Social dominated by greed, conflict and futility. Naipaul

– Alienation in V.S.Naipaul’s Half a Life: A Study.       

             Jan Hajda in his article Alienation and Integration of Student
intellectuals defines “Alienation is an awareness of non -belonging or
non-sharing which reflects one’s exclusion or self-exclusion from social and
cultural participation” (764).  Asha
Chowbey  in his article Naipaul’s Half
a Life: Coming to terms with King Cophetua declares “The cultural alienation   as well as social alienation  that Willie Chandran undergoes in England and
then in Mozambique takes its roots in cultural alienation which is more pronounced
as paternal alienation” (168 ).  

            Naipaul had been concerned with the
individual and his milieu. Naipaul depicts societies and individuals as they
are affected by the decay and disorder prevalent in their cultures. His
characters live under great stress and tension, painfully aware of personal
failures and fearing the loss of status and identity. Although his characters
have freedom as their goal, choice as their weapon, and the self as the agent
of experience, they have no fixed nature or reality to identify themselves
within their environment. They represent a world not moved by love but
dominated by greed, conflict and futility. Naipaul recognises this life as the
only valid context to measure the value and worth of the humankind.

            Naipaul’s novels symbolically spread
a kind of  home-coming, confronted with
the expatriate chaos and human development. One such theme is the loss and
reconstruction of identity. Soon after his arrival in London, Willie Chandran
finds that he has to re-learn everything that he knew in order to blend in with
his new environment this includes how to greet people, how to close doors and
how to ask for things. While presenting himself to all his new acquaintances,
Willie enjoys the dizzying possibilities of playing with words to re-make
himself and his past and his ancestry. He renders all these aspects of himself
a little grander than in reality through his choice of terms to describe them.

            The theme of the loss of identity is
linked to the idea of cultural and social difference, causing and oscillation
between acceptance and rejection. From a barrier of exclusion or a weapon of
defence against awkward rules or cruelties, Willie Chandran overcomes this
feeling 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 being
accepted completely making possible a feeling of wholeness in him for the first
time as a man and being in his own eyes complete. On the ship journey between
Southampton and Portuguese Africa with Ana, Willie is seized with a worry about
the loss of language. Since in Portuguese Africa neither his home language nor
English is spoken, a minor crisis takes place in the form of the momentary loss
of Willie’s passport in Ana’s estate home. It is resolved when under a threat
of a visit from the fetish man; the lost passport suddenly resurfaces in the
drawers of the bureau. The final appearance of this theme in the novel takes on
a tragic tone when, in the face of a civil war and the takeover of the country
by a new regime, Graca is forced to accept the departure of her children for
Portugal. She finds it ridiculous that in Portugal they will have to prepare
papers to say who they are.   She feels
more secure in her paperless identity in the place where her grandfather and
ancestors are buried. Her position appears quite tragic when the narrator
refers to the look in her eyes as suffering and qualifies her as a deranged
person. She could be perceived as an embodiment of the possibility of total
alienation and irremediable unbelonging that threatens all persons in any kind
of half and half position.         

Half a life
witnesses sexual promiscuity as a factor in the third world immigrants who move
from the parochial society which imposes sexual taboos to a liberal Western
world which is not infested with such inhibitions. The process of adjustment in
this respect bears before the immigrant, the narrowness of his native
background to combat which he indulges in sexual excesses. Willie Chandran is a
man doomed to live under a shadow. His cultural background and his awareness of
his incompleteness have bred inhibition. Willie may hide himself by projecting
a false ancestry but he cannot kill his reality and at all crucial moments his
background and his halfness become apparent and give him away. His sexual frustrations
are not his own; they are the frustrations of a society, of a race and of a
culture. Willie is divided within himself in his bid to achieve assimilation or
acculturation which is the only option left to the immigrant in order to
survive amidst cultural or imaginative schizophrenia, in this sense, a state of
divided identify – divided by culture, history and circumstance.     

