A Freeman, A world Citizen
In Oct.11, 2001, the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to Postcolonial novelist V. S. Naipaul, “for having united perspective narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.”
It might not be a surprising decision, though historically the Nobel Prize in literature were mostly awarded to white writers from Europe or America from 1901 to 1961, except in 1913 to Tagore from India and 1945 to Gabriela Mistral from Chile. But after 1962, more and more non-white (ethnic) writers from Asia, Africa and Latin America won the award. Up to 1990s, almost half of the winners were non-white (ethnic) writers. This phenomenon could be looked as a reflection of the booming of immigration literature and postcolonial literature which linked closely with the collapse of colonial system and the global economic trend. Besides the Indian-British writer Salman Rushdie who is called the God Father of postcolonial novels and whose The Moor's Last Sigh has been forbidden by Muslims. Naipaul is obviously one of the noticeable postcolonial novelists.
Head of the Academy, Horace Engdahl reached the laureate after Naipaul’s wife, Nadia K Hannam Alvi, had to call him several times to get him to the phone at his home in Wiltshire, England. Naipaul was surprised and he told the interviewer later that it was his native land India and other countries in South Asia sub-continent, where he got inspiration, deserved the prize.
Vidia Surajprasad Naipaul was born into an Indian Brahmin Family in Trinidad South America. His father was a newspaper journalist. He graduated from Queen’s Royal College, Port of Spain in 1948. In 1950 he left Trinidad for Britain to study contemporary British literature at Oxford University. After graduation, he began to work for the BBC’s World Service and begin a reviewer of the magazine New Politician. In 1955, he settled down in Britain and married Patricia Ann Hale. Patricia died in 1966. Then he married Nadia K Hannam. In 1960s he traveled around South America, West Indian Islands, North America , Canada and Africa. The medley of races in Trinidad and Tobago strengthened his multicultural sense based upon the development of social political history. These journey widened his vision and he described the difference of cultural customs in a satirizing tone. When he found that these countries were following the western countries’ footsteps and getting into a situation full of greed, chaos and violence, he gave his admonitory voice in his fictions and non-fiction writings. The middle Passage of Five Soceities-British, French and Dutch – in the West Indies and South America (1962) is a travelogue and The Loss of El Dorado is a book of history about Trinidad. The polarization of the rich and the poor and the chaos in Trinidad disgusted him. In 1960 Naipaul traveled to India researching his ancestry and roots. He stayed there for 5 months. What he had seen in India astonished him and urged him to complete his India trilogy: An Area of Darkness: An experience of India (1964), India: A Wounded Civilization (1977) and India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990). In these works, he revealed the contradictions in India society, the inhumanity of caste system and expressed his abomination .
In early 1980s, after journeys to countries in the Middle East and South-East Asia, Naipaul finished Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey , making critical remarks on Islamism and the social situation in these areas. His incisive animadversion to Oriental culture was mixed up with strong compassion. In Overcrowded Baracoon and Other Articles(1972), Naipaul denounced the dark dominion full of enslavement and abuse. Through stories of vagrants, he revealed how people struggle for a better and fair condition. It was in the circumstance of economic globalization and the great disparity between the North and the South , and between the rich and the poor, that Naipaul won the Nobel Prize in Literature. His winning is not by chance. As early as in 1993, Naipaul won David Coen Prize for his lifetime achievements in literature. Margate Drabble said in Oxford Companion of British Literature (5th edition) that political violence and feelings of rootlessness which appear repeatedly in Naipaul’s novels could be compared with the subjects in Conrad’s works. British critic Ronald Hemman pointed out that it was always defficult for Naipaul to find a center in his writing. No matter which direction he shifted to, he would finally focus on the history and current situation of the third world countries. So he is a typical postcolonial writer. Perhaps no commentary could be as veracious as the commentary made by himself. He told an American journalist, “I’m very satisfied. I’m a freeman all the time”. It is true judgment either for his literary works or his thought. Just as what he had said, he is a world citizen. But sometimes it seemsa to him that he is a rootless floater in the world forever.
Literary Creation - Products from cultural Conflicts and Integration
Written in English and rooted in British literary tradition and the West Indies social background, V.S. Naipaul’s works are products resulting from cultural Conflicts and Integration. Naipaul was praised by the Swedish Academy when laurelled him the Nobel Prize, “ The farcical yarns in his first work, The Mystic Masseur and the short stories in Miguel Street with their blend of Chekhov and calypso established Naipaul as a humorist and a portrayer of street life. ” Naipaul took the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1958 for The Mystic Masseur (1957) and the Somerset Maugham Award in 1961 for Miguel Street (1959).
