The fact of imperialism (particularly British imperialism) is assumed to be the natural state of the world in King Solomon’s Mines. Underlying much of Quatermain’s narrative is the assumption that British and European progress necessitates colonization of more “primitive” parts of the world, such as Africa. Quatermain’s attitude toward Kafirs, Zulus, and specific non-European characters (particularly Umbopa/Ignosi) demonstrates the prevailing attitude of European superiority over the “uncivilized” non-whites.
The dangers of imperialism are noted as well. Upon gaining the throne, Ignosi almost immediately sets up an isolationist foreign policy, in which no white man (with the exception of his three friends and benefactors) will ever be allowed in Kukuanaland. He says he will turn them back. If they come in large groups, he will push them away, and if they arrive in an army, he will fight them. Ignosi does not want the European vices of violence (in terms of firearms), drunkenness, and greed to infiltrate his land. Haggard here depicts the harmful side of imperialism—the effect it has upon those people who are being colonized—in terms that are somewhat advanced for his day. His experiences in Africa have certainly made him more aware of the effects that Britain’s foreign policy is having upon other cultures.
The Value of Knowledge
One area which Haggard seems to depict the white men as being superior to the Kukuanas is in the area of recorded knowledge. Good’s use of the almanac allows the white men to establish their “divine credentials,” as it were. Meanwhile, Gagool’s life is spared because she is the repository of knowledge which could be beneficial (particularly to the diamond-seeking explorers). Ignosi, however, sees Gagool merely as an evil woman who was the agent of his father’s death and his own exile. He does not see the value of her knowledge, nor the need to preserve such information as she has gathered in her long life.
A sense of history, however, is more universal. Prior to the battle against Twala, Infadoos reminds the Kukuanas of their history of bravery in combat, as well as the events leading up to Twala’s usurpation of the throne. Ignosi takes special interest in Infadoos’ account of the former king’s murder and the escaped prince, for obvious reasons. After the battle with Twala, the white men’s names are to become an unusual part of Kukuana history: their names are to be revered along with divinities, in that they are taught from generation to generation, but never uttered aloud.
The Kukuanas do indeed value information and history, but theirs is an oral tradition which sees no need to preserve knowledge not directly related to their character or politics. The cannot preserve scientific data, as with Good’s almanac, and so are limited in their ability to manipulate the natural world; however, they see no point in doing so, either.
The Virtue of Bravery
Courage is perhaps the highest virtue in King Solomon’s Mines. While the narrator, Allan Quatermain, regularly professes himself a coward, he nonetheless engages in deeds most readers would find daunting. Sir Henry Curtis and, to a lesser extent, Captain Good are presented as brave men, ready to endure the hardships of travel in an inhospitable and unknown land for the sake of Sir Henry’s brother. Ignosi acts bravely throughout, particularly when he reveals his identity to the elders of the Kukuanas and confronts Twala directly. The Greys are the most courageous of all the brave Kukuana warriors, ready to stare death in the face in service to their king.
Even the enemies of Ignosi are described as courageous. Twala’s warriors fight bravely, and Twala himself plunges into the thick of battle without thought to leading from the rear. Twala, for all his cruelty, is a mighty warrior and rightfully deserves to be admired for his bravery in battle. He also faces his own execution with courage, choosing death by single combat with the most powerful opponent available, Sir Henry Curtis. None of the white men question Twala’s place among the honored kings in the Place of the Dead.
In H. Rider Haggard’s day, racism was rampant in English culture. The drive to colonize various non-European nations necessitates an assumed inferiority on the part of those nations. Quatermain is often the voice of racist assumptions, treating Kafirs as superstitious children and seeking to awe the Kukuanas through scientific trickery couched in magical terms. He even goes so far as to state that white men only marry white women when offered a bride from among the Kukuanas.
However, Quatermain’s prejudices are contradicted by the people and events he narrates. Ignosi and his people are noble, dignified, courageous, and happy. They have no need of outside influence, and Ignosi plans to prevent such interaction, and by force, if necessary. The notion of white superiority is hereby defeated, but the concept of segregation is not. Even Ignosi believes it is better for white and black men to keep to themselves.
The Dangers of Materialism
Although subtle in his critique, Haggard does make it clear that the desire for the wealth of King Solomon’s diamond mines leads to danger, suffering, and sometimes death. Sir Henry Curtis is the only one of the explorers who is not motivated by desire for the diamonds, as he seeks his brother. Captain Good and Quatermain want the diamonds, but Quatermain at least attempts to put his desire in less selfish terms, as he seeks a solid financial situation for his son. The men follow the map of Jose da Silvestra, whom they learned barely escaped with his life after seeking the diamonds, and who eventually died on his way back home. His descendant, Jose Silvestre, also dies from exposure after seeking the lost Mines.
Sir Henry, Captain Good, and Quatermain nearly die in the treasure chamber. Gagool was able to elude them and trigger the door because the men were too preoccupied in wonder at the diamonds. Even as they seek escape, Captain Good renounces the diamonds as useless for survival; Quatermain, on the other hand, manages to pocket a handful before leaving the treasure chamber.
In a very telling exchange, Ignosi accuses the departing Quatermain of loving the “shining stones” more than his friends. Although Quatermain replies that he longs for his homeland, and Ignosi accepts the reply, the specter of greed as a motivating factor has yet again been raised; this time, Ignosi feels justified in accusing the white men of valuing precious stones or material wealth above true friendship.
Masculinity and Femininity
In Haggard’s world, men and women have distinct roles. Quatermain begins the tale by warning the reader that there will not be a “petticoat” in this story. The only woman in it is Foulata, and Gagool hardly counts as a woman to him. The role of men is to be the hunters, the providers, the warriors, and the leaders. Men dominate the Kukuana culture, just as they dominate the European cultures from which the white men hail.
Women, on the other hand, are nurturers and caregivers. Among the Kukuanas, the women tend to the visitors’ needs and wants. They bring them food, clothing, and companionship if they so desire. Women are, however, little more than property among the Kukuanas; Twala offers the white men brides from among his people as a gift along the lines of the chainmail and battle axes he has already given them. The ideal female in King Solomon’s Mines is Foulata: devoted, protective, and nurturing in every way (particularly toward Captain Good). Even Foulata can see that her love for Good is preordained to fail. Nonetheless, she holds on to it, seeing it an honor to have a brief time with a man she cannot keep rather than to avoid him in favor of a long and happy life.
Gagool represents twisted femininity in the novel. She has knowledge which can help, but she chooses to use it for harm. She supports Twala the king, but her support is bloody and cruel to his subjects. Gagool is the “wicked step-mother” of fairy tales, seeking to hurt the heroes and destroy that which is beautiful, as her actions precipitate Foulata’s death.
The Triumph of Science over Superstition
The white men clearly impress the Kukuanas with their technology and scientific methods. Their rifles, which operate on a simple scientific principle, are treated as magical objects by the Kukuanas. Good’s access to the scientific data of his almanac allows the white men to pretend to control the moon, and the ensuing darkness panics the Kukuanas, who fear the light of the moon is gone forever. In the Place of Death, the men seek to scientifically explain the history of the three stone idols and the figure of the white Death in order to overcome their fears. The Place of Death itself, a sacred place to the Kukuanas, is described with detached observations of the action of mineral deposits over hundreds of years to create the strangely-shaped white stalactites. Even when they are sealed in the treasure room, the men forget their dread of death when they use their scientific knowledge to locate a source of air to find another way out of the chamber.
King Solomon’s Mines Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for King Solomon’s Mines is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.