Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

Three Reading Questions for Cereus Blooms at Night

Sarah Topol, English 365, Northwestern University, 2003

[Additional reading and discussion questions]

1. Nature plays a big part of Cereus Blooms at Night. The most interesting use of nature appears in Mala's interaction with insects and snails. It appears that her fixation with other living creatures begins when Lavinia tells Mala that killing a snail is "courting bad luck" (54). From then on, it appears that Mala treats all small living things, especially snails, with respect. "We fancied ourselves protector of snails and all things unable to defend themselves from the bullies of the world" (119). How does this humane treatment of weaker beings relate to Mala's parental situation? Why do you think in her old age Mala surrounds herself with "birds, insects, snails and reptiles. She and they and the abundant foliage gossiped among themselves" (127)?

Is it simply the result of her fixation on her mother and Lavinia and harboring hopes that her life will one day change? Or is it more than that?

Why did she allow them to over run her house and then for them she "facilitated an honorable disposal" (128)?

 2. The only people who appear to remain faithful to Mala in the novel are sexually or gender-wise outside of the norm. Tyler and Otoho are the characters in the story who continually attempt to break though the barriers Mala constructs for her emotional self. One the other hand, the characters who follow heterosexual norms, particularly Ambrose, appear to run from Mala. As a child, and as an adult he leaves Mala's side when she needs him most. When Pohpoh is at risk of being hurt by Walter and the rest of the bullies at school, Boyie is no where to be found. "I hate Boyie. Why he didn't stay with us?" (89) Again when she needs him most as an adult, Ambrose is nowhere to be found. After the terrifying scene in which Mala and her father fight, Ambrose does nothing but watch. Then when she approaches him for help "thinking she had gone mad and fearing once more for his life, he turned and bolted from the house" (228). Why does Mootoo allow this to happen? Why do all heterosexual men hurt or abandon Mala? Is Mootoo making a statement about heterosexual men?

3. Throughout the latter half of the novel, Pohpoh and Mala appear to become two separate characters, at least in Mala's mind. Mala constantly thinks about how she could have saved Pohpoh and protected her. Eventually towards the end of the book, Pohpoh and Mala's lives intertwine, and Mala protects Pohpoh and allows Pohpoh to fly away into the unknown. What is the purpose of these intertwining plots, where a character meets itself in older form? Why does Mootoo do this? What is the symbolism or purpose of the final scene Pohpoh appears when she flies away from Paradise?


Mootoo, Shani. Cereus Blooms at Night. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998.

Postcolonial Web India OV Canada Mootoo

Last modified: 5 December 2003