A House for Mr. Biswas waspublished in 1961. In this novel Naipaul continued to focus upon the life in Trinidad. Taking his father’s case as raw material, V.S. Naipaul described an ordinary individual’s experience of striving for a better life. The novel gained wide spread attention both in Britain and in Trinidad and has been translated into varies languages and reprinted for more than 10 times. Mr. Biswas’ father, who migrated from India to be a laborer in Trinidad, was born with one of his hands having 6 fingers and which was considered as an unlucky omen. He had been discriminated for it since he was a child. He struggled to seek his fortune as well as his root and identity. When he got married, his wife’s family also looked down on him. So he wanted to be a journalist. He wanted to publish articles in newspapers so that he could gain respect from others. In addition, he wanted to have a house of his own. A house of one’s own means a successful career and economic independence. He final achieved what he wanted through tough struggle. His son A· Biswas wasn’t satisfied with the life in Trinidad and left for Britain. When he completed his education in Britain and came back to Trinidad, his father had already died of illness in his own house, leaving behind $3000 debt and a family in poverty. With a slow, fluent and simple narrative style, the novel, as a combination of biography and documentary records, gives a picture of an ordinary individual’s life in line drawing. The compassionate mood of narrative makes the novel a true masterpiece.
Setting inan imagined island, The Mimic Men (1967) tells a story about Ralph Kripal Singh, a frustrated politician and a dreamer. He always got a feeling of misplacement whether he was in London or Caribbean islands. This novel marks a turning-point of V. S. Naipaul’s writings. Since then, a pessimistic tone became more and more prominent in his novels, and the political tendency became clearer. What makes Naipaul’s novel distinguishing is not only his fine structure but also the tragicomedy of misplacement composed by an alienated tone. Naipaul had tried three times to put the story into a chronicle, but he failed. So he started the novel from the apartment in London suburb when Singh was writing his memoir. Along with the flashing back and forth of Singh’s memory, readers of the book get a general idea of the whole story.
Naipaul won Booker Prize in 1971 for In A Free State , a collection of fictions. Through 3 narrators who have certain links with each other, the book explore issues of nationality and identity. Misplaced people can be found in those stories, an Indian chef immigrated to America, a young man from West Indian Island found himself in the alien streets of London, and two white people arrived in Africa – a place full of hostility. Depart from their own roots, they were at a loss and didn’t know what to do. The title of this book is ironical because no one could harmonize himself with a strange culture. The freedom they’ve got is only a freedom to separate themselves self from their roots.
In 1972, Michael Malik, the leader of Black power in Britain, was put to execution in Trinidad. He was accused of murdering a British woman Gale Benson, a divorcee who had been living with another black power leader, hakim Jamal. Naipaul thought Michael Malik was wrongly accused and unjustly treated. Based on this historical event, he took the 3 characters as prototypes and wrote a novel entitled Guerrillas(1975). One of the heroes, Jimmy Ahmed was partly Chinese who had grown up in an African community. In his subconscious he had always been confused between feeling inferior and feeling superior through the Blacks. An British woman Jane who sympathized with the black people and felt ashamed about the priority of the white people. Peter Roche, a leader of the black people, wanted to use armed force in the struggle against the government. He won Jane’s respect and love. They all lived in an unnamed island in West Indies. Naipaul reveals their innermost feeling of homelessness.
A Bend in the River, a novel published in 1979, gained Naipaul considerable fame. Setting in a remote town near a bend in the river on the east coast of Africa, where people were living a miserable life. Salim, the hero of the novel, was an immigrant from India. He made his living as a shopkeeper. But the turbulent situation in this area forced him to turn back to a floating life. Naipaul is unique among Caribbean writers. By using the West Indies English, Naipaul describes the life of rootless people and the local customs in an unhurried pace and graceful tone. He examines the world with eyes of tragedies and then in his writings turns the tragedies into social comedies.
Though Naipaul kept the buoyant mood in his writings in 1970s, but it was not so obvious as in his early novels. His literary creative writings, affected by his non-fiction writings, were more and more focusing on revealing the hardships of life and the ugly features of society. The acridity of his ironical criticism was much stronger than before. The pursuit of expressing his own feelings honestly limited the independence of the characters in his fictions. Characters often seemed to share too much with the author when they observed the world with keenness.
