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In his last year at the University on Morningside Heights Mario rebels against the gray academic surroundings, the conformity and sterile intellectuality. He descends to the lower world, to Harlem, in a symbolic journey of discovery. In this hot, squalid, dangerous, yet exciting atmosphere he moves back to the beginnings of man, back to the fundamental terrors and desires.
In this shadow world he meets Pearl, an exotic and tragic girl to whom he is mysteriously attracted. Inevitably he confronts her violent, half-insane lover. Here also he meets the archetype of all motherhood, a black woman called Mama. His sojourn in this dreamlike world leads not only to disaster and violence, but also to a revelation and triumph, and eventually he emerges into the light once more.