Amorality, Deceit, and Self-interest
The world depicted in the story is a brutal, violent, cynical one. With the possible exception of Andreas, the guerrilla leader, the characters are concerned only with how they can exploit the situation for their own benefit. The finer qualities of love and friendship and behavior guided by moral standards are absent. It is a dog-eat-dog world, in which ruthlessness and selfishness are rewarded. Cynical betrayal is the order of the day, and loyalty has no place. No one has any ideals that they are prepared to live by. Clovis T. Ransome, for example, is nothing more than a swindler who likes to live in luxury with his trophy wife, whom he abuses. It also appears that he cynically tries to play one group off against another, a strategy that eventually costs him his life. Ransome will not be mourned, though; it is clear that the indigenous Indians whom he employs to clear the jungle hate him, as they do all Americans. The other American in the story, Bud Wilkins, is no better.
He makes a profit from dealing in arms; he will, no doubt, supply the arms to the highest bidder, weapons that will be used to bring further devastation on this poor country. He cares nothing for peace. Bud’s violent nature is shown in the small incident when he first arrives at the ranch. He backs his pickup truck hard against a tree and disturbs a bird, at which he “lines it up with an imaginary pistol and curls his finger twice in its direction.” The incident shows the thoughtless violence that lurks everywhere in this environment. Life is cheap, whether human or wildlife. Another example occurs at the guerrilla camp, when the one-armed guerrilla asks Maria, indirectly, if he should kill Alfie.
For men such as these, the killing of a man (even one who has done them no harm) is of no more consequence than the killing of a bird or a rat. Of course, it is Alfie who is the embodiment of the cynicism that is at the heart of the story. Like Bud, he is only concerned with “outfitting the participants” in the civil war. He knows the “rules of survival,” and it is these that govern his life, not any moral code about how to behave. In fact, Alfie has no concept of right and wrong and does not even acknowledge that such things exist; in his world, “There’s just supply and demand running the universe.” This must be a chilling world in which to live, in which there is neither God nor moral law in charge, but only an economic principle that Alfie is determined to exploit. Nonetheless, it is a world to which Alfie, even though he is an outsider, is well attuned. He is a shrewd operator. “I calculate margins,” he says, as he speculates about whether a night with Maria would be worth any consequences that might result. Everything for Alfie is a profit-and-loss calculation, even when it comes to lust and adultery.
The theme of lust centers on the alluring Maria. She is at once the object of lust and lustful herself. Sexual tension is injected into the story on Maria’s first appearance, when she emerges from the ocean in her pink bikini. Alfie watches as the water beads on her shoulders, and he thinks “how cool her flesh will be for just a few more minutes.” Alfie is constantly aware of Maria’s body and its sexual power: “She shrugs, and her breasts are slower than her shoulders in coming down.” Later, he observes that “The way her bottom bounces inside those cutoffs could drive a man crazy.” He admits that he would kill for her. This is not really a surprise, since Alfie confessed earlier that his dominant passion is lust, and he described the sexual frustrations of his youth in Baghdad. At one point, Alfie elevates Maria to an importance similar to that of Helen of Troy in ancient Greek mythology, over whom supposedly the Trojan War was fought. He suggests that the entire civil war in the country is due to a quarrel between men over who should possess Maria: “It’s all a family plot in countries like this; revolutions fought for a schoolgirl in white with blunted toes.” If lust is at the root of what moves men to war, Alfie is also aware, from his childhood in Baghdad, of the extent to which a society— a male-dominated one—may go in order to punish the expression of lust outside approved channels. This is apparent from his graphic description of an incident he witnessed as a child, in which a beautiful young woman was stoned to death in the village for adultery.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Bharati Mukherjee, Published by Gale Group, 2006