Type: Process Essays
Sample donated: Wendy Ramos
Last updated: March 22, 2019
Social– Alienation in V.S.Naipaul’s Half a Life: A Study. Jan Hajda in his article Alienation and Integration of Studentintellectuals defines “Alienation is an awareness of non -belonging ornon-sharing which reflects one’s exclusion or self-exclusion from social andcultural participation” (764). AshaChowbey in his article Naipaul’s Halfa Life: Coming to terms with King Cophetua declares “The cultural alienation as well as social alienation that Willie Chandran undergoes in England andthen in Mozambique takes its roots in cultural alienation which is more pronouncedas paternal alienation” (168 ).
Naipaul had been concerned with theindividual and his milieu. Naipaul depicts societies and individuals as theyare affected by the decay and disorder prevalent in their cultures. Hischaracters live under great stress and tension, painfully aware of personalfailures and fearing the loss of status and identity. Although his charactershave freedom as their goal, choice as their weapon, and the self as the agentof experience, they have no fixed nature or reality to identify themselveswithin their environment. They represent a world not moved by love butdominated by greed, conflict and futility. Naipaul recognises this life as theonly valid context to measure the value and worth of the humankind. Naipaul’s novels symbolically spreada kind of home-coming, confronted withthe expatriate chaos and human development.
One such theme is the loss andreconstruction of identity. Soon after his arrival in London, Willie Chandranfinds that he has to re-learn everything that he knew in order to blend in withhis new environment this includes how to greet people, how to close doors andhow to ask for things. While presenting himself to all his new acquaintances,Willie enjoys the dizzying possibilities of playing with words to re-makehimself and his past and his ancestry. He renders all these aspects of himselfa little grander than in reality through his choice of terms to describe them.
The theme of the loss of identity islinked to the idea of cultural and social difference, causing and oscillationbetween acceptance and rejection. From a barrier of exclusion or a weapon ofdefence against awkward rules or cruelties, Willie Chandran overcomes thisfeeling of distance from those around him in the unquestioning approach of Ana,who from her own half and half position gives him this new feeling of beingaccepted completely making possible a feeling of wholeness in him for the firsttime as a man and being in his own eyes complete. On the ship journey betweenSouthampton and Portuguese Africa with Ana, Willie is seized with a worry aboutthe loss of language. Since in Portuguese Africa neither his home language norEnglish is spoken, a minor crisis takes place in the form of the momentary lossof Willie’s passport in Ana’s estate home. It is resolved when under a threatof a visit from the fetish man; the lost passport suddenly resurfaces in thedrawers of the bureau. The final appearance of this theme in the novel takes ona tragic tone when, in the face of a civil war and the takeover of the countryby a new regime, Graca is forced to accept the departure of her children forPortugal. She finds it ridiculous that in Portugal they will have to preparepapers to say who they are.
She feelsmore secure in her paperless identity in the place where her grandfather andancestors are buried. Her position appears quite tragic when the narratorrefers to the look in her eyes as suffering and qualifies her as a derangedperson. She could be perceived as an embodiment of the possibility of totalalienation and irremediable unbelonging that threatens all persons in any kindof half and half position. Half a lifewitnesses sexual promiscuity as a factor in the third world immigrants who movefrom the parochial society which imposes sexual taboos to a liberal Westernworld which is not infested with such inhibitions. The process of adjustment inthis respect bears before the immigrant, the narrowness of his nativebackground to combat which he indulges in sexual excesses.
Willie Chandran is aman doomed to live under a shadow. His cultural background and his awareness ofhis incompleteness have bred inhibition. Willie may hide himself by projectinga false ancestry but he cannot kill his reality and at all crucial moments hisbackground and his halfness become apparent and give him away. His sexual frustrationsare not his own; they are the frustrations of a society, of a race and of aculture. Willie is divided within himself in his bid to achieve assimilation oracculturation which is the only option left to the immigrant in order tosurvive amidst cultural or imaginative schizophrenia, in this sense, a state ofdivided identify – divided by culture, history and circumstance. Willie fails to see his future inLondon when he has completed his studies. His immigrant, wanderer soul takeshim to Ana’s African country.
