V. S. Naipaul Second EditionBruce King V. S. NAIPAUL Other books by the author Modern Indian Poetry in English (se. PDF | Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad (V.S. Naipaul) was born in Trinidad in In The New York Review of Books, Naipaul has been called '”a master of English. In the "brilliant novel" (The New York Times) V.S. Naipaul takes us deeply into the life of one Sign up. Get news about Literary Fiction books, authors, and more.
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Books. Also: Also: Also. V. S. Naipaul. Authors. Bruce King. Textbook. Part of the Macmillan Modern Novelists book series (MONO). Download book PDF. Chapters Table of contents (9. V.S. NAIPAUL'S FICTIOH, FRAGMENTATION & ROOTLESSNESS. In this book, Naipaul seems to have exhausted his West Indian viewpoint and.
When talk of independence came to Trinidad the Hindu Indians felt insecure, fearing being left by the British under the dominance Introduction 17 of the black community which had organized itself politically and which, concentrated in the cities and having gained access to English language education, staffed the police and civil service and influenced the government.
The British Labour Party wanted decolonization and favoured such black intellectuals as Eric Williams, who had studied in England and wrote books about the relationship of the West Indian sugar plantations to slavery and imperialism to capitalism.
But for a Trinidadian Indian the rhetoric of decolonization was filled with black nationalism, pan-Africanism, Judaeo-Christian notions of black racial deliverance and Marxist models of single party states. In such a situation the Hindu was the outsider, the marginal, the opposition to those who felt destined to inherit the apparatus of the state at independence.
I do not want to leave the impression that East Indians were not, for their part, hostile to Afro-Trinidadians. However, they were a minority, and their normal hostility took a different, far less physical form, and counted for almost nothing in Port of Spain, where few Indians lived. Naipaul has taken such knowledge with him on his travels where it has been 18 V. Naipaul confirmed by the situation of minorities in other parts of the world.
His comments on such matters have angered those intellectuals who insist that all postcolonial literature should consist of resistance to imperialist, capitalist, white patriarchy. He may also make use of films he has seen, literary texts, even his reading of history as sources of his fiction, but his life and the world he has experienced is at the core of his writing and vision of the world.
There is often an autobiographical side to the fiction although it is a mistake to equate the narrator with Naipaul. It is especially his West Indian fiction that is close to real people and events. The Mystic Masseur is based upon an Indian masseur who became a famous Trinidadian politician. Although Naipaul is a realist such a description does not do justice to him or to his work. As a writer he has always been conscious of literary models and conventions which he uses, parodies and revises.
The British literary tradition seemed foreign to him; his knowledge of the world outside Trinidad first came from American movies rather than books. His early fiction with its con men, surprising turns of fortune, and ironic twists of plot, is influenced by Lazarillo de Tormes.
Often his models are a subtext providing contrasts to his own subject matter and the societies he portrays. There is a continuous and evolving struggle to find the right shape for his material and vision. This ranges from learning how to write about the East Indian community in Trinidad as its traditions decayed and it entered the national community, to learning how to write about his own attempts to understand himself.
His fiction became more psychological, complex, distanced in tone, drier, less amusing, as he attempted to understand the world and his characters.
As he became conscious of the private sources of his vision, including his reading, and became willing to reveal them, Introduction 19 his writing mixed autobiography with the fictional and the observed world.
As literary kinds blur together the writing becomes more self-referential. There are more gaps permitted, less causality visible in the narrative. Even his travel writing evolved: As he allows the material to express itself, as he leaves room for contrasting opinions, his conclusions come as a surprise.
His evolving complexity as a writer is especially seen in his treatment of sex and women. Romantic love in his novels is often self-destructive. In the later novels he shows how male sexual insecurity leads to sadism and hatred of women while women themselves are often masochistically attracted towards brutality. He has alluded to problems of sexual satisfaction in his first marriage and resorting to prostitutes.
He often implied that sexual desire was a humiliation which he hoped would pass with age. Then he suddenly found satisfaction in a well publicized passionate international affair with an Argentine woman and in interviews alluded to the awakening of his physical senses.
His analysis of the problems of colonial 20 V. Naipaul Trinidad is similar to that of other West Indian writers of the time. As they lacked a regional literary market, publishers interested in local writing, and a readership, the writers were expatriates living and publishing in London.
There was, however, a small body of Trinidadian literature from the s onwards written by a group that was first associated with two short-lived magazines, Trinidad and The Beacon — Albert Gomes, Alfred Mendes and C.
James were nationalists and progressive politicians who wrote fiction during the s about working-class life in the barracks, especially the lives of blacks.
Naipaul would later read their work as among the few earlier attempts to write about life in Trinidad. Seepersad avoided the West Indian middle-class literary tradition of political and racial protest, of sentimentality and anger, with its contrasts between white and black, rich and poor, European and Creole.
