events portrayed in this novel will span a concrete, historical time period of nearly 70 years, and the characters will travel through physical/geographical space. The axis of each part of the novel will always be a particular (usually historical) figure and an (historic) event. Many of the main characters (except Ti Nol) are recreations of historical figures. Ti Nol will function as a type of passive protagonist who unifies all the episodes. Part One Chapter I, "The Wax Heads" 1. Discuss the juxtaposition of the four wax heads at the barber's, the skinned calves' heads at the tripe shop, and the prints of bewigged heads at the bookseller's. How do you interpret the information that "the morning was rampant with heads," given that this is the opening scene of the novel? 2. Why is Ti Nol's attention caught by the copper engraving, and how is it different? 3. Who is Macandal? 4. Discuss the portrayal of the kings and religion of the whites versus the kings and religion of the blacks as each side begins to appear in this chapter. In addition, how is [book] learning contrasted with oral history/tradition? 5. Discuss the characterization of M. Lenormand de Mzy, the plantation owner. How is there a real correlation between him and the 18th-century engraved prints at the bookseller's? Notice that there is no real correlation between any Negro character and the copper engraving: the slaves will try to make up for this lack with their uprisings. 6. Where are the characters located geographically in Part One? What is the historical time period?

7. What kind of a narrator is there in this novel? How would you describe the narrator's tone? Chapter II, "The Amputation" 1. Discuss the characterization of Macandal. Why is he such a charismatic figure? 2. How does Ti Nol view life in Cap Franais in comparison with what he has heard of the cities of Guinea? 3. What happens to Macandal, and how? Chapter III, "What the Hand Found" 1. What new interest does Macandal begin to discover? 2. How does Macandal's reaction to Maman Loi differ from Ti Nol's? 3. When Macandal runs away, what is his value/importance according to the European plantation owners? Chapter IV, "The Reckoning" 1. What does Macandal's value/importance seem to be to Ti Nol? How has the sacrifice of an arm made him a paradoxically powerful figure? (Think of classic seers who are blind, for example.) 2. Discuss Lenormand de Mzy's habit of taking mulatto or African mistresses and French wives. 3. What really happens to the two best cows on the plantation? Why doesn't the narrator come right out and say so? Chapter V, "De Profundis" 1. When the narrator says that "nobody knew" how the poison found its way across the Plaine du Nord, is that strictly true? Whose point of view is the narrator adopting? 2. Discuss the ineffectiveness of European prayers and superstitions in halting the poison, versus the power of vodn (voodoo) embodied in Macandal. Chapter VI, "The Metamorphoses" 1. Discuss the characterization of the European planters.

2. Discuss the significance of the drums. What kinds of things do the slaves, as believers, know and see, while the plantation owners do not? Chapter VII, "Human Guise" 1. How long have the slaves waited, and what is their lamentation to Macandal? Does "the rending despair of peoples carried into captivity to build pyramids, towers, or endless walls" remind you of anything? Chapter VIII, "The Great Flight" 1. What is the "gala function" or "performance" that has been arranged by the plantation owners for the slaves? Why are the whites shown to treat the event like a day at the theater? 2. When the narrator comments, "What did the whites know of Negro matters?," whose point of view is he trying to adopt? Is the narrator capable of sustaining that viewpoint throughout the chapter? For further consideration: In the famous Foreword to this novel, Carpentier discusses what he calls "lo real maravilloso" (marvelous/magic reality, or that which is both real and wondrous/astonishing): "that which is marvelous [or wondrous] begins being [marvelous] in an unmistakable way when it arises from an unexpected alteration of reality (the miracle), from a privileged revelation of reality, from an unaccustomed or uniquely favorable illumination of the unnoticed riches of reality, from an enlargement of the scales and categories of reality, perceived with particular intensity by virtue of an exaltation of the spirit that conducts it to a type of "extreme [or borderline] state." To begin with, the sensation of the marvelous presupposes a faith. Those who do not believe in saints cannot be cured with saints' miracles, nor can those who are not Quixotes immerse themselves, in body, soul and worldly goods, in the world of Amads de Gaula or Tirante el Blanco [fictional knights of chivalry]." [...] "because of the dramatic singularity of the events, because of the fantastic bearing of the characters who encountered one another, at a particular moment, at the magical crossroads of la Ciudad del Cabo, everything is marvelous in a history that is impossible to situate in Europe and that is as real, nevertheless, as any exemplary event of those consigned to schoolbooks for

pedagogical enlightenment. What is the history of all America but a chronicle of 'lo real maravilloso'?"

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