A Handful of Dust - Study Guide Chapter Five, In Search of a City: Part One Summary & Analysis

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Chapter Five, In Search of a City: Part One Summary

Tony is traveling by boat, and as he stands on the deck, one of the passengers approaches him with small talk. When Tony gets tired of the uncomfortable exchange with the stranger, he leaves to get ready for dinner. At the dinner table Tony and a black archdeacon sit at the absent captain's table. The archdeacon tells Tony that his wife is in her cabin suffering from seasickness—the same as Tony's new partner, Dr. Messinger. After dinner, Tony runs into the passenger from the deck and his reference to Tony as "the explorer" makes Tony reflect on the events that led to this voyage. Tony's roster of trips throughout his life amounted roughly to three; one trip to France as a teenager, traveling Europe with a friend, and his honeymoon with Brenda on the Italian Riviera. He hadn't left England since his father's death and doesn't know what to expect of the strange expedition he has taken on. It was in avoiding Beaver and any members of he and Brenda's social group that lead him to the Greville club and Dr. Messinger. Dr. Messinger, a small, bearded, prematurely aged young man, tells Tony that he is taking a trip either to Brazil or Dutch Guiana. He is in search of a city that has only been recorded as legend and through the accounts of local Spanish and Indian tribes. As Dr. Messinger tells Tony of the city, Tony decides that he will cancel his initial trip plans and join the doctor on his expedition.

The ride on the ship isn't as comfortable as Tony's cruise ship would have been, but Tony maintains. He thinks about the city and imagines what it must look like. Eventually, the boat makes it to blue and calm Caribbean waters and Tony begins to meet many of the passengers for the first time. At dinner Tony meets a young woman named Therese de Vitre. She had recently completed school in Paris and is on her way home to the island of Trinidad to find a husband. Therese and Tony become very close in the days that follow and the atmosphere on the boat is increasingly happier. Tony mentions Brenda for the first time. Therese didn't know Tony's marital status and seems offended that he never mentioned it. Tony didn't do a good job of explaining that he was in the middle of a divorce and why, so the next day when they arrive in Trinidad she treats Tony as if he is a stranger and that is the last they see of one another.

Chapter Five, In Search of a City: Part One Analysis

"He was going away because it seemed to be conduct expected of a husband in his circumstances, because the associations of Hetton were for the first time poisoned for him, because he wanted to live for a few months away from people who would know him or Brenda, in places where there was no expectation of meeting her or Beaver or Reggie St. Cloud at every corner he frequented . . ." Tony is in charge and has made plans that are completely different from any in his life. This character is no longer the husband that the reader met in the beginning of the story, he isn't judgmental and class driven, and he definitely isn't the pushover who was blind-sided by his wife's affair right under his nose. Nonetheless, there is a chance that Tony's bad turns so far will follow him on his freedom journey. First, it is strange that Tony becomes so trusting of Dr. Messinger so quickly. Messinger is speaking of traveling un-chartered territory among cultures that Tony knows nothing of. There is a chance that Tony is so maddened by his situation and eager to get away from it that he hasn't thought this adventure out clearly. All of the passengers seem hesitant in understanding why anyone would take the kind of trip they have planned. Finally, Therese may have represented a potential turning point for him, and this chance also escapes his grasp. Therese is the first to say outright that she doesn't like Dr. Messinger. She uses the same terminology that everyone has used to describe Beaver in the past, and they were all correct in their misgivings. Then, Tony loses Therese when the story of his past enters their interaction. The reader is inclined to believe that if he truly left his past behind and ignored Messinger's crazy scheme, Tony would find a middle ground that is refreshingly different and he would finally leave his curse behind.

This section contains 772 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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