Instead he wrote about the rural Indian community from within; he wrote about it objectively and with a touch of satire, aware that its traditions were ossifying and becoming sterile as a result of distance from their land of origins.
He brought a new depth and seriousness to West Indian fiction. While Samuel Selvon —94 , another Trinidadian Indian novelist who began publishing before Naipaul, had a similar sense of humour, he was Introduction 21 a less accomplished writer.
Naipaul brought the West Indian novel into the mainstream of contemporary fiction at a time when Derek Walcott was establishing West Indian poetry and drama as worthy of international attention. They were part of a generation of writers who decolonized English literature. The literary market for West Indian writers was also changing. A reading to a small group, publication in a magazine soon lost to view: There were no magazines that paid; there were no established magazines … My father was a purely local writer, and writers like that ran the risk of ridicule.
And then there at least appeared a market. The BBC Caribbean Voices took local writing seriously, had standards and paid well enough to spread a new idea of the value of writing. His writings include a history of the problems of coming to terms with life as an immigrant.
Towards the conclusion of Biswas there are allusions to his unhappiness as a student in England, Mimic Men portrays life in a London bedsitter and the lives of 22 V.
Naipaul political exiles, Guerrillas examines the ways British women use black men for sexual excitement, A Bend in the River notes the new Arab presence in England, while The Enigma of Arrival tells of the slow process in understanding a new land and settling.
Naipaul would write about London during the s in part of Half a Life. The difficulty in making the transition from writing about the Trinidad he knew to writing about an England in which he felt alien forced Naipaul into becoming the first of the new international novelists from former colonies who find their material in the postcolonial world. He discovered what was to become the most significant literary subject of the past half century.
It is necessary to remember that Naipaul sees himself as part of the Indian diaspora and not as black. Along with such writers as Soyinka and Achebe he was examining the problems of decolonization and why national independence rapidly led to political corruption, political violence, various forms of tribalism and tyranny. Rushdie, Gurnah and others follow from their example.
Naipaul is the only writer to have taken on a broad perspective of the contemporary world and its discontents. Naipaul has been influenced by his youth in Trinidad, discrimination against Indians in many parts of the world, his struggle to earn a living as a writer, his vision of life as being brief, insecure, without purpose, a jungle of warring groups, unless it is given purpose through achievement, continuity, an ideal of order backed by real power.
He has also been attracted to giving up the struggle, accepting nothingness, withdrawing into inactivity, Indian fatalism. As a writer he knows it is important to get facts right and not confuse them with ideas.
He knows that writing creates the narrative order that the world lacks: The three books are also social history showing the start of protest politics during the late s and how Trinidad began to change during and after the Second World War. The infusion of American money and the beginnings of local self-government created new possibilities where few existed before; but such social change is treated amusingly, without the analytical perspective found in later novels.
It was one of those gifts from the muse that writers need to get started: The first sentence was true. The second was invention. But together — to me, the writer — they had done something extraordinary. Though they had left out everything — the setting, the historical time, the racial and social complexities of the people concerned — they had suggested it all; they had created the world of the street.
And together, as sentences, words, they had set up a rhythm, a speed, which dictated all that was to follow. Finding the Centre, p. Naipaul full of its own life and ways, having its own unique manners and morals, was sketched in. Although to the boy who narrates the stories the men lounging on the streets represent community standards, the people seem in transit and houses rapidly change owners. Miguel Street is not exactly a slum as its inhabitants look down on those areas where the people are dirtier, poorer or rougher.
Style is important to the men as it is a way of asserting visibility in an impoverished colonial society which offers few opportunities for riches, fame or achievement. Style may be a matter of imitating a current movie star like Bogart, noticeable eccentric behaviour, mystification about the past, or an apparently careless disregard for social conventions Laura has eight children by seven fathers.
Status may be gained by having, like Eddoes, a night job as a garbageman, allowing freedom from work during the day and the display of a uniform along with the pickings of the trash of the wealthy in other parts of Port of Spain. Wordsworth claims to be writing a great poem and tells of a tragic love affair, but he is an unemployed calypso singer who has never written poetry; his romantic love story is a lie. Popo busies himself with carpentry, supposedly making some ideal Thing Without a Name, but he makes nothing; the furnishings of his house are found to be stolen.
In Miguel Street nothing is made, no business succeeds, no art work is finished, no love or marriage lasts. Everyone appears to be play acting in public, creating small dramas. There is a tolerance, even an appreciation, of eccentric self-display.
Incongruity between pretence and reality is characteristic of Miguel Street. Gestures, words and ideas do not have the same meaning in an impoverished colonial society as elsewhere. What appears self-expressive turns out to be masks for failure and is the result of Trinidad being a colonial backwater, a place without the means to enable a better life. Even leaving is difficult. There is worse poverty elsewhere in the West Indies as is shown by the Grenadians coming to Trinidad.
