the plumed serpent -- chapter I part II

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Owen gets padded down by the ticket-taker "feeling for firearms"; the narrator uses the verb "pawed," suggesting that the Mexicans are animals and hinting at some military unrest. Kate, ever the prude, feels a "shock of horror" wondering if she'll be padded down, too, before the group is lead through the cold concrete tunnel into the amphitheatre.

Owen shrugs the pawing off, unconcerned with the threat that's implied, but Kate feels trapped and uncomfortable. Obviously she doesn't want to be there, but she takes it in stride: "I think it's thrilling." Villiers, on the other hand, is looking for a thrill, which the narrator says is due to his age. Villiers is in his early 20s while Kate and Owen are in their late 30s and have what the narrator describes as a "will-to-happiness."

It's interesting that the narrator tells us so little about the three and even about the setting--the details are sparse, and while we probably know as much about Mexico as Kate, Owen, and Villiers, we know almost nothing about them save what we can guess from their dialogue and actions and what the narrator tells us.

The three are led to their seats in the "Sun" section, which is obviously meant for the lower classes, meaning the Mexicans themselves. The upper-class seats are in the "Shade" section, which is another dichotomy. "Sun" implies that the lower-classes are out in the open, in the light, and have nothing to hide, as opposed to the "Shade." However the Shade seats are located at the top of the amphiteatre, far away from the bloody and brutal action. And even though the three are seated "out in the open," they share little in common with the others seated there, which I think is symbolized by the fact that it's overcast; even though they're exposed, they're not, per se, in the light.

Other attendants, mostly male laborers and black-suited clerks and factory hands, file in, and the narrator describes them as "fattish," and "dark-faced," the women's faces are powdered, which suggests a similarity with Kate: They're both pretending to be something their not; the Mexican women physically, Kate psychologically.

The crowd amuses themselves by snatching a straw hat from an attendee and passing it around, to which Owen remarks, "Isn't that fun?" "That" instead of "this"--Owen's merely observing the action, not taking part in it.

Kate says she hates the common people and is reproached by Owen, who feels the same way but doesn't want to say it.

A military band enters and, at the urging of the mob, plays a song, which ends up being very short. Soon after, the seats begin to fill up, and Villiers stares down a filthy Mexican for taking the seat in front of him. The Mexican maintains that his seat is only temporary until he can join his friends, but Villiers is adamant about having a place to rest his feet.

And the narrator goes hog-wild:

Oh, home of liberty! Oh, land of the free! Which of these two men was to win in the struggle for conflicting liberty? Was the fat fellow free to sit between Villiers' feet, or was Villiers free to keep his foot-space?

I honestly have no clue what the narrator or Lawrence is doing here--he's not really taking anyone's side in the scuffle; he's just mocking them. In context I guess it kind of makes sense, as this is a light skirmish foreshadowing the dramatic bullfight, and it's ironic since the three insisted on sitting in the "common" section to be among the "common" people despite quite obviously having nothing but contempt for them.

But it's alienating because the reader doesn't really have anyone to identify with--not the Mexicans, not the three protagonists, and not the narrator--which makes the first chapter difficult to get into.

Anyway, Villiers puts his feet down--literally--and the Mexican sits on them. Force doesn't work, so Kate begins venomously insulting the Mexican's clothes, which finally gets him to leave. Meanwhile Owen simply glares at the Mexican in front of him. Brute force doesn't work, so the gang resorts to condescending insults.

Next: The Bloodiest Bullfight Ever Described!