An Interpretation of Dhalgren
I ran across your web page while searching for references to Samuel R.
Delany and Dhalgren. I read this book when I was about 23 (1974), so
I can appreciate your comment about reading it when young. As it turns
out, 23 was young enough for me <g>.
I don't think I've ever seen a review or other reference to Dhalgren
anywhere. In fact, I've been wondering about the plot(s) on and off
for the last 20 years. I equate Dhalgren with Moby Dick: there's
something going on here, something important, but the meaning escapes
Earlier tonight I posted a BBN message about Dhalgren on the Sci-Fi
Channel's Dominion/Authors discussion group. I've always had a theory
about the plot and wanted to air it to see what would happen (I was
careful to use a lot of apologies and disclaimers in the lead-in <g>).
**** WARNING WARNING WARNING ****
My guess about the plot of Dhalgren may be wrong, but it involves the
ending of the book and thus constitutes a *****SPOILER*****. If you
want to try to hang tough and read the entire book without knowing the
ending, DON'T READ ON!!!!!!!
Here are some recollections that lead into my guess about the plot(s):
- The first sentence in the book is actually a sentence fragment, ``to
wound the autumnal city''. The last sentence in the book is also a
fragment: ``I come down out of the hills to''. The plot appears to be
recursive, albeit with apparently two different characters coming to
``wound the autumnal city'': The Kid (main character) and an oriental
woman who is somehow associated with the Kid (she's the one coming into
the city at the end).
- The Kid's hands are described as being scarred and/or bandaged.
There are occasional references to a fire in an insane asylum, in which
one of the patients beats down a door with his bare hands so the other
patients can escape.
THE THEORY: the Kid and at least some of his acquaintences are the
patients who escaped the fire. The Kid's hands are scarred because he
was the one who beat the door down. The Kid and his fellow patients
have filtered into the city and are living there as the plot ensues.
SUPPORTING PLOT ELEMENTS:
- We see the city through the Kid's eyes. Reality is distorted; time
doesn't seem to be linear; bizarre celestial displays appear in the
night skies (the moon approaches and recedes, and the phases don't
occur in sequence; other planets and objects come and go, seemingly in
random fashion); the daytime sky is dark and brooding (brown as I
remember). I couldn't tell if the other characters were seeing the same
things, but some of them seemed to.
- Near the end of the novel, the text is annotated in the margins. The
annotations seem to be a parallel description of the same situation;
but the annotations describe what seems to be a normal city. The sky is
clear and blue. The buildings aren't run down. I think this is a
suggestion that what the Kid sees isn't the reality that we see. This
supports the idea that the Kid is somehow mentally ill.
- The other close acquaintences of the Kid all seem to have
behavioural problems of some sort. Could they be the Kid's fellow
patients? One of them confesses to ``shy kidneys'' in the presence of
men, but not women (I think this was ``Tak''). Denny, part of a threesome
with the Kid and ``Lanya'', is heterosexual but impotent, unless he's in
a threesome with another male. The Kid alludes to numerous problems of
his own, but his view of reality seems to be the major problem. There
is one other possible problem (see below).
- The oriental women who ``comes down out of the hills'' at the end of
the novel is mentioned frequently, but never seen. Of all the Kid's
acquaintences, she seems to be missing until the very end of the
novel. I believe that she and the Kid are different aspects or
personalities of the same person. Thus, in addition to the distorted
views of reality, the Kid and/or the oriental woman may suffer from
multiple personality disorder. Hence both personalities enter the city,
but may perceive it and the events in their lives in a totally
different way (those margin annotations describing a different city?).
I know this is a stretch, and may be horribly wrong, but it's the best
guess I have to date. In addition, there's a lot more going on in this
novel than what I've described (obviously), so I may have missed the
point entirely. What the hell, it's been 20 years since I read it.
Anyone else have any ideas on this novel?
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Last modified at:
Tue Oct 21 15:59:58 EDT 1997