Qualifications for better jobs can only be gained by taking British examinations. In a colony which then had no university and few secondary schools, further education means going abroad, and that requires money or one of the few government scholarships. It also means a break with the past and facing an alien world without the support of family, friends and excuses.
An analysis will be useful towards understanding what is consistent as his fiction evolves. Naipaul binds together the narrative and the prose by repetition of sounds, words, phrases, sentence patterns, images, parallel and analogous events. What seems simple and easy, almost natural story telling, will be found to be highly crafted towards continuity, movement and the symbolic.
While the prose is economical, straightforward, rapid in movement and clear in its presentation, its sound patterns are richly textured, creating a sense of organic flow.
Miguel, Man-man, mad, him, am, mad, many, much, madder, Man-man. Naipaul p. The continuity and movement are built from repetitions and variations. The method of organization of sound and connectives is a model for the story and the book, which move rapidly while being tightly woven and organized.
In the first half there are a number of seemingly discontinuous episodes, which reveal character, circumstances, desires and context, but which suggest a lack of direction, an aimless shuffling around, and which end in a failure requiring a new start. The second half shows the character driven by some new prospect, rises in excitement, develops and expands the possibilities, has continuity, but instead of a climax there is a burst bubble, a rapid descent. Within this scheme there are other clearly articulated sections, especially in the first half; the second half is more continuous as the story gathers together its themes for what at first appears a new start.
During the following discussion it would be useful to look at the text, the sections of which I will number from I.
After the introduction I. The use of the past tense creates a double perspective, the narrator as a child when he saw the events he is narrating and the mature speaker with his sense of judgement and distance. As the story develops we see that his fantasy life is not unlike that of the rest of the community. Each section is clearly articulated with a conclusion, transitional sentence or introduction: The absurdity of his campaign parodies politics in Trinidad at that time, when candidates were independent personalities without a party.
Hat provides another perspective and focus besides that of the narrator, the community and Man-man. Hat is the voice of adult sanity and experience: They must be mad just like he. The lack of grammatical coordination implies a society with different, fractured norms and values.
Section I. The status symbols and educational system in colonial Trinidad are inappropriate; its Britishness is mimicry: Humiliation of others is admirable by local values. Man-man becomes a local hero, similar to the con men and tricksters who in The Middle Passage Trinidadians are said to admire: The story until now illustrates what in The Middle Passage Naipaul describes as a picaroon society with its lack of responsibility, its animosity, aggression, taste for corruption, lack of respect for the person, lack of rigid social conventions, its natural anarchy, cynicism and eccentricity pp.
The story has evolved from a character sketch to an indirect sketch of a community and its unusual values. Naipaul self-crucifixion. Section II. Man-man II. Man-man is a con man, fantasist, half-mad and, like the other characters in the stories, driven by an inner need to find a social role through creating an imposing identity to compensate for the limitations of his life.
A truck takes the cross, instead of Man-man carrying it II. Man-man is for once normal, while it is the crowd that is mad; the community has become violent. Only after his fantasy life collapses is Man-man removed from the community, to an insane asylum. Man-man became a leader, an example of West Indian politics rooted in personalities and the desire for deliverance and salvation, the combining of the political and the religious that has so often been characteristic of political leadership in the New World and which was noticeable in Eric Williams and other black nationalist leaders during the late colonial and early independence periods.
It shows how distress and lack of accepted social standards bring about fantasy and violence, and produce leaders without any clear programme but who provide public drama. The first half of the book has two sections. Each central character is a mockery of some ideal: Popo is a philosopher, Morgan is a comedian. There is often a clear break, loss of wife, temporary disappearance or loss of direction by the main character, then a change as the story becomes more serious, reality is found to be more dangerous and violent than it first appeared, often the police come and the fantasy collapses; the character is defeated or found to be a fake.
As the volume proceeds the stories become more complex, as humiliations are shown to be the basis of the eccentricities which produce local heroes, heroes who are fraudulent and dangerous. Big Foot compensates for 30 V. Naipaul childhood humiliations by acting like a dangerous bully; he wins boxing matches until he is defeated by a supposed, but fake, RAF champion and begins crying in the boxing ring.
Morgan finally gets recognition as a maker of fireworks when he burns down his house and runs away. While this is Naipaul the ironist, it shows the personal and social consequences of distress. The early stories portray a world of men without purpose. While the men treat their women as inferiors, their world is held together by women; the failure of the men is typified by their relation to, or lack of, women.
This is anticipated in Bogart with his humiliation at not being able to have children and his deserting his wives to: These men are illustrations of the weakness of the West Indian male, his inability and unwillingness to be responsible for a family and a woman.
It is the women who are strong. Morgan tries to act like a patriarch, but wanting the approval of other men he carries on supposedly comic public trials of his children and when this backfires he gets drunk and bellows: My father had eight children.
