Sheltering Sky is more "real" than Sun Also Rises
Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises
was set about 25 years prior to Paul Bowles novel, The Sheltering Sky
, and I must say that I strongly prefer reading post WWII literature to post WWI. Maybe my preference is just a matter of different authors, and has little to do with the era and more to do with writing style, but either way, I found the characters in Sheltering Sky
to be much relatable than those in Sun Also Rises
. Bowles describes social conflicts between Kit, Tunner, and Prior matter-of-factly, and doesn’t use old-English to sugarcoat taboo affairs. Because of this, I felt like I could throw myself into the novel, and really get inside the minds of these travelers.
The two main conflicts in the novel are both about progression. The first, deals with the progression of relationships, namely the failing marriage between Port and Kit, but also the tryst occurring between Tunner and Kit, and Port’s indulgence with prostitutes. The second conflict with progression involves the westernization of post-war Africa and it’s evolution into a more “tourist-y” place.
Port has his own idea of what a “traveler” is, and he feels he embodies the concept not just within his voyages, but in his life as well: “Port had never lived a life of any kind of regularity. They both had made the fatal error of coming hazily to regard time as nonexistent. One year was like another year. Eventually everything would happen” (127) Port begins to describe the idea of time, and how travelers disregard this as tool; they don’t need set schedules, and they don’t have any obligations forcing them to come home. Their purpose in life is to belong “no more to one place than to the next” (6)
The beginning of the novel doesn’t waste any time giving us proper definitions of what a true traveler is, and what a tourist attempts to be. We learn quickly how important it is for Port to not be classified as the latter, for tourists constantly compare their travels to their homeland, disregarding any aspect of their journey that’s not up to par with the comforts of the familiar.
Port’s initial instinct going into Africa was that it would be completely stripped of anything authentic, and modernized from the ground up: “It was merely that the institution of tourist travel in this part of the world never well developed in nay case, had been, not interrupted, but utterly destroyed by the war.” (101) The streets would be teeming with non-Arabs and western folk in search of existentialism. In some cases within his journey, this was true: hotel food was anything but authentic local cuisine, certainly nothing like what native people were cooking in their homes, but on other occasions, Port found himself surprised at how little the country had
When Smaïl takes Port into a café, Port is astonished at the lack of diversity. He didn’t realize “there was anything like this left in the city…with nothing but Arabs…. [he] thought the war had changed everything.” I found this to be an interesting point. If you stop looking for authenticity, you begin to decipher what’s real and what’s bullshit. In my quest to become a true New Yorker, I found that if I stopped trying so hard and started living my life without this “goal” in mind, I gradually started discovery interesting venues and restaurants, eventually getting a taste for the city.