Among the mimic men: The fictional works of V. S. Naipaul

Harveen Sachdeva Mann, Purdue University

Abstract

In an age given to literary experimentation, V. S. Naipaul ${(1932-\quad)}$ has remained committed to the realistic novel of social inquiry. One of his primary themes is the discrepancy between social forms and reality in both Third World and Western settings. Role-playing he terms "mimicry"; and the imitators, tricksters, fantasists, and artists who populate his fictional world he labels "mimic men."^ This dissertation evaluates Naipaul's artistic development by examining the theme of mimicry in his fiction and commenting upon his contemporary relevance as he moves beyond "the regional barrier" of Trinidad to explore imposture in the larger world.^ The "apprentice" works, Miguel Street, The Mystic Masseur, and The Suffrage of Elvira, establish the dominant categories of mimics at the same time that they reveal Naipaul's complex attitude toward mimicry. Critical of the inauthenticity of modern Trinidadians, he nevertheless delights in his early characters, appreciating their impostures as historically inevitable.^ A House for Mr Biswas and Mr Stone and the Knights Companion, Naipaul's "English" novel, reflect a variation in Naipaul's view of mimicry: he portrays the eponymous heroes as not just imitators and tricksters but artists who through their creations forge authentic identities. "A Flag on the Island" returns to a Caribbean setting where the islanders enact the roles of happy-go-lucky natives foisted on them by American tourists and entrepreneurs. Yet the reader detects a growing self-awareness in the characters that promises hope for the future.^ The Mimic Men, the fictional autobiography of an exiled Caribbean politician, is Naipaul's tribute to the healing quality of art. Through writing about and understanding his past, Ralph Singh transcends mimicry to achieve a unified identity. In a Free State and Guerillas are, by contrast, Naipaul's most pessimistic works. They present no escape from mimicry through art; and violence erupts as the characters are reduced to puppets in a deterministic universe.^ A Bend in the River demonstrates a more tolerant view of human action. Africa becomes symbolic of the corruption in the human heart, but knowledge of that corruption augurs well for the future, establishing Naipaul's belief in man's moral progress. ^

Degree

Ph.D.

Advisors

Major Professor: A. A. DeVitis, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Literature, Caribbean

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