I his son. I have ten. Morgan tries to prove his manliness by an affair with Teresa Blake, is caught by his wife and publicly humiliated: In reading these stories and Biswas it might be remembered that the duties of a Brahmin include education and having a house and family. The stories in Miguel Street usually take place in public. Naipaul has commented that in the West Indies life is public, unlike in England where life takes place indoors behind shut doors and curtained windows.
But the Trinidadian camaraderie of the street is seen as hollow, something the boy outgrows as he learns it is a world of failure, of talk rather than achievement. The characters are adrift, aimless, culturally, socially, politically, economically and ethically impoverished, without realizable ideals. Thus the humiliations, eccentricity, play-acting, brutality and failure.
Laura may be heroic as the archetypical West Indian matriarch, having Miguel Street 31 children by different men, surviving on her wits and what she can get from her men, but when her own unmarried daughter has a child and starts to repeat the cycle of West Indian womanhood she feels it would be better for her daughters to die than to be like herself.
Contrasted to the women of Miguel Street is Mrs Hereira who descends from the rich secure white world, leaving her almost perfect husband, for a drunk who violently beats her. Romantic love is a luxury of the rich white. The perspective is Indian rather than European. Indian attitudes are often playfully present in the stories.
British social comedy is tinged by Hindu notions of caste and fate. Some stories have allusions to or quotations from the calypsos. Originally from Trinidad, the calypso is brutal in its comments on topical events.
The difference between the calypso and the newer Soca a mixture of calypso and black American soul music is that the former gives priority to the words and is satiric, the latter to music and is for dancing.
Naipaul has often written with approval of the direct honesty of Trinidadian discussion of such matters as race 32 V. Naipaul when he was younger. Like the Calypsonian he observes and comments without sentimental illusions. The calypsos are also social history and are used, along with references to films, cricket matches and well-known events to create a record of Trinidad for a decade from the late s until after the war. Approximately twelve years pass; the boy narrator is eight years old at the start and over eighteen at the conclusion.
At the start Trinidad is a colony dependent on England, then the war brings the Americans with their money, new kinds of social relations, attitudes, jobs; next come elections and talk of independence. There are two frames of reference: Such use of an outside, European historical frame of reference was common to many works of fiction of the late colonial and early independence period when writers had both to put local society on the literary map and to relate its chronology to what foreign readers would know.
Later writers would no longer feel that such a broad perspective was necessary. They had become more confident that readers were interested in fiction told from a Trinidadian, Indian or African angle; the former colonies had become less marginal to modern history.
The stories allude to a time when Trinidad was important for its plantations, a former economy which is recalled by the remains of decaying buildings. Miguel Street consists of memories of a lost childhood homeland. Nostalgia is the usual subject matter of the first book of an expatriate colonial writer. They show why it was necessary to leave and remain away from home. The developing perspective of the boy narrator as he grows up shows his understanding that a period of his life has ended, the secure world he knew has fragmented; Hat, his adult mentor the substitute father figure in the stories , has aged, become crazed for a woman, been jailed and broken.
If the narrator does not leave Trinidad he will become another failure like those he admired. Even the Americans have departed, packed up their base and left, taking with them the money, attitudes and new opportunities which became available during the war years. It is easier to blame the imperial powers or racial discrimination or Trinidadian corruption than to accept past foolishness and failures of character.
Particularly in politics, there is a misfit between liberal notions of representation and decolonization and the realities of society in a late colonial or newly independent state. In The Mystic Masseur and The Suffrage of Elvira politics are a vehicle for Trinidadian Hindus to become part of a larger national society; but the politics are for personal gain and advancement rather than those of social justice, ethnic dignity and independence.
In The Mystic Masseur Pundit Ganesh moves easily through various roles and careers as is fitting to someone who is part of, and representative of, a larger cultural change which the Indians share with the other Trinidadians as the island evolves towards independence.
But there are the resulting incongruities as an unsuccessful Hindu masseur becomes, through the study of modern psychology, a rich successful medicine man for the black Trinidadians and then a leading national politician who is eventually knighted by the British.
Throughout the novel we are made aware of the contrast between the Hindu notion of karma or fate which Ganesh claims to follow and the stubbornness and cunning of his personality. The cultural confusion he represents is echoed in the various ways his tale could 34 V. Naipaul be told — as an illustration of fate or as a New World version of the European novel of personal will, ambition and success.
Narayan in its speed, economy, understated satiric ironies, incongruities, comedy, undeveloped characterization, and unexpected changes in the direction of the plot, contrasts between what is said and done, parody and the ironic placing of characters by a few details of the scene or by habits of speech.
The narration is tinged with small as well as larger ironies. Within a few words three topics are quietly ridiculed, the courses taken in colleges of education, blackboard training and the improbability that practising on small select classes will prepare teachers. A few pages later we see the reality of local education: He brings together characteristics of various political leaders.
