This is quite a long, short story but it should be read at one sitting; it is strongly rhythmic, repetitive, bearing you along in a trance that Lawrence has made for you. It tells of a woman, married with two children, who lives in a remote area of Mexico.
I don’t love this story; I’m not even sure I like it but I couldn’t forget about it. Right from the beginning it is about death and the desire for death. In the fourth paragraph:
” . . . she saw a dead dog lying between the meat stalls and the vegetable array . . . Deadness within deadness.”
The lady in question is:
” . . . not thirty-three, a large, blue-eyed, dazed woman, beginning to grow stout.”
After ten years of living in isolation near a worn-out silver mine the woman wakes from her daze; she becomes aware and restless and when she overhears two men speak of the Indians who live in the far-off mountains, she feels in her heart that she has to find these secret places and the strange people who live in them. A day comes when she packs food and water and rides off alone. The journey takes a long, weary time, plodding on and on, following a narrow trail up into the mountains, making camp where she can, trying to sleep:
“She was not sure that she had not heard, during the night, a great crash at the centre of herself, which was the crash of her own death.”
She gradually becomes aware that the Indians are near, watching her. They come closer, strongly-built dark men in dark clothes with “glittering” black eyes and “rivers” of long, black hair. They take her on another, longer journey yet. The night passes:
“A long, long night, icy and eternal, and she was aware that she had died.”
They arrive in a village, deep in a hidden valley where the woman is unceremoniously stripped and given a new tunic to wear. She is given a soporific drink which makes her vomit, then leaves her with a drugged feeling. For many months she is kept apart from village life, fed and drugged until:
” . . . the languor filled her heavy limbs, her senses seemed to float in the air, listening, hearing . . . as if she were diffusing out deliciously into the harmony of things.”
She sees that the men are not aware of her as a woman:
“Only that intense, yet remote, inhuman glitter which was terrible to her.”
Counterpoint all the time between the large, dazed, white, blue-eyed woman and the strong, dark men; the words death and drugged and river and glitter repeated throughout.
A young Indian who speaks English, explains to her that the white man has stolen the sun and the white woman has stolen the moon. And that she, the white woman, must be given to the sun so that the Indians will be full of power again.
One day then, she is taken from her chamber, drugged afresh and given new clothes; she is taken up in a litter and to the sound of drums, the villagers form two lines to dance:
“And across the flat cradle of snow-bed wound the long thread of the dance, shaking slowly and sumptuously . . . their black eyes watching her with a glittering eagerness, awe and craving.”
It is impossible to convey in a short review, the way this story lulls you until you are almost as dazed as the woman herself, ready to lie down and accept your own fate!
The last line of the story says:
“The mastery that man must hold, and that passes from race to race.”
It almost seems as if it was tacked on. And it’s ambiguous. Does Lawrence mean that urge which permeates all cultures that ever were, the urge to control an uncontrollable world by placating the Gods, by touching wood or saluting magpies? Or does he mean man’s need to control women?