Stepping into a period of recollection, Naipaul’s writing style changeed in 1980s. In his early work Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion (1963), he wrote about the problems that people had to face when they got old. The Enigma of Arrival, published in 1987 and gained him the Nobel Prize in 2001, seemed to get back to the same concern as Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion. As Naipaul himself, the Narrator of The Enigma of Arrival is a novelist too. Growing up in British colonies and having education in Oxford, the narrator is similar to Naipaul in age and experience. He leaves a floating life after graduation, seeking his cultural root and spiritual home. When he gets old, he settles down in England and spends time pondering the relation between British culture and himself. The narration of this novel is in a slow pace and peaceful mood. The subject is “changing”. Everything changes in every minute. It is only when the novel gets to its end that readers could tumble to the profound changes caused by the accumulation of minor changes. The elegant manners of English gentlemen have disappeared. The narrator could not find his spiritual homeland. What he has found is the extraordinary artistic style, which manifests the significate of The Enigma of Arrival. The author is concerned about the change of society and pondering how to negotiate with his own cultural background that has already fallen apart into fragments. What Naipaul ponders in his novel arouses resonance among readers who are now experiencing the same culture of fragmentary and confusion. According to Naipaul, the degenerated vanity caused by fatuity exists both in Western and Eastern culture. He is to awake people, by revealing the truth in the novel, to evacuate this kind of degenerated vanity and get back to their spiritual homeland. As the Swedish Academy’s encomium has pointed out, Naipaul creates an unrelenting image of the placid collapse of old colonial ruling culture and the demise of European neighborhoods.
Perhaps because Naipaul felt his concern hasn’t been expressed completely in The Enigma of Arrival , perhaps because he thought he was old enough to make a retroversion for his literary career, he published another novel A Way in the World . The publication of this book, whichwas neither a novel in tradition genre, nor history, nor biography, nor travel notes nor memoir, caused confusion among literary critics. Actually it is a combination of all the genres above.
It is not the experience of the historical figure in A Way in the World that draws attention, it is the experience of the author himself. Naipaul also considers A Way in the World a combination of history, academic work and fiction. In A Way in the World, his own experience is integrated with other that of characters. When all the plots are put together, we get a whole picture of the histories of Trinidad as well as that of Naipaul. Naipaul’s unique experience equips him with the multi-cultural perspective and enables him to examine different cultures with equivalent authorities. Naipaul has set his distinguished style through The Enigma of Arrival and has ensured his values through A Way in the World. To certain extent, A Way in the World could be looked as the sequel of The Enigma of Arrival. Both novels could be considered as two pieces of sparkling jade among Naipaul’s later writings.
Naipaul’s latest publications are Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursion Among the Converted Peoples and Half a Life, completed respectively in 1998 and 2001. Half a Life is based on the author’s and his father’s experience, tells a story of a British novelist who moves to Africa with his Portuguese wife and his psychological complex of seeking roots.
V.S.Naipaul keeps trying to find an appropriate style to describe colonial and post-colonial societies. With a plain manner and refined structure, his writings are affecting and charming. He resists the experiment in literary forms because he thinks it would destroy the expressive force of literature. He insists that literature should be based on careful observation and incisive reflection. Aesthetic style and profound thoughts have been intergrated skillfully in Naipaul’s writings. That’s why Naipaul is praised by the Swedish Academy in the laudatory speech for Nobel Prize that “Singularly unaffected by literary fashion and models he has wrought existing genres into a style of his own, in which the customary distinctions between fiction and non-fiction are of subordinate importance.”
Dec.7th, 2001, Stockholm, on the grand ceremony of issuing the Nobel Prize in literature, Dr. Horace Engdahl said, “Sir Vidia! Your life as a writer calls to mind what Alfred Nobel said of himself: ‘My homeland is where I work, and I work everywhere.’ In Every place, you have remained yourself, faithful to your instinct. Your books trace the outline of an individual quest of unusual dimensions. Like a Nemo piloting a craft of your own design, without representing anyone or anything, you have manifested the independence of literature. I would like to convey to you the warm congratulation of the Swedish Academy as I now request you to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature from the hands of His Majesty the King. ”
Naipaul reviewed in his lecture his life journey and his career as a writer, the two inseparable parts of his life. One of his world is his homeland Trinidad and the rest of the third word countries. The other of his world is England where he was educated and naturalized. The two worlds supply the grand background and subjects for his writings. He said,
“I said I was an intuitive writer. That was so, and that remains so now, when I am nearly at the end. I never had a plan. I followed no system. I worked intuitively. My aim every time was to do a book, to create something that would be easy and interesting to read . At every stage I could only work within my knowledge and sensibility and talent and world view. Those things developed book by book. And I had to do the books I did because there were no books about those subjects to give me what I wanted. I had to clear up my world, elucidate it, for myself…… I am near the end of my work now. I am glad to have done what I have done, glad creatively to have pushed myself as far as I could go.”
Literary critics all agree that V.S. Naipaul is a true Nobel Prize winner and he has been compared with Ishiguro and Rashdie by mass media. They has been considered as three outstanding writers in postcolonial literature. According to AFP analyst, Naipaul’s novel and travelogue reveal the wounds in the hearts of immigrants who have lost their cultural roots in the postcolonial era. Naipaul is also criticized by mass media about his private life. But an academician of Swedish Academy, declared that Nobel prize is supposed to award to literary works not to morality. He said, when literary writings are concerned, V.S.Naipaul, who wrote 26 books among 45 years and won Booker Prize in 1971, David Coen Prize for lifetime achievements in literature, deserves the laurel of the Nobel prize.
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