It was a transitional period of flamboyant personalities rather than party organization and ideologies.
These were the first elections to the legislature by universal adult suffrage, in contrast to appointed representatives. It was also a period when Trinidadian politics were notably corrupt and when some of the politicians were intellectuals who had studied in England: Indarsingh travelled about with his own blackboard and a box of coloured chalks, illustrating his arguments with diagrams.
Children liked him. British political culture is seen as absurd in Trinidad when at the time, , there was no strong sense of nationhood, little education, little political discussion, no political ideals or policies. Ganesh is an Indian version of Man-man, the unemployed, apparently untalented, marginal man who finds a career and employment first in religion and then as a leader of the people.
His method is to invert and treat ironically what influences and concerns him. If The Mystic Masseur is a parody bildungsroman and a mock autobiography of a hero of the people, behind it is a sense of hurt.
Trinidad is an impoverished colony where Hinduism decayed to a crude sense of ethnicity without any understanding of its philosophy and rituals. The black community, as represented by Mr Primrose, mimics white British behaviour to absurd extremes and seeks signs of racial prejudice. This is a marooned, impoverished, disorganized, neglected colonial society which has been given a gift of elections. Ganesh may be laughed at as he becomes G.
Ramsay Muir but he is offered sympathetic interest, and his ability to remain independent and rise above circumstances is admirable. By contrast Indarsingh is treated with scorn. Naipaul admires those who manage to succeed, 36 V. Naipaul those who seize the time and make use of opportunities.
Better that than fail and make excuses. Ganesh is the self-made hero of the classic nineteenth-century novel treated in terms of a backward society which offers few chances for advancement. Ganesh breaks all the rules, refuses to marry the woman his father chooses, quits his job as schoolteacher, and has a strong sense of himself as different and ordained for something larger than what is available in contemporary Trinidad.
While it takes years for him to find a role, first as mystic masseur, then as politician, he is shrewd. He humiliates Ramlogan into paying for his survival until he can find a way to advance himself.
Later, as a famous mystic he will control a fleet of taxis and a restaurant and receive part of the profits from materials sold to be used in rituals. He instinctively realizes that books and a general education will enable him to fulfil his ambitions. He uses his reading in psychology and self-salesmanship to cure his patients. He not only makes himself, continually rewriting his history and taking new names and careers, he brings together the symbols and knowledge of the various cultures of Trinidad — Hindu, Muslim, Christian, modern, traditional.
He even uses, according to circumstance, English, dialect, Hindi and a bit of Spanish. He offers an ironic, Trinidadian version of a rags-to-riches story. He is a hero of the people, an example of a people, especially Trinidadians of the Indian diaspora, remaking themselves, in ways that are necessarily crude, brutal, comic. The tone of the novel mixes attitudes of distaste, understanding, enjoyment, wonder and acceptance along with amusement.
Throughout the novel there are allusions to writing, books, book reviews and printing. No sooner does he write an autobiography than he suppresses it and abandons writing to pursue his political career.
While at various stages in his life he uses narrative to make sense of himself and history, the lack of vocation and dedication leads him elsewhere. The first novel sketches in the social history of Trinidad The Suffrage of Elvira 37 through the s and s until the first election in under universal adult franchise.
Ganesh is representative of the first generation of politicians, flamboyant individuals lacking political parties and organizations. The buying of blocks of votes from leaders of ethnic communities, the paying for funerals, food and drinks, was common practice in Trinidad at the time when Port of Spain was known as the Sodom and Gomorrah of West Indian politics. Naipaul treats similar themes and portrays a similar process but his manner is amusement at the social comedy.
On the basis of what he had learned about human nature within his large Indian family he did not expect anything better to come from the political process, and he has learned to hide his personal wounds.
It is this scepticism that distinguishes The Suffrage of Elvira from such a work as V. New Day is a nationalist novel told in Jamaican English which views elections as a step towards independence. Naipaul treats the granting of political power as something the British wanted. The Suffrage of Elvira is set in an isolated, neglected region, with a large Indian population, rather than the more politically active black community of urban Port of Spain.
Blacks are not central to the novel and the politics are between individuals who are supposedly leaders of the Hindu and Muslim-Indian communities. There is no criticism of British rule by the narrator or his characters, no overt ideological position; although there is the implicit one that British electoral processes are a mimicry of alien practices in such a community.
The novel shows what Naipaul in A Middle Passage describes as a picaroon society, a society without fixed rules in which humiliations and advancement are often rapid and seemingly arbitrary, in which life can be brutal and in which there are no ethical standards and cunning and conning are accepted and admired.
It is assumed that bribery and seeking personal advantage is an accepted way of life. At the school polling station the clerk subjects the voters to long delays until Harbans gives him ten dollars.
