A Gorilla in the Guest Room by Gerald Durrell
In A Gorilla in the Guest Room by Gerald Durrell we have the theme of trust, fear, anxiety, connection, control, equality, freedom and responsibility. Narrated in the first person by Durrell himself the reader realises after reading the story that Durrell may be exploring the theme of trust. N’Pongo unlike Nandy trusts Durrell and if anything is affectionate towards him. He has lived most of his life with Durrell and as such knows that he can trust him. That Durrell is not an enemy. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about Nandy who is slower to trust either Durrell or N’Pongo due to her previous engagements with human beings (and possibly with other gorillas). She has suffered at the hands of those who may have captured her hence the scar that runs across her scalp. This may be important as Durrell may be using the scar to highlight to the reader the fact that some animals who have been captured by humans may not necessarily have had pleasant experiences with their captors. However fortunately for Nandy Durrell has her best interests at heart as can be seen by how he treats Nandy throughout the story. There is no real need for Nandy to distrust Durrell.
Along with distrust comes fear and it is also clear to the reader through Durrell’s description of Nandy’s eyes that she is afraid of the circumstances she finds herself in. She is among strangers, including N’Pongo, and is in an environment in which she is not familiar. This is sure to increase the anxiety that Nandy may feel. Durrell himself shows signs of anxiety in the story when he realises that N’Pongo is sick and he doesn’t at first realise what is wrong with him. The strong connection that Durrell has with N’Pongo means that Durrell is naturally worried about him. Durrell also knows that he is responsible for N’Pongo. Something that is clearer to the reader when Durrell considers not going to France and instead ensuring that everything is okay with N’Pongo. At all stages of the story Durrell shows that he cares about and is connected to both N’Pongo and Nandy. Leaving the reader to suspect that both gorillas are in good hands and that Durrell has their best interests at heart. Something again that may not necessarily have previously been the case when it came to Nandy’s introduction to humans.
It may also be important that N’Pongo on Nandy’s arrival tries to control her or at least ensures that she is aware that he is the one who is in charge. In many ways this mirrors how men might consider their role when it comes to women. Men have an innate desire to show that they are in control without giving equality to women. Though it is noticeable that N’Pongo does allow Nandy to sleep on the same bench as he is sleeping on. Symbolically this may be significant as Durrell may be suggesting that many men could learn from the activities or actions of N’Pongo and by doing so they might live in unison with women. If anything Durrell might be highlighting the inequality that exits between men and women not only at the time the story was written but today as well. There is also a sense of irony in the story. Though both N’Pongo and Nandy are in captivity they still have a degree of freedom that they may not have if they lived in the wild. Should they live in the wild they may very well be killed by poachers. A circumstance that they are saved from by Durrell.
The end of the story is also interesting as Durrell is able to go to France with a degree of peace of mind. He knows that N’Pongo is getting better and like a father would to a son, Durrell takes a back seat and continues on with his life. Though he is still very much attached to N’Pongo. As can be seen by the fact that Durrell very nearly cancelled his trip to France. The fact that Durrell questions himself might also be important as by doing so the reader realises just how committed Durrell is to N’Pongo (and Nandy). Even though he knows that it can also cause him pain. However the joy that N’Pongo and Nandy brings to Durrell appears to far outweigh the negativity that might come from having to care for them and keeping them in captivity. Something that some critics might disagree with and not accept. However Durrell seems to be logical and caring when it comes to his treatment of N’Pongo and Nandy. Hence his belief that N’Pongo and Nandy should be kept in captivity and allowed to bred. A stance that Durrell does not deviate from.