The name of the building that the Richards occupy, and with which much of the 3rd chapter is concerned, is The Labry Apartments. This bears a close resemblance to the word labrys, which is the term for a symmetrical double-headed axe which was originally found in Crete. The labrys is considered to be one of the oldest symbols of Greek civilization (it’s also curiously known as a “bipennis”).
The palace of Knossos, thought to be the place of the labyrinth in which Theseus fought the minotaur, was known as “The House of the Double Axe”. The palace was said to be made up of five great complexes of labyrinthine complexity, comprised of over one 1500 rooms. Deep within this network of buildings was hidden the ritual center. (Interestingly, Calkins’ complex has five towers in the back for servants, of which there are said to be fifteen).
“He had a momentary image of all these walls on pivots controlled by subterranean machines, so that, after he had passed, they might suddenly swing to face another direction, parting at this corner, joining now at that one, like a great maze – forever adjustable, therefore unlearnable – “
The theme of the labyrinth also calls to mind that of the quest. Kidd is, willingly or otherwise, immersed in a quest to find his lost name. This very much mirrors the Masonic quest involving the discovery of the lost Word. The name, as with the Word, would theoretically be found at the center of the labyrinth, which represents the end of the quest. Bellona presents itself as a labyrinth, with its shifting geography and seeming lack of consistency, and thus Kidd wanders through the city streets and living spaces. The thread he lays down, mirroring that of Ariadne who accompanied Theseus on his quest, is his poetry, written on the unused pages of the journal. It must be observed that he does indeed find his way back out of the maze by the end of the book. It seems that the journal contains parts of the book Dhalgren, offered to us perhaps as a thread by which to find our way back from the inner depths of the novel.
Later on in the book, in the final chapter, Kidd finds himself daydreaming while in the midst of orgasm. He pictures himself holding hands with someone, and “running among leafless trees laced with moonlight while the person behind me kept repeating: ‘…Grendal, Grendal, Grendal…” A short while later Kidd realizes that he’d arranged the syllables the wrong way. That the word that he’d heard repeated over and over was “Dhalgren”. At this point in the book, it seems quite feasible that Kidd is in fact William Dhalgren, whose name appears listed among several others in the journal.
Several parallels exist between the story of Beowulf and Grendal and that of Theseus and the minotaur. The stories of Beowulf and Theseus each involve a character who comes to the aid of a city that is not the city in which he lives, and which is menaced by a mysterious beast. Each cross a body of water; Beowulf crosses a body of water to get to Denmark, and Theseus crosses the Aegean to get to the minotaur’s labyrinth. Beowulf swipes a magic sword from the treasury of Grendal’s mother and uses it to kill her as well as her wounded son. Theseus is directed, by his mother, to reclaim the sword of his father from beneath a stone as his birthright. Both heroes use their weapon to decapitate their enemy.
Kidd resembles both Theseus and Beowulf. The optical chain, found in a cave upon a rock ledge, is his weapon. With this weapon, Kidd defends the wasted city by analyzing the nature of the light which has destroyed it, as well as by reflecting that light and focusing it through a series of lenses.
Later on in the book it is strongly suggested that Kidd is not Dhalgren at all, that William Dhalgren is a reporter working for Calkins. Dhalgren as the reporter represents the enemy. Where Kidd allows himself to descend right down into the mud and muck of the labyrinth, grappling with it in all of its gritty chaos, the reporter chooses to stand back in an attempt to understand the city from afar. Kidd becomes directly involved with the light, using poetry not only in order to represent it in all of its rawness, but also to come to terms with it himself. The reporter, conversely, attempts to confine the light to ‘facts’, eschewing both poetry and direct experience. Kidd is the savage hero, and the reporter the civilized beast. Kidd’s poetry is intended as a wound to the engine of distortion presented by the press, which, in its quest for facts, distorts and ultimately loses touch with the true nature of the light of experience.
On second thought, perhaps Kidd is closer in nature to the beast. He has come to wound the city after all, not to defend it. Both Theseus and Beowulf become kings after having defeated their enemy. Beowulf, after defeating Grendal, returns to Geatland and there becomes the Lord of the Geats. Theseus, after defeating the minotaur, becomes the king of Athens. The name Theseus is thought to be descended from a Greek root word meaning “institution”. Kidd is certainly depicted as the enemy of institutions. Much of the book in fact is built upon the tension between the roles of Kidd and Calkins. The newspaper is the largest institution in Bellona, and Calkins clearly considers himself owner and king of the city. Kidd, on the other hand, quickly becomes somewhat of a legend, and is naturally adopted as the leader of the scorpions (ironically, since each member of the scorpions choses an iconic name, whereas Kidd’s has been given to him). Kidd is arguably the true, if unintentional, king of Bellona.
The ambiguity between hero and villain, king and usurper, outlaw and institution, is one of the keys by which to navigate the book, which itself appears as a labyrinth with seven centers instead of one.
“Like everything else in town, you just hear about it until it bumps into you. You have to put yourself at the mercy of the geography, and hope the down-hills and up-hills, working propitiously with how much you feel like fighting and how much you feel like accepting, manage to get you there. You’ll find it eventually.”