At the conclusion the winners and losers are what individuals have gained and lost in relation to each other in the course of events connected to the election: The novel portrays a people uninterested in ideas. We see a population so uneducated and ignorant that they need to be taught how to make an X on their ballot papers. Many changes in voting are influenced by superstition. Candidates have no policies, represent no ideologies or classes.
The incongruities of applying foreign notions to such a society can be seen in various incongruities of speech and action. Now that Harbans is benefiting from his position on the Council, as shown by his double-breasted grey suit and new Jaguar, everyone wants some immediate personal benefit, some reward. Character is fixed. Even at the end of the novel Baksh whose name represents a bribelike gift finds new ways to get money from Harbans.
By contrast, Chittaranjan, the one character to have dignity, is so true to his The Suffrage of Elvira 39 old-fashioned Hinduism that he gains nothing from the election and accepts without question that his daughter being seen briefly one night with a Muslim has sullied her reputation, which allows Harbans to get out of the agreement that his son will marry the daughter. So much for the promises of elected politicians! But that, Naipaul accepts, is the way of the world, especially in Trinidad.
Much of the novel is amusing social or literary comedy. The Suffrage of Elvira has a complicated plot, cluttered with incidents and many intertwined stories. While this is characteristic of the community plot developed around a specific situation, such as an election, that is common to novels in the early stages of decolonization, Naipaul is not at ease with the form.
Such novels are usually an affirmation of communal values, a subculture or a colonized people — and their portrayal of a people is a political assertion. Here is an unhomogeneous assortment of peoples and cultures with nothing more in common than getting what they can out of a situation.
They will be more Shakespearean in examining character within a society than a Ben Jonson Carnival with its whirl of many characters and multiplying plots. Naipaul the incongruities of colonial Trinidad: With Biswas the comedy will be touched by anger, involvement, remembered scars. There will be less distance and pretence of amused detachment. Although the manner remains comic, Naipaul develops some of the major themes that will recur in his fiction and which might be described as his vision of life.
Biswas has become mentally unstable through undernourishment, solitude and the harshness of his life.
Abandoned by his family, trapped in a loveless marriage, poor and unable to get a foot up the ladder of life, Biswas fears being murdered by the resentful estate workers he supervises; his angry, irrational behaviour towards his wife is the start of a nervous breakdown.
Besides being threatened by the workers Biswas is also threatened by the natural world. A terrible storm begins. Winged ants invade the house, bite Anand and soon die. A column of fire ants appears and soon captures and carts off the winged ants.
Anand hears human voices outside the house which he and his father think are those of the dismissed workers planning to harm them. The wind and torrential rain worsen; the roof shakes; some of the corrugated 41 42 V. Naipaul sheets are torn off or flap dangerously. The house seems likely to collapse. Anand screams and screams as the wind sweeps through the now floorless, wall-less house until he sees a man carrying a hurricane lamp and a cutlass.
He is a labourer from the barracks looking for a lost calf. The biblical echoes are less of the rainbow after the flood than a return to the beginning of time before the creation, an unmaking, a decreation, of the protection, comforts and order offered by civilization and society.
In the Green Vale chapter the protections of society are removed until Biswas and Anand are isolated, helpless against the violence of others and the natural world. They are reduced to the condition of the insects who are defenceless against the attack of organized groups of other insects.
Nature is uncaring, dangerous; life is short; creatures are naturally at war with each other and protected only by being part of a community. The void is in his mind, a kind of insanity in which his selfhood and individuality are lost.
The stripping away of the physical comforts and protections of civilization results in a loss of rationality, humanity, other kinds of consciousness than fear. He is metamorphosed into something primitive, subhuman. Although supposedly a rationalist he chants a mantra for protection. Such fears have now been transmitted to his son.
The world is without purpose, violent, dangerous; in the natural world life is fearful, comfortless, irrational and brutal. Creatures organize societies for self-protection, they cooperate to assure essentials such as food and to build homes for comfort and refuge. While the effectiveness of societies to provide for their members differs, anyone outside society is likely to become a victim of the void. Well-organized societies with large resources and the ability to use their resources are most likely to resist extinction and to provide superior opportunities for their citizens.
Achievement, whether through writing, building A House for Mr Biswas 43 or empire, is a way of leaving a mark on history, a way of avoiding annihilation and the void; it is a way of becoming more than the short-lived flying ant carried away for food by the fire ants.
Biswas brings to mind Lear, unhoused, rejected by his family, alone with the Fool, unprotected from the violence of nature. Both the novel and the play are about individuals who thought they could stand on their own and find that once they are unhoused, powerless, outside society, madness follows.
Throughout the novel there are literary echoes which foreshadow the parallels of the storm scene. The prologue concludes: Naipaul Naipaul builds his fiction on models and the Lear model helps him to universalize his story and contributes to the metaphysical dimension of the novel in which nature is treated as alien, uncaring, and in which people must existentially create their own significance by their actions.
