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“ Ambivalence As a Metaphor: A Study of V S Naipaul’s Fiction” ( Article )

( by Dr Karanam Rao)

V S Naipaul has carved for himself a peculiar niche


with a vast repertoire of creative output that includes a score of novels and umpteen non-
fictional tomes. He has forged ahead of his contemporaries from the Third World by
trying to implicate the whole cultural history as a point of his fictional explorations while
focusing his attentive vision on the ambivalence of his double inheritance that allows him
an ironic distance from his perceptive observations and narratology. It is rather hazardous
to attempt to an assessment of a writer who has a prodigious output to his credit, and who
has cornucopias of interests, and shows up a protean variety every time he comes out
with a new book. As a fiction writer, committed to upholding the tradition of his forbears
,and the lacerations of the indentured culture that he has so unwittingly inherited, Naipaul
almost turns into castigating it. And his earlier novels present him as a neophyte using the
fictional art in the service of documenting the West Indian culture with all its miasma of
openness and perforated cultural values. Naipaul adopts an ironic distance as a fictional
strategy that allows him to implicate as much as possible- the specificities of his own
culture that offers contrapuntal juxtapositons with the ramifications of the “other”,
Naipual has to do some balancing act. Starting from the “ Mystic Masseur” , “Miguel
street” and “A House for Mr Biswas”, Naipual attempts to examine the particularism of
the moment and of the specifics of the West Indian culture , with all its ambient traditions
and social values. The first phase is thus marked by the euphoric indulgences and
uncertainties of the artist trying to find his terra firma.
In the second phase of his writing, which is more
prolific and prodigious, Naipaul has churned out a series of non-fictional works like
“An Area of Darkness ,India: A Wounded Civilization””, “Among Believers: An Islamic
Journey” that manifestly bring out the Naipaul who is past his earlier ambivalences and
enigmas of that his exile has imposed upon him. He now becomes reconciled to the post-
colonial facticities and overcomes his carping sense of alienation to achieve a semblance
with the reality. Almost with the fervor of a pitiless raconteur, he exposes the sham and
glory of different cultures and religions. The middle passage of his oeuvre thus pillories
all empathy both in “India: Several Mutinies” and “The Middle Passage”.
As D J Enright points out, Naipaul loses his cool
and even oversteps the boundaries of orderliness and critical decency in arriving at the
strange finalities of judgment. It is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of his
personality that becomes revealed. The African novels that closely followed them like
“IN A Free State” and “A Bend in the River”, Naipaul once again resurfaces with the
same penchant for judgmental cynicism that makes him one of the most controversial
literary figures in the Third world. The Conradian gloom and Lwarentian darkness
enhances his importance but never overshadows his achievement.
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In the last phase of his writing, the novelist has
once again returned to a clear-eyed perception of the human values, and his enigma of
arrival crystallizes not into uneasy accommodation but into an assured commitment that
enforces him into accepting the truth as a verifiable reality. His permanent expatriation
seems to have brought into him a changed perspective that allows him to turn his “exile”
into an advantage, and fiction into an exploration of the reality .He now lives in England,
the “middle ground” that becomes both his strength and weakness as a fiction writer. As
the Nobel citation pinpoints his achievement, he is verily” a literary navigator” par
excellence.

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