This is a story from the pen of D. H. Lawrence who wrote many wonderful stories. In this story, he has incorporated several themes and many layers of meaning all in less than twenty-five pages. The man who "loved islands” appears Quixotic as he attempts to create an imaginary island world around himself as he sequesters his being in his book-laden library to write about the birds of the classical world. But his dreams were quickly corroded as the corruption of humanity tainted his imaginary Eden. Suggestions of Milton’s Paradise Lost – yet can Satan have corrupted humanity so thoroughly that few are honest or loyal enough to continue the journey with the man?
Cathcart, a modern-day Robinson Crusoe
“The Man Who Loved Islands” is an interesting parable of modern man – especially if you see modern man as a kind of “bloodless” man. The protagonist, Cathcart, is actually everything Lawrence hated and not meant to be some hero to the reader. A very twentieth-century Robinson Crusoe with money, who tries to regain a personal paradise by ignoring everything but his own desires.
The Islander Appears Quixotic
The man who "loved islands” appears Quixotic as he attempts to create an imaginary island world around himself as he sequesters his being in his book-laden library to write about the birds of the classical world. But his dreams were quickly corroded as the corruption of humanity tainted his imaginary Eden. Suggestions of Milton’s Paradise Lost – yet can Satan have corrupted humanity so thoroughly that few are honest or loyal enough to continue the journey with the man?
An Attack on Modern Civilization
Imaginary though it was it reminds the reader of Rousseau’s attacks on civilization while he wrote of an imaginary state of nature. This state of nature seemed to be close to the reincarnation of our man’s island as he tried yet a second time to accomplish his dream. Ultimately the man who loved islands inherits a nightmare as the story veers into a snowy dystopia.
Theme and Meaning
At the beginning of this story, the narrator comments that it will show that an island must be tiny before it can be filled with any one person’s personality. The islander, who dreams of creating the perfect world, ends up being his islands’ victim, not their master. It is as if the islands have a life and power of their own. The narrator comments that going to an island is like jumping off a secure little point in time into a timeless world in which the present moment begins to expand in great circles and the solid earth is gone: The usual crutches of time and space are knocked away. The myriad spirits and infinite rhythms of centuries dwarf and overwhelm the individual who tries to assert his individuality over the island.
On the first island, his perfect world crumbles when the island’s people, events, and spirit prove beyond his control. On the second island, he attempts to create around him a still and desireless space but is defeated by his sexual desire. On his third and last island, he wishes to avoid contact with anyone or anything that disturbs his isolation or intrudes on his perfectly ordered existence.
Each island is barer and less populated than the last, but Cathcart still fails to impose his own identity on them. His circle of influence decreases to the size of his tiny hut, and even then, he constantly feels under threat from outside influences. As his environment progressively slips out of his control, he becomes angrier and more malevolent. He ends up a sick, shattered wreck of a man, vainly struggling against the ebb and flow of life.
Style and Technique
The development of the imagery of flowers throughout the story is indicative of Cathcart’s long-drawn-out spiritual death. In a happy interval on the first island (which has many flowers and bushes growing on it), he is described as opening out in spirit like a flower. As soon as this happens, some ugly blow falls and crushes him. On the second island, which is more barren than the first, he works on a book about flowers and marries Flora (Latin for “flowers”), who has a child by him. This continues the theme of birth and blossoming of life, but in both these cases, the islander abstracts these elements from the vastness of nature and tries to bring them into his tiny sphere of influence. Then he retreats even from these abstracted representatives of nature: He withdraws from Flora and the child and loses interest in his book. He is interested only in taking refuge on a smaller, more barren rock of an island, from which he excludes all remaining life—the sheep, the cat, the mailmen. In his tomb-like world, even his final vision of the leaves of summer is a transient mirage, instantly overshadowed by the coming snows of winter.
Other images contribute to the sense of the island’s being a living, threatening entity: its resentful spirit coiled on itself like a wet dog coiled in gloom; its invisible hand that strikes malevolently out of the silence; its tendency to pick money out of pockets like an octopus with invisible arms.