The parallels recall in King Lear the importance of society, of nurture as opposed to raw nature. This provides a perspective on such themes in the novel as the need for education, civilization, achievement, rationality and charity love of others; helping others. The family drama is also universalized. History becomes a story of blind, self-destructive, angry fathers, misjudged children and the need for love, for emotional as well as material protection.
Just as an individual cannot prosper without a supporting society, so art needs foundations in earlier art.
Just as it is impossible for Biswas to find the resources to build a house in his circumstances in Trinidad, so he lacks suitable literary models. He reads books on self-improvement that have no relevance to his life, he hears avant garde poetry of a complexity that he cannot master and which is foreign to his circumstances. There is a radical difference between King Lear and Mr Biswas. Rather than a king foolishly giving away his power and possessions, Biswas is poor, without social position and has no possessions.
They are part of his allusive ironies. The ironies insist upon the differences between societies he writes about and the societies of his literary models. That he dies unemployed, with the badly built house mortgaged and two of his children in foreign lands, shows that his world is still only partly ordered, and that the disorder that began with the immigration of indentured Indian labour to Trinidad is still in process, the journey still unfinished, the diaspora still unsettled.
The material conditions are different, there is no house or national cultural tradition to inherit. Biswas could be read as an allegory of the painful progress of the major group among the Trinidadian Indians, Hindu northern Indians, to build a house on an island which still feels alien, unwelcoming and without the likely materials for a home.
Each house Biswas inhabits, builds or owns is figurative of the condition of his situation and that of the Trinidadian Indians of the time. They range from the enclosed security of Hanuman House, the village shops in which the owners live, the unfinished attempts to build simple houses in the country to the half-modern, partly owned house of Sikkim Street.
Biswas provides a social history of the community. Brought to Trinidad as indentured labourers to replace the freed black slaves, the Indians were isolated, worked on the sugar cane estates, reformed their traditional culture, even reconstituting castes, pinched pennies to purchase small plots of farming land and became owners of rum shops and small general stores.
Later, some invested in taxicabs, became merchants or became wealthy when oil deposits were found on their land. It was not until the Second World War, when Americans built a national highway, that there were sufficient new opportunities, new money and modern roads for the Indians to move from the country to Port of Spain and begin their still uneasy accommodation with the urban, predominantly black and mixed creole population.
As Trinidad moved towards selfgovernment, education became important; there were new, if limited, opportunities for employment. At first there was little education available to Indians.
Rural schools could not prepare pupils for the entrance examination to the secondary schools in Port of Spain. Only Port of Spain offered proper tuition for the examinations. Urban whites and blacks were better placed to use education for advancement.
The history of the Trinidadian Asian Indian could be put together from aspects of his life and the lives of those to whom he was related by birth and marriage. Yet no one single character in the novel can be said to be typical of the Trinidadian Indian; Naipaul avoids the simplifications, falsifications and dishonest sentimentality of protest fiction with its typical characters and illustrative plots supposedly representative of a community.
Lives, situations and people differ. Some have luck, others do not. Some destroy their chances, others seize the day. Biswas foolishly marries and becomes a Tulsi, losing the favour of his rich aunt Tara; this becomes an opportunity for the children of another relative. Impoverished, living in rural Trinidad, Biswas could never be an inventor; there would not be the materials, the books, the supporting culture and opportunities.
He could not be a writer. He would not be familiar with contemporary models, have other writers to help him or have access to a market. Biswas lives in an impoverished colonial society in which most people do not read, education is not easily available, English is not always used for conversations, literary models come from abroad and are inappropriate for local society. Literature, therefore, seems dead, part of the European past. There is little literary culture in which to learn, develop or operate.
When Biswas attempts to write fiction he cannot imagine using his own life as material, unlike Anand who, ignoring the British examples of what a day at the seashore should be like, writes an excellent composition at school describing the time he almost drowned at the beach. Instead Biswas writes and rewrites a fantasy about not being married and loving a young, thin woman who is unable to have children; literature for him is the opposite of his actual life. Significantly he writes two versions of the story, one with a white handsome hero, the other with an unattractive brown or Indian male character.
Since the novels he reads are often romances about white handsome Englishmen and since he lives in a culture in A House for Mr Biswas 47 which to be white and English is to be superior, his imagination follows such conventions. When he writes of Indians he sees ugliness, his own condition; there is as yet no local literary tradition which will show him how to write realistically about someone like himself.
But he is also the equivalent of the orphan or fatherless hero of the European novel who comes to the capital city to conquer. Biswas wants to impress, to achieve, to make his mark on the world, to rise above his birth and circumstances. Through will, chance and changing circumstances his life has evolved from homelessness, dependency on others, poverty, lack of a recognized place in the world his birth was not even officially recorded to a homeowner, head of a family, a father with two children who are studying abroad.
He has created a place for himself in the new world in contrast to the futile poverty to which he appeared destined as a child. The novel is a celebration of his achievement and the achievement of the Trinidadian Indian. It is an amusing diminuation of the epic, similar to what Joseph Fielding understood when he justified the novel, then a new literary kind, as a comic epic in prose. At times Biswas has luck. Such chance encounters are important to Biswas and more likely in the city than the country.
Lives are limited by 48 V. Naipaul circumstance, they are also willed. Naipaul claims that the European novel is about will and achievement in contrast to traditional Indian fatalism and passivity. Their traditional Indian philosophy is suitable for the bare survival offered by the rural impoverished life they know. But when the family falls apart and Biswas is on his own, except for the help of his aunt Tara, he must strive to survive, unlike his mother who depressively comments that perhaps it would be better if he killed himself.
The Tulsi family into which he marries appears to offer protection. Hanuman House is initially described as looking like a fortress; but Hanuman House is not a solid society. It is a temporary refuge for those by circumstances or personality unable to find a place in Trinidad. The makeshift, temporary nature of this small enclosed, self-protective community is revealed by its rapid disintegration, when the war brought more opportunities for Indians to acquire the skills and means to enter the wider community.
It was for Biswas a longdrawn-out time of futile rebellion, of not knowing what to do, before his journey to Port of Spain, a place where there were better opportunities for employment, a chance to make his mark on the world and save money to buy a house. Naipaul associates rural life with poverty and the city with opportunity. Without money, power, skills or available employment for which he could develop skills, his Westernized sense of self, of individuality, was bound to be frustrated.
He can only be an absurd rebel, someone who attempts to paddle his own canoe without a canoe or water. And, of course, he is partly to blame. He becomes intoxicated by love and foolishly marries. When he does not demand a dowry for his marriage and does not have the strength of character to demand that the Tulsis provide him with a future career, he ruins his chances with his aunt Tara. Fearing humiliation, not knowing where to turn for guidance, he trusts appearances, even buying the Sikkim Street house without properly examining it or comparing it with what else he could purchase for the same price.
He is an impoverished West Indian version of the modern rebel. The first part of the novel shows such rebellion is futile for those still in the condition of near slavery without means of self-support. Biswas can only taunt and insult those upon whom he is dependent. Tulsi House is a hierarchical feudal society with Mrs Tulsi and her two sons, the royalty. Although suitable roles are found for those who conform, such as Hari who becomes family priest and pundit, everyone except the mother and her two sons are treated as dependants.
Just the way the Indians of Trinidad tried to reconstruct a social order of caste and such customs as the thread ceremony and arranged marriages in the New World only to find them challenged as, for example, by the way Ramchand goes to Port of Spain and prospers or incongruous, so Hanuman House is an attempt at preserving orthodoxy built on unorthodox foundations.
It provides temporary security at the cost of denying Western individuality and will. Afterwards everyone will be part of the individualistic, competitive new world in which advancement often depends upon educational qualifications, personal will and the willingness to take chances. The fragmentation of the Tulsis into nuclear families, each with its own house, is also, as shown in the novel, the beginning of a process of social transformation in which there will be more intermarriages between Hindus and Christians, friendships will be based on class and occupation rather than family, and children will go abroad for education and sometimes not return.
The temporary reconstructed rural traditional Indian Hindu world represented by the Tulsis has largely disappeared by the end of the novel but not been replaced with another ordered society.
While Indians and creoles now live and work together there is little evidence from the novel of assimilation. Biswas portrays an impoverished, disorganized Trinidad and implicitly criticizes imperialism for having created such a mess in which those of African and Indian descent have been brought together without the resources to live or make better lives. Naipaul is one of many writers from the former colonies who have criticized colonialism and who see their lands and people as victims of the Empire; he is not a simpleminded nationalist who believes that local 50 V.
Naipaul cultural assertion and cries of victimization will provide a solution to the problems left by history. Trinidad in Biswas lacks the resources required for authentic independence. As Biswas discovers when he attempts to find employment or build his house, freedom can be dangerous, humiliating and self-defeating. It is a version of the many late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century novels offering a fictionalized autobiography, a portrait of the artist as a young man, a remembrance of things past.
Mar 13, Pages Buy. Oct 20, Pages Buy. Mar 13, Pages. Oct 20, Pages. Naipaul takes us deeply into the life of one man—an Indian who, uprooted by the bloody tides of Third World history, has come to live in an isolated town at the bend of a great river in a newly independent African nation.
Naipaul gives us the most convincing and disturbing vision yet of what happens in a place caught between the dangerously alluring modern world and its own tenacious past and traditions. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in He came to England on a scholarship in He spent four years at University College, Oxford, and began to write, in London, in He pursued no other profession.
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