From Asia Willie had come to Britain in search ofan anchor but failing to find one he traverses to African which seems to bearmore affinity than the West. Thus, drifting away from one place to another,from one continent to another Willie feels he is going to lose his language.Language has ceased to exist as a set of signifiers for Willie. Before he hascompleted thirty-three years on this planet he has been forced by circumstancesand his wanderlust to change three languages making him so confused that hedoes not know how to express himself.
Quest for identity pushes the subalterntowards silence. Itis only the Portuguese African Ana who shares Willie’s voice of exile inLondon. She writes to him after reading his book: “It does my heart a lot ofgood to think that out there all these years there was someone thinking andfeeling like me”.
Unlike other girls, “there was nothing to push against…. Forthe first time he felt himself in the presence of someone who accepted himcompletely. At home his life was ruled by a mixed inheritance. It spoilteverything”(Half a Life 225). WhenWillie follows Ana to her estate in Mozambique on an impulse, his sister warnshim, “Outsiders who go to India have no idea of the country even when they arethere, and I’m sure that’s true of Africa”( Halfa Life 226) He goes there for a brief visit, but stays there for eighteenyears. Willie spent eighteen years inAfrica with Ana. After he shipped one day, he was injured for which he was tobe treated in the military hospital among the wounded black soldiers.
Willieexpressed his desire to leave Ana in the hospital itself. However, Ana consoledhim and told him: “People exaggerate the fighting in the bush. You know that.There’s not going to be a new war”(Half aLife 234). Such a hopeful consolation did not have any effect becauseWillie did not think about the war, he rather thought about the world, which isfull of slippery substances. It is important to understand the mindset ofWillie after his shadow life in Africa for long eighteen years. It was a lifehe desired without knowing its consequences. Now after experiencing it, hethinks that his life has become meaningless.
Then he decides to go away to someunknown destination again without knowledge of its consequences. It issignificant to refer to the dialogue between Willie and Ana: When she came back, he said, “Do youthink it would be possible for someone to look at all my bruises and cuts andwork out what had happened to me? Work out what I have done to myself?” “You’re recovering yourspirits? You’ve had eighteen years of me” “You really mean thatyou are tired of me”. “I mean I’ve given you eighteen years. I can’t give youany more. I can’t live your life any more.
I want tolive my own”. “It was your idea,Willie. And if you leave, where will you go?” “I don’t know. But Imust stop living your life here.( Half aLife 235 ) Willie’s unknown destination wasBerlin. Reaching there he told his sister about his life in Africa in themanner his father had told him about his story in India.
Willie was a rootlessman throughout his life. When he was in India, he was too much restless andwhen he came to London, he still felt that he was unsettled although his tutorsfelt that he seemed to settle. In Africa he led a very adventurous life of adiaspora without being settled though once Ana, his wife commented that he wassettling there. Coming Berlin he saw Tamil boys, displaced and uprooted wereraising funds for a war. His friend, Percy went back to Jamaica, his nativeland. He himself returned to his sister in Berlin after spending eighteenyears, the best part of his life.
He did not know how to move on and where togo in future. Willie’s experiences along with theAlvaro, the estate manager of the Correias in the warehouse were startlinginitially. It was a reflection of the great disorder in the African country ina postcolonial period when the army was pampered for the eventuality of anuprising or a war. The warehouse business was meant for the pleasures of thearmy soldiers.
It was a shock for Willie to note that the tiny aged girls inthe prime of their life are forced to such brutality of institutionalizedprostitution for the pleasures of the soldiers and the other town people. Itwas an experience of horror, brutality and shock to Willie. He was surprisedhow the African waiters and the owners conducting the sex business could be soindifferent. I wish I had hisdetachment. But I was not trained for this kind of life and I was full ofshame.
The girls were all African. It had to be like that, I suppose, but Iwondered whether the two African waiters didn’t suffer a little. And the girlswere so young, so foolish, with so little idea, as I thought, of the way theywere abusing their own bodies and darkening their likes.
I thought with oldunhappiness of things at home. I thought of my mother and I thought of my poorfather who had hardly known what sex was. I thought of you, too, Sarojini. Iimagined that the girls might be you and my heart shrunk. (Half a Life 238) Even Alvaro, who enjoyed theexcitement of village sex with every month with a fresh crop of innocent girls,was subdued in that warehouse. After that spur moment in that warehouse, Williewas disturbed a lot for his betrayal to Ana.
However, there was aself-discovery in Willie in his experiences with the girl in that split-secondwhen he was commanded by the tension of the body of the girl. However, it was avoid, without any satisfaction, but this experience led him to a new idea ofhimself as a human being that he did not know during his life with Ana in thelast ten years in Africa. That was so because both Ana and Willie were notguided by true sensuality or true desire. Willie had his own nervousness andfear at being in Africa. Even Ana had been half-timorous at that time ofpassion because of her family history. However, they led their half-lifetogether. “We each found comfort in the other, and we had become very close,not looking beyond the other for satisfaction, not knowing, in fact, thatanother kind of satisfaction was possible”(Halfa Life 236). With such knowledge, Willie was moving in the wilderness forsome years, but gradually that also became a mechanical experience with Williein course of time Naipaul’s message seems to be thatwhatever the individual’s place in social and political systems might be,life’s goal and orientation have constantly to be reinvented and rediscovered.
He leaves the reader with the overall feeling that his voice as a writer is theunique, vital rampart of his identity. His novel Half a Life can be seen as literary illustrations of hisopen-ended, continually improvised exploration of his unimitable, innermostfiber of himself. WORK CITIEDPRIMARY SOURSE Naipaul, V.S.
Half a Life.London: Picador, 2001 SECONDARY SOURSESBernard, Levin. “A Perpetual Voyager” Conversation with V.S. Naipaul.,ed . FerozaJussawallaJackson : Mississippi, UP 1997 P. 93 -98 Camus, Albert.
Le Mythe de Sisyphe.Paris, p.89Chowbey,Asha .Naipaul’s Half a Life: Coming to terms with King Cophetua MohitRayk, V.S. Naipaul :Critical Essays Vol-2 New Delhi Atlantic Publishers and Distributers 2002, xx, 275 Fromm, Enrich.The SaneSociety .
“Mental Health and Society”, London:Routledge,Jan 31,2003 p.27Finkelstein, Sidney. Existentialism and Alienation in AmericanLiterature.New York: InternationalPublishers, 1965Horney, Karen. New Ways inPsycholoanalysis.Newyork: Norton ,1939 p.35Horney, Karen.
Our Inner Conflicts. London: Routledge,1946 p.65 ……
.. OurInner Conflicts. London: Routledge,1946 p.65 Joshi, Chandra. B. V.S.
Naipaul : The Voice of Exile.New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private Ltd, 1994Keniston, Kenneth.”The UncommitedAlienated Youth”in AmercianSociety.NewYork: Harcourt Brace and world,1965 p.390 Lal, ,Nandini, Sex ,Lies and Miscegenation remarks Rev. Half a Life Biblio Special Issue : A review OF Books 7.
3 and 4 march- April 2002: 46- 47Naipaul, V.S. A House for Mr. Biswas.New Delhi: Penguin Books , 1992……………… The Overcrowded Barracoon New York: Vintage, 1984King, Russel . Jhon, Connell .
, and , Paul, White. eds WritingAcoss Worlds; Literature and Migration. London: Routledge,1995Rushdie,Salman.
Imaginary Homelands.NewYork: Penguin Books, 1991Saxena. O.P.Glimpses of Indo – EnglishFiction . Vol-1, New Delhi :PrestigeBooks, 1996Seeman,Melvin.
“On The Meaning of Alienation”, American Sociological Review. Vol-24,dec1959 p.786, American SociologicalAssociationSalgado G ” V.S. Naipaul and The Politics of Fiction” The New Pelican Guide to English Literature ed.
Boris Ford , New Delhi : PenguinBooks, 198Traviss. Changein The Form of Alienation. NewYork: Random House, 1963 p.
34TheOxford English Dictionary Vol.6 p. 219 byJ.A.Simpson, 2oo7,Oxford UniversityPress Jan, Hajda .
American Sociological Review “Alienation and Intergration of Student Intellectues” 1961 Chandra, B The New York Time Magazine, 26 December, 1976