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Children of Sisyphus

Patterson’s Children of Sisyphus takes its audience into the muck of life as lived by the main protagonist, Dinah. Dinah’s heroine role is that of solely standing up to poverty and putting up a fight to the bitter end. She loses infamously as does most other good heroines of a tale. What sets Children of Sisyphus apart from the rest is the fact that Dinah was never set up to win. She crawls back as if driven purely by instinct, embattled and worn out. Dinah finally yields to the Dungle. The whole book describes that poor in society are ensnared in perpetual poverty by society’s setup itself that keeps social classes divided. The essay will provide a textual analysis of the Chapter 23 of the above mentioned book.

Chapter 23 starts with the dying Dinah, making her way through the streets. As she is running, you notice the author’s clever use of summary in this passage (Patterson, 1965). Having come from the Dungle, her days as a prostitute, the bars she frequented, her life of disco, to her social climb of mingling with the rich. Dinah then became religious and for a brief moment had a sense of real hope. This is repeated in backward fashion over the events of just one night. Dinah escapes from her safe heaven (the church) to the streets. The author goes on writing how she passes by large chromed cars and how people laugh at her, unfazed by her obvious agony. Dinah makes her way past the loud rum bars, past gambling places, and past whorehouses. Her life flashes past her eyes.


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Dinah finally makes it back to her husband, who was just about to commit suicide by hanging. His apparent mental breakdown is hard to miss. An aspect of Rastafarian religion shows when Cyrus wonders “Could not the spirit of the Holy Emperor bring her back to life”. Cyrus, a bigot Rastafarian then adds, “Babylon is wicked.” It is then that Cyrus loses the little hope he still had owing to his religion. There is a theme of the socio-economic division and detachment from the empathy. As Dinah runs by the big windows of the department store (213), people stop to look at her but then laugh. It shows an eerie picture of a society without concern. The rich seem to be laughing at her for the mere fact that she is bloodied and dying. Their laughter could be the author’s attempt at symbolizing a social division. The book does nothing to surprise its reader about this owing to the fact that the entire novel is about the social class division. The rich not helping a poor woman dying on the streets would be akin to them not helping the people of Dungle. Therefore, the hidden metaphor also reignites the debate over social responsibilities if not ethical obligations of those in positions of affecting change.

The novel as a whole describes the socio-economic setup of the Dungle. It discusses the vanity of life and ridicules our strong held belief in ‘humanity’. It is as much a novel as it is a study of society. In the novel, Dungle is an isolated garbage settlement whose inhabitants are lowly of the society. Nobody wants anything to do with the inhabitants of Dungle, leaving them a socially discriminated group. In other words, the entire novel is a breakdown of the struggles characters face in trying to escape to less squalid conditions. In Chapter 23 of Patterson’s Children of Sisyphus, Dinah staggers back to her husband Cyrus, bloodied and dying, (Patterson, 1965, p. 214). Cyrus, on the other hand, seems to have already given up hope of life, (Patterson, 1965, p. 214). He breaks out into sincere laughter at the sight of his dying wife.  Perhaps Cyrus has finally lost his wits or life indeed has become a mockery. The view of a dying Dinah seems to do nothing more than asserting his resolve to end his life. In Chapter 23, escape from Dungle is proved futile.

Moreover, Chapter 23 succeeds in eliciting strong emotions from the audience. The curtains have fallen on a promising new start for Dinah. Cyrus’ end is, however, an anticlimax that the author builds throughout the novel. The author also succeeds in leaving the reader with a sense of hopelessness. The gory demise of Dinah might have been too graphic but succeeds in capturing the scene to better understand the gravity of the passage. Admittedly, Dinah’s story helps in furthering the conversation around poverty and its confinement.

As the novel goes, Patterson masterfully uses the styles of symbolism, imagery and character definition to give the reader an all-rounded perspective of the scene. On page 213 Patterson writes, “She struggled across the Marcus Garvey Drive,” he adds that she fell as she tried to move up the mound. By that moment, one can clearly see Dinah for what she is, a dying woman giving her all to get back home. In his somewhat ‘bare-knuckled’ style of conveying a message, Patterson adds the graphic picture of her detaching breasts which emphasize her bad wounds. The passage also cements Dinah’s fighting spirit in prolonging her death. Dinah’s character gets deeper depth through Patterson’s masterful character build.

Chapter 23 contains a phonological template that runs through the novel. Patterson uses rhyme in Cyrus’ self-dialogue, (214) “Why the dreariness? Why the silence?” Despite the fact that Cyrus is talking to furniture, there is a fortification of the dialect style chosen by the author. It is fascinating that Patterson finds a way of having a moment of humor within such a depressing passage.

A fitting title for this passage would be “A Final Homecoming.” This would be suitable as Dungle, which was once home to Dinah is where she eventually comes back to when faced with impending demise. Cyrus, a Rastafarian believes in an afterlife where he will soon be with his Dinah presumably in Babylon. He is also going ‘home’ to rest.

Children of Sisyphus novel follows a linear plot of events with its end being reminiscent of its start. The plot does not derail because there are no blatant flashbacks, in particular on the final three pages. This credits Orlando’s work in keeping to the plot while heavily referencing the past. In the end, it seems that prying oneself out of Dungle is no simple fete to accomplish if not utterly impossible. Cyrus does go mad or at least delusional. Dinah went back to die in Dungle because maybe that is where she found comfort, however, difficult and bruising at the same time.


In conclusion, the novel Children of Sisyphus is a mirror of society itself. In conclusion, the passage paints a picture of social division when Dinah cannot find help from bystanders. Religion and its influence in society come to the fore with Cyrus’ dramatic final moments. This passage has poverty equated to an all-devouring black hole that lets none escape. One can only sympathize with Dinah at her failed attempt to escape poverty. The social divide can be partly blamed for her death because had she been rich or ‘important’, she could have been helped. 

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