            Willie fails to see his future in
London when he has completed his studies. His immigrant, wanderer soul takes
him to Ana’s African country. From Asia Willie had come to Britain in search of
an anchor but failing to find one he traverses to African which seems to bear
more 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 has
completed thirty-three years on this planet he has been forced by circumstances
and his wanderlust to change three languages making him so confused that he
does not know how to express himself. Quest for identity pushes the subaltern
towards silence.    

is only the Portuguese African Ana who shares Willie’s voice of exile in
London. She writes to him after reading his book: “It does my heart a lot of
good to think that out there all these years there was someone thinking and
feeling like me”. Unlike other girls, “there was nothing to push against…. For
the first time he felt himself in the presence of someone who accepted him
completely. At home his life was ruled by a mixed inheritance. It spoilt
everything”(Half a Life 225). When
Willie follows Ana to her estate in Mozambique on an impulse, his sister warns
him, “Outsiders who go to India have no idea of the country even when they are
there, and I’m sure that’s true of Africa”( Half
a Life 226) He goes there for a brief visit, but stays there for eighteen

            Willie spent eighteen years in
Africa with Ana. After he shipped one day, he was injured for which he was to
be treated in the military hospital among the wounded black soldiers. Willie
expressed his desire to leave Ana in the hospital itself. However, Ana consoled
him and told him: “People exaggerate the fighting in the bush. You know that.
There’s not going to be a new war”(Half a
Life 234). Such a hopeful consolation did not have any effect because
Willie did not think about the war, he rather thought about the world, which is
full of slippery substances. It is important to understand the mindset of
Willie after his shadow life in Africa for long eighteen years. It was a life
he desired without knowing its consequences. Now after experiencing it, he
thinks that his life has become meaningless. Then he decides to go away to some
unknown destination again without knowledge of its consequences. It is
significant to refer to the dialogue between Willie and Ana:

            When she came back, he said, “Do you
think it would be possible for someone to look at all my bruises and cuts and
work out what had happened to me? Work out what I have done to myself?”

                        “You’re recovering your

                         You’ve had eighteen years of me”

                        “You really mean that
you are tired of me”.

            “I mean I’ve given you eighteen years. I can’t give you
any more.  

 I can’t live your life any more. I want to
live my own”.

                        “It was your idea,
Willie. And if you leave, where will you go?”

                        “I don’t know. But I
must stop living your life here.( Half a
Life 235 )

            Willie’s unknown destination was
Berlin. Reaching there he told his sister about his life in Africa in the
manner his father had told him about his story in India. Willie was a rootless
man throughout his life. When he was in India, he was too much restless and
when he came to London, he still felt that he was unsettled although his tutors
felt that he seemed to settle. In Africa he led a very adventurous life of a
diaspora without being settled though once Ana, his wife commented that he was
settling there. Coming Berlin he saw Tamil boys, displaced and uprooted were
raising funds for a war. His friend, Percy went back to Jamaica, his native
land. He himself returned to his sister in Berlin after spending eighteen
years, the best part of his life. He did not know how to move on and where to
go in future.

            Willie’s experiences along with the
Alvaro, the estate manager of the Correias in the warehouse were startling
initially. It was a reflection of the great disorder in the African country in
a postcolonial period when the army was pampered for the eventuality of an
uprising or a war. The warehouse business was meant for the pleasures of the
army soldiers. It was a shock for Willie to note that the tiny aged girls in
the prime of their life are forced to such brutality of institutionalized
prostitution for the pleasures of the soldiers and the other town people. It
was an experience of horror, brutality and shock to Willie. He was surprised
how the African waiters and the owners conducting the sex business could be so

                        I wish I had his
detachment. But I was not trained for this kind of life

and I was full of
shame. The girls were all African. It had to be like that, I suppose, but I
wondered whether the two African waiters didn’t suffer a little. And the girls
were so young, so foolish, with so little idea, as I thought, of the way they
were abusing their own bodies and darkening their likes. I thought with old
unhappiness of things at home. I thought of my mother and I thought of my poor
father who had hardly known what sex was. I thought of you, too, Sarojini. I
imagined that the girls might be you and my heart shrunk. (Half a Life 238)

            Even Alvaro, who enjoyed the
excitement 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, Willie
was disturbed a lot for his betrayal to Ana. However, there was a
self-discovery in Willie in his experiences with the girl in that split-second
when he was commanded by the tension of the body of the girl. However, it was a
void, without any satisfaction, but this experience led him to a new idea of
himself as a human being that he did not know during his life with Ana in the
last ten years in Africa. That was so because both Ana and Willie were not
guided by true sensuality or true desire. Willie had his own nervousness and
fear at being in Africa. Even Ana had been half-timorous at that time of
passion because of her family history. However, they led their half-life
together. “We each found comfort in the other, and we had become very close,
not looking beyond the other for satisfaction, not knowing, in fact, that
another kind of satisfaction was possible”(Half
a Life 236). With such knowledge, Willie was moving in the wilderness for
some years, but gradually that also became a mechanical experience with Willie
in course of time

         Naipaul’s message seems to be that
whatever 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 the
unique, vital rampart of his identity. His novel Half a Life can be seen as literary illustrations of his
open-ended, continually improvised exploration of