A Postcolonial Thematic Study of Naipaul’s a Bend in the River

Abstract: Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (1932-) was awarded the 2001Nobel Prize for literature. He is regarded as a typical postcolonial writerwith his complex background—an Indian by blood, a Trinidadian by birth,a British by citizenship. He has traveled extensively all over the world,especially in postcolonial societies which are struggling for creating anew national identity from the tangled remnants of colonial domination,writing novels and travelogues afterwards that record what he sees andcontemplates. Naipaul's works are full of contradictions for hiscomplicated cultural background and reflect his ambivalent attitudetowards postcolonial society and the former colonies.In one of his masterpieces A Bend in the River (1979), Naipaulshows his concems about Africa in the wake of colonial system. Thenarrator Salim is a Muslim Indian, whose family has lived in East Africafor many generations. He travels to the interior of the continent to takeover a shop in a town at the bend of the river. By using Salim's point ofview, Naipaul masterfully depicts pathetic realities in postcolonial Africa.Nationalism and independence does not bring stable politics andprosperous economy to the newly-emerging nations. Instead, more chaosand bloodshed have befallen the colonized people. The predicament of postcolonial Africa becomes the focus of Naipaul's attention in the novel,which is rather pessimistic about this "dark continent".Displacement, mimicry, and exile are problems that the disorientedpostcolonial societies and people commonly encounter as well as some ofthe major themes of postcolonial literature. These themes frequentlyappear in Naipaul's works, especially embodied in the novel A Bend inthe River. Centered on these postcolonial themes and subject matters, thisthesis is a thematic study of A Bend in the River, exploring how Naipauldevelops his themes in the work. We hold that the following are the majorthemes of A Bend in the River:First, the ending of colonial order or system does not mean that theWestern colonial power has relinquished control. The infiltration ofWestern ideology and culture takes the place of direct military aggressionin the colonial era, which leads to the gradual disappearance of thehistorical tradition and culture in the postcolonial countries. The collisionbetween two totally different civilizations results in a culturaldisplacement of the postcolonial societies.Second, postcolonial countries, which lack historical and culturalroots, can't fit into the new environment. To achieve self-development,they turn to imitate advanced Western models in every aspect of thesociety: political, academic, and routine. However, not considering theirpractical conditions, they only do some blind imitation, which leads to a series of social disasters. Postcolonial Africa is in a sociopolitical turmoil.Lastly, the self-exile of modem African intellectuals, including thenarrator Salim and his close friend Indar, reflects their active orientationin the seeking of their self-value in postcolonial Africa. However, theyhave to lead a wandering life for the contradictions in culturalunhomeliness and subversion of the past. Individuals in such apostcolonial society have no sense of safety.Focusing on the above themes, the thesis attempts to interpret ABend in the River from a postcolonial perspective, exploring Naipaul'sattention to postcolonial society in his works. Little future or hope to befound for Naipaul in the postcolonial countries is a result of the problems,such as cultural displacement, colonial mimicry and exile, which theyhave to face. This is, the author of the thesis thinks, why Naipaul hasbeen severely criticized in the Third World. Meanwhile, in A Bend in theRiver, Naipaul speaks highly of the spirits of the postcolonial individuals'seeking for freedom and self-development. His idea of ruling Africa byAfricans presented in the novel is of positive value. Through a thematicinterpretation of A Bend in the River, the thesis attempts to analyze such acontroversial postcolonial writer as Naipaul in a new light…
Key words: A Bend in the River; theme; displacement; mimicry; exile

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