The White Is Dead

Contributor: Sean Crose

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You’ve thought about it for a bit and have decided to finally go back up to the “House of Pleasure” to see how your new acquaintance is doing. It’s true that you’re not a big supporter of the man, even now that he’s sick and dying. For he’s mocked your faith, your very existence, for that matter, ever since he arrived here at Hiva Oa.

Truth be told you were stunned when you first received the message from him, the one informing you that he wanted to see you, that he was so sick he could no longer walk. Indeed the man has been a horrendous sight for quite some time now. Nearly blind and crippled, he could be spotted these past few months hobbling around Atuona, covered in sores.

At one time his scandalous liaisons with young girls made you sick inside, even more sick than his degenerate paintings and sculptures did. Now, however, he is avoided by most on the island. The authorities, of course, are the exception. They’ve been eager to have this wily Frenchman in their clutches. Indeed, he’s soon supposed to start a prison sentence for his opposition to the European authorities. You realize, however, that he simply won’t live long enough to begin his short term.

Which, of course, is why you’re on your way to see him now. Admittedly, your first conversation with the man didn’t go well. At least it didn’t for you. He seemed to enjoy himself, though, as he talked at length about the Tahitian social hierarchy. Yet you had gone to his squalid abode to treat his sores and to try to help him see the light, not to talk about Tahiti. While it’s true he ultimately admitted to you his belief in God, he wasn’t willing to budge further.

That angered you, naturally, which is why you’ve been avoiding him since that first meeting. Now, however, word has arrived that his time is short. What’s more, you’re wondering if you possibly made an impact during that first visit, if you somehow began the slow opening of the man’s eyes. Walking up from the beach, you became determined to find out.

As you near the “House of Pleasure,” you become aware of your surroundings: the lush flora, the clear sky, the luscious blue water beyond the shoreline. How strange it is that he’s made Hiva Oa appear so unnatural in his art. He claims it’s how he sees nature. Fair enough. If only, you think, if only he could now somehow see other matters as you do.

That, you realize, is what’s leading you back to the “House of Pleasure,” a place which, in reality, is a small, filthy hut done in a long forgotten native style. You’re not being driven by responsibility at the moment, you’re being driven by hope, hope that the man known in decent company as a degenerate has finally, belatedly, changed his ways.

“The white is dead.”

These words, which come from a young Polynesian man who has just stepped out of hut, hit you hard.

“Monsieur Gauguin?” you ask, somehow feeling the need for comprehension.

The young man nods.


You slowly step inside the abode. He may have called it the “House of Pleasure,” but the stench and darkness make it clear that, in the end at least, it was truly a house of pain. Lying lifelessly on the bed, he is surrounded by the art he created, the art which carried with it so much controversy and scandal.

“He was fifty-four years old,” the young man tells you.

“Fifty-four,” you say, understanding that your question has been answered, but that you will never know what that answer is.

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Sean Crose teaches writing at Post University and Philadelphia University. He's also a columnist for Boxing Insider. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and Cody, the World's Greatest Cat.
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