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She loves them, yet in a very selfish way, wanting “… to keep both sons for herself… ” She knew of Benjamin’s distaste for women, his fear and nausea for the opposite sex. It can almost be said that Benjamin loved his mother and brother so much that loving anything else to him seemed like betrayal. Although Mary made a token effort to persuade Benjamin to marry, she knew full well that Benjamin would do nothing of the kind. She used this as an excuse to herself, and, “… wilfully displaying the perverse side of her character, she … took Lewis by the elbow and him promise never, never to marry unless Benjamin married too. ”
What makes her behaviour all the more crueller and heartless is that Lewis “… wanted a woman badly. ” Although Lewis does not openly object against what he feels is “… a prison sentence,” he “… became very jumpy and argumentative… ” So Mary, fearing “… a repetition of Amos’s black moods,” makes a “momentous” decision. Against her better judgement, she decides to send the boys to the Rhulen fair, to get a taste of the `real life’ and maybe experience the company of girls. She even advises them, falsely cheerful, “… mind you pick the pretty ones, and don’t come back until after dark!
” Living so removed from reality on the Vision, the twins have absolutely no idea what was going on in the `Real World’. Time had stood still for them, because “… since the peace celebrations, the twins’ world had contracted to a few square miles… ” (p131. ) The Rhulen fair is a complete shock to them. “Skirts, since they had been last in town, had risen not above the ankle, but above the knee. ” T he behaviour of the brothers as they get to the fair is very revealing of their different attitudes and aims in life. “Benjamin begged his brother to turn back… ”
For him the fair represented everything he was afraid of, everything he loathed about the outside world. Chaos, women, “… bare legs – legs kicking, dancing, prancing, and reminding him of … the kicks of sheep in their death throes. ” For Lewis, however, this is an opportunity of a lifetime, his chance to sample everything he has missed out on in his youth. “… he was wondering round the fair like a man possessed,” sampling all the amusements on offer: coconut milk, lollipops, `Chairoplane’ and elephant rides. When Lewis is about to buy a ticket for a peep-show, the silent conflict between them comes to a head: Benjamin refuses to let Lewis go and see the show.
Lewis tries to break away from Benjamin’s control, but ultimately gives in to his younger brother. This is a very important event in understanding the relationship between Lewis and Benjamin. Lewis realises “… that he was not just afraid of hurting Benjamin: he was afraid of him. ” Ben, although being the physically weaker of the two, he is the favourite of their mother, and is more cunning than Lewis. Benjamin uses this cunning to manipulate his brother to his own means, tying Lewis to him by exploiting his obvious love for him. He is not afraid to inflict pain on himself to
hurt his brother. This is demonstrated by the snowdrift incident: Lewis had left the Vision, and Benjamin “began to pine” (p. 98). His longing for his brother was so intense, he even started to think “of killing himself… ” (p. 99). He had lost the will to live, and one day went foolishly off into a building snowstorm. When Lewis finds his brother, half frozen to death, Benjamin accuses him, “You left me. ” (p. 104) It seems as if Benjamin is punishing Lewis for leaving him, and blaming Lewis for his hurt.
Perhaps this is a strategy for survival, for it is doubtful if Benjamin could live without his brother, even it is not the other way around. B enjamin and Lewis’ relationship form a large part of the meaning of the novel, because it is through them that Chatwin introduces us into On the Black Hill.
Understanding this relationship and the conflicts within it is vital to understanding the meaning of the novel. This relationship is strongly influenced by their mother Mary, whose selfish machinations affect both Lewis and Benjamin’s lives and personalities. The Rhulen Fair explores both these issues, and thus gives an important insight to understanding the meaning of the novel.
Although the first chapter also lightly touches on Mary’s importance to the twins, it is not the only important issue investigated in this scene. It introduces some of the main themes, and sets the time and atmosphere of the novel. It also includes a defining paragraph which sets the entire theme and meaning of the novel. These two scenes are only a fraction of the countless threads woven together into the ultimate meaning of Chatwin’s work. However, they can help us to gain a better understanding of this meaning, and to see and fully appreciate the true worth of this tapestry of time.