Challenging Manliness: the Role of Men and Women in Henry Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines

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Haggard narrates in King Solomon’s Mines the adventure of three men that appear to be three perfect examples of white manliness. However, Allan Quatermain, who is the narrator of the novel, does not act like a hero . Additionally, Haggard also includes the fear of the female Other, which is represented not only by a witch but also by a young beautiful woman. In this novel, men identity and men power are challenged by the depiction of the narrator and especially by the role of women, but they are not defeated.

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Curtis and Good are two perfect examples of masculinity. As Cameron points out, two traits that adventure heroes should have are strength and courage . Quatermain constantly “identifies other men in terms of their masculinity”. In the case of Good, he assures that he “suspected at once that he was a naval officer”  and that navy men “have always proved themselves the best and bravest fellows”. In the case of Sir Henry Curtis, even Infadoos, an old African warrior, “addressed Sir Henry with a kind of reverence” because “no man, the soldiers said, could have fought as he fought” .

However, Quatermain “is no hero”. Although he shows aspects of masculinity as “restless energy and rationality” , he does not fulfil the masculine ideal that is part of the description of himself . Since the begging of the novel, Quatermain defines himself as a gentleman that has been almost all his life “hunting, fighting, or exploring” but he also affirms that he is “a cautious man” . In fact, in the battle against Twala “rather than stay and fight, dying alongside his comrades, he fled and survived”. In this battle, he does not show one of the fundamental traits that an imperial hero should have: valour. However, Quatermain negotiates with other men to behave as he thinks men should behave. Sir Henry and Good convince him to set out on a dangerous adventure. Quatermain is not truly brave, but he gathers his courage in order to do what men should do and follows his two brave companions.

In King Solomon’s Mines, there is a clear difference between white men and black men. At the beginning of the novel, Quatermain affirms that “[he]’ve known natives who are [gentlemen]” . One example of a black gentleman could be Umbopa who is also “a heroic figure” . However, “the imperialist view leads to an elevating of Umbopa only to a certain point” . Due to the position of Anglo-African male, Quatermain extends his authority into the colonial sphere, what affects the relationships between men of his status and indigenous Africans. One instance of this white superiority can be seen when even King Twala greets the three white men saying “Welcome, white men form the starts” . As Reid makes clear, Umbopa becomes the king, but who is considered supernatural is Curtis as well as the other white men. Therefore, white men are represented as superior to black men.

Foulata, who is an African woman, unconsciously challenges the status of Good, who is a white man. According to Reid, “racial degeneracy was as much of a threat to masculinity as effeminacy” . Foulata does not try to seduce Good, but as Reid affirms, she represents a real problem for white settlers because English men could fall in love with her . Quatermain opposes to interracial relationships . For instance, Quatermain affirms that “white men wed only with white women”. As Reid asserts, the danger that Foulata represents is “miscegenation  that is perhaps the link between defining one’s masculinity in opposition to femininity and racial otherness”. As Reid makes clear, Foulata’s presence in Good’s life undermines his masculinity.

The fear of the female Other is easily explained by the role of Gagool . Gagool is “in a position of unprecedented power given her status as a woman” . She is able to establish a matriarchal rule over the Zulu tribe. Even though the tribe is ruled by a black male figure, due to the influence of Gagool, the king Twala does not install a proper patriarchal rule . Additionally, she is “a foil to the imperial agenda of Quatermain and his team because she is infused with an unflinching sense of political for territorial integrity, fierce ethnic nationalism, a deep consciousness of political power, and an avid propensity for material wealth”. As Nagy and Zabus suggest, these characteristics were not expected from supposedly uncivilized societies . However, in King Solomon’s Mines, it is a woman that has those attitudes. In addition, “the secret of the production of mineral wealth in South Africa and thus the hoped-for regeneration of Britain, did indeed lie in the generative labor power of women. This is totally a nightmare for the patriarchy.

Readers can appreciate that Gagool is a nightmare for the patriarchy by the description that the narrator provides of her. As Cameron suggests, in order to assert the white male power, Haggard dehumanizes and infantilizes Gagool. At the beginning of the novel, Quatermain seems to almost forget to mention Gagool. Moreover, he even affirms that he does not count her because she is “not marriageable”. Therefore, since the very beginning she “is not considered a character of any importance.”. Later on in the novel, Gagool is “degenerated to the level of an animal”. For instance, she is said to “fight as a wild cat”. As Reid points out, the descriptions of Gagool as an animal may be influenced by theories such as Social Darwinism. On one way or another, Quatermain always tries to ridicule the only character in the novel who dares to challenge the patriarchy.

Finally, as Cameron claims, it is not only white men but also Foulata that helps to restore the patriarchal power . Foulata does not threaten patriarchy on purpose. Foulata “is a willing participant in the imperialist project”. As Cameron points out, she is “pleading for white men’s help” . As a result of their help, Foulata “becomes the handmaiden of the three men” and does this “disregarding her own comfort” . When she is dying, she affirms: “I am glad to die because I know that he cannot cumber his life with such as I am” and shows her approval of her convenient death . Due to Foulata’s death, Haggard “removes Good’s guilt in falling in love with a savage”  and makes her just a “sweet footnote to the adventurer’s personal history”. Nevertheless, Foulata also prevents Gagool from escaping from the cave and as a result destroys the possibility of putting the new rightful king in danger. She acts as a white men’s agent until she dies and ensures not only the salvation of white men but also the restoration of patriarchy .

To conclude, in this novel, readers can see that what appears to be an adventure lead by perfect examples of adventurous male figures has its weak spots. Regarding the male figures of the novel, readers can appreciate that the narrator is not as brave and perfect as the other white men are, but he manages to survive this dangerous adventure. Moreover, there are two women who challenge the status quo despite being very different. The difference is that Gagool consciously fights against men for her own power but Foulata becomes unconsciously a threat to Good’s masculinity even though she devotes herself to with men. Finally, the fears that both women cause are defeated and the weak spots of this masculine novel do not prevent the patriarchy from restoring.

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