Angels from the Congo

Throughout reading Victor LaValle’s The Big Machine, I had questions regarding the Devils of the Marsh, Solomon Clay, and how everything in the story tied together. Working in groups after finishing the book today, I found that a lot of us were  still trying to piece together what it all meant. However, once our wheels started turning, connections kept coming and we ultimately found what we believe are the answers. 

In our group discussion, Toby brought up the significance of Murder being dutch. He connected this to the Congo Free State and informed us of how Leopold II of Belgium wreaked havoc and violence on the Congo. He informed us that it was custom for soldiers to cut off the hand of their victims to prove they had killed someone, which is when I made the connection to Ricky’s hand being cut off and his leg being eaten by the cats in Murder’s basement.  Things were starting to make sense, and then Sean recalled Vachel Lindsay’s poem we read a while back in the semester, The Congo: A Study of the Negro RaceThis poem depicts the violence of the Congo Free State that we had been discussing, but we wanted to find out more about its significance in connection to The Big Machine. 

As we read the poem, we found more and more connections. A pair of lines that sticks out to me the most is:

Blown past the marsh where the butterflies play”

After reading this, our minds were even more blown. The “hill of clay” could perhaps be the inspiration behind Solomon Clay’s last name, and the “marsh” reminded us immediately of the Devils of the Marsh. The poem also references angels a few times. The Devils are referred to as Angels in the end of the novel. From the poem, we drew the conclusion that the Angels that carried Solomon away and seemed to be helping could be ghosts. The poem reads:

For a Congo paradise, for babes at play”
The “Angels” in The Big Machine could in fact be ghosts of those who have suffered in the past coming to help.
The connections we made between the novel and the poem opened up a greater discussion about the author’s inspirations and messages. I had never put together that the Devils of the Marsh and the events that took place while Ricky and Adele tried to defeat Solomon Clay could possibly be a symbol for the Congo Free State. I had forgotten about the poem until my group members made the connection, and everything started to make sense. I think this discussion was very beneficial because it not only enhanced my understanding of the novel, it also broadened my view on how important it can be to look deeper into details of a book. Doing so can open you up to important topics and give a greater meaning to what you are reading.

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