The Kingdom of This World Study Guide

The Kingdom of This World

The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier

The characters in the novel are integral to its understanding. Not only do they highlight the temporal and political context of voodoo and other forces, but they also allow Carpentier to surpass temporal and spatial limitations to reach the ultimate reality of life: the universal essence that lies in every human being.

Ti Noel

Ti Noel, an illiterate slave, is a protagonist of African origin. He begins as a young slave who, during the unravelling of the novel, travels to Cuba before returning to Haiti. He is twice branded as a slave but now is a free man. Although he grows old, he remains a witness rather than actor and more often reacts to, as opposed to causes, events throughout the novel. He is in admiration of Macandal's qualities prior to the loss of Macandal's arm; he accompanies Macandal into the mountains and is saddened by his departure.

Ti Noel is well established early on as not only a witness to events, but also as someone who makes observations and offers reflection. It is he who considers slavery under Henri Christophe worse than that under French rule because blacks are now enslaving fellow blacks. It is also he who offers reflections about the difficulty of this world allowing for the possibility of greatness during the concluding remarks of the novel. His perspective represents that of the folk, including his belief in the African gods.

Ti Noel has been considered a product of creolization, combining the African magical perspective of Macandal with the Catholic realism of Henri Christophe. A key aspect of the novel is that the main character is of interest not because of his skin colour, but rather for his human attributes that allow universal reflection beyond the realm of race. In this sense, magic realism is a necessary tool of expression and the technique serves to confront the novel's hero, better develop his purpose as a man, and advance a simultaneously profound and straightforward understanding of the human experience.

Macandal

Macandal is a black slave, first introduced on the same plantation as Ti Noel. He is admired for his qualities that are irresistible to black women and his ability to captivate men. He regales tales of great kingdoms and speaks of epic battles in which the animals were allies of men, of the incarnation of the serpent, of a queen who was the Rainbow, and of horses adorned with silver coins. Macandal has his left arm amputated after a machinery accident on the plantation of Lenormand de Mezy and, unable to complete heavy work, is put in charge of pasturing the cattle. He departs for the mountains and discovers many secret herbs, plants, and fungi about which he is taught more by an old, mysterious woman who is something of a witch. Macandal leaves the plantation, attains the ability to transform into various beings, and is represented as having superhuman powers due to his possession by the gods.

He spreads poison and kills much livestock and many Frenchmen to prepare for an uprising, but is forced into exile as the French become aware of his actions and begin to search for him. He returns after four years, but is captured and tied to a post to be lashed and burned in front of a massive black audience. While tied to the post, he metamorphoses into an insect and flies overhead before landing in the crowds. During the ensuing pandemonium he is again captured by ten men and burned in the fire. The slaves are certain that he has been saved and remain in defiant and jubilant spirits. The memory of Macandal is not extinguished in the flames. Ti Noel tells his children the stories he was told by Macandal, and they await his return many years later.

Macandal represents the link between spirituality and history; he is the inspiration for the rebellion, and the first one to employ the marvelous as a weapon of resistance.

Henri Christophe

Henri Christophe first appears at the beginning of Part Two. He is described as a black master chef who has just bought the lodgings at the Auberge de la Couronne from Mademoiselle Monjean. His dishes are famous for the perfection of their seasoning and/or for the abundance of ingredients that allow for visitors from across the world to be satisfied. He is said to have a magic touch with turtle vol-au-vent or wood pigeons.

In Part Three, Henri Christophe has become the first King of Haiti and subjects the black population to worse slavery than that experienced under French rule. His regime carries out brutal torture and grips the city in fear. He is later tormented by thunder strikes and magical, ghostly appearances of previously tortured subjects. As the black population revolts against his rule, he finds himself alone and deserted. In this state he commits suicide by shooting himself. His body is taken to be buried in a fortress on a mountain and this becomes his mausoleum.

Carpentier's portrayal of Christophe has been considered "hollow" and one-sided, representing an archetypal tyrant at his most deteriorated state, seen only through the eyes of Ti Noel. This goes against the principle of historical accuracy, which should present a faithful portrait of society with characters who are fully conscious of their role in history. Carpentier portrays Henri Christophe, like most leaders, as a pompous fool, since the cycle of history continues regardless of his presence: his influence on the lives of people like Ti Noel is minimal. On the other hand, Christophe has also been seen as a representation of man's potential, rising from cook to soldier to king, reaching extremes of extravagance that exceed that of the previous French rulers, and ultimately falling pathetically.

Pauline Bonaparte

Pauline Bonaparte first appears on the ship of dogs being transported from Cuba to Haiti in Part Two of the novel. She is described as a beautiful woman who, despite her tender years, is familiar with the male body. She enjoyed tempting the men on board and for that reason would let the wind ruffle her hair and breeze through her clothes to reveal the grace of her breasts. She would also sleep out in the open. Pauline has Solimán massage her body and tend to her beauty. They form a relationship and when her husband, Leclerc, falls ill she puts her faith in the voodoo of Solimán designed to cure him. Leclerc dies and Pauline makes her way back to Paris.

Pauline Bonaparte is represented as immature, expecting an ideal life of fantasy in the Caribbean, while engaging in affairs with young officers. Her function in the novel has been a matter of debate, with different critics viewing her as a representation of white decadence, the immorality of the colony, or sexuality. It is a statue of Pauline that causes the beginning of Solimán's madness.

Minor characters

Lenormand de Mezy : Lenormand de Mezy is the white master of a plantation and owns Ti Noel and Macandal among other black slaves. He has multiple wives, mistresses, and sexual encounters during the course of the novel. Following the quelled black uprising in Part Two, Lenormand de Mezy leaves his state of hiding and arrives in time to spare the lives of Ti Noel and some of his other slaves. He takes them to Cuba to protect his assets, but while there, he gambles with his slaves, drinks much alcohol, enjoys the company of women, and loses what remains of his wealth. Having lost Ti Noel in a card game, Lenormand de Mezy dies shortly after in abject poverty.Lenormand de Mezy's name may be based on an eponymous Haitian plantation where the historical Bouckman is said to have conducted his famous Bois Caiman ritual.

Bouckman : Bouckman is of Jamaican origin and leads the secret gathering of trusted slaves, where he speaks of French requests for freedom for black slaves, but also of the resistance displayed by plantation landowners. He is present when staff is named and an uprising is planned. After the uprising is defeated, Bouckman is killed at the same location as Macandal is burned alive.

Solimán : Solimán is first introduced in the text as the slave who receives the fortune of massaging the body of Pauline and also lavishing her beauty with great care. He begins to conduct voodoo rituals with Pauline for the sake of Leclerc, who has contracted yellow fever. Following the demise of Henri Christophe, Solimán ends up in Europe, where he enjoys the summers. He is given food and drink freely and his appearance is the subject of much attention. He regales exaggerated and embellished tales of his past and even makes an appearance at theatre performances. He later comes across a marble statue of Pauline and this, coupled with memories of the night that witnessed the demise of Henri Christophe, causes him to fall into madness, flee, and eventually succumb to malaria.

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