The Sheltering Sky The Sheltering Sky question

my take
Mike Huffman Mike Dec 02, 2015 03:42PM
This is how I see the book. I'll give the short version. There will be spoilers, so I recommend that you try to figure out the book for yourself first, even if that means multiple readings. If you have any questions,I will do my best to answer them. So, here goes.
When Port goes to Lt. d'Armagnac to report that his
passport has been stolen, the passport has already some equivalence in the reader's mind with Port's existence. In the conversation, Lt. d'Armagnac asks,
"Shall we make a detective story of it?" The detectives are we, the readers.
The myriad of clues are written so seamlessly into
the narrative that they are easily missed. One clue,
for example, is the chorus of dogs. Most, if not all
readers, have seen this language used as a phrase of
little or no significance, but there are subtle details give the phrase significance here. Another
clue is an orchestra of drums. Perhaps the most obvious clue is the Lyles' relationship. Whether they
are actually a mother and son in a sexual relationship, they are intended to make us think of
Marhnia, the African woman that Port has sex with, is
young, but worldly. Without ever having met Port, she
knows what he is up to, and knows the danger involved.
She has 'Smail, in French, relate the tea in the Sahara story to Port as a warning.
The young women in that story have a goal, a mission.
The reason that they die is because they lose focus.
They go farther into the desert than necessary to ful-
fill their goal because they have fallen in love.
When Port first encounters 'Smail, there is considerable attention given to the lighting of a
cigarette. I believe it is the introduction of fire
into the story. Port thinks to himself, "Here's where the trouble begins." Prometheus' trouble begins when
he steals fire from the gods and gives it to humans,
along with the tools for civilization, tools that led
to the Enlightenment.
Later, there is what seems like a throwaway line, "All
the European fathers suffered with their livers."
These priests are bringing the tools of civilization
to the Native Africans. Prometheus suffered liver
trouble as punishment from Zeus for his deeds.
As Port is dying, Bowles tells us twice that he is pinned to a rock, and that his abdomen is open to the sky, just as Prometheus is in Prometheus Bound.
If you reshuffle the letters of Port's name, get
rid of one r, clip the bottom off of the b, and the
top of one of the o's, you have Promethyus.
A number of clues connect Kit to Io, the woman in
Prometheus Bound. As maddening as the Kit character
is in Bowles' book, she seems to be based, in many
ways, on Io.
Port's mission is to trick Zeus, as Prometheus did--
in this case, to reverse what Prometheus did. One of
his means is to taunt Zeus. He carries on a rant about
justice intended to provoke Zeus, the god primarily
concerned with justice, to punish him. Port is well
aware of the danger of his actions. Another provocation is his tryst with Marhnia. On his way there, Port considers abandoning his quest, and we
are told that he is afraid. After he eludes his pursuers, he gets to a high place that is open to the sky, presumably easily accessible to Zeus' vengeance.
I believe that there are two clues, possibly more, that Port considers his mission as a mission for man-kind. First, there is a rant about humanity, in
which he says that humanity is one's hopelessly isolated self. That, I think, is a result of enlightened thinking that led to the focus on the individual.
Second, as Port begins his journey to Marhnia, he goes
along a street called La Rue de La Mer Rouge---Red
Sea Street.
Port has an unusual theorem. It's something like the
difference between something and nothing is nothing.
I think that odd sentence is a nod to another earlier
book entitled The Dialectic of Enlightenment. The
authors of that book have a similarly strange equation, "If you add like to unlike you will always
end up with unlike." It seems to me that this work may have been a huge influence on The Sheltering Sky.
From the earliest moments of the story, through the first two parts, there is competition between the wind
and the light. It's thrilling, and, as Port lay dying,
that competition is a battle. It is Zeus, whose name
meant something like shining light, and his greatest
challenge, the monster Typhoeus, also known as Typhon.
Perhaps they are competing for Port's soul.
Is Port successful in his mission? When he buys tickets to take the place of two Arabs, he is already
sick. He makes a math mistake. As he is dying, his
language skills fail him. The last words of the novel
are "it was the end of the line." The first sentence
of Prometheus Bound is "Now we have come to the plain
at the end of the Earth."
I'll stop, now, with this question --- what causes
Port's death?

Hmmm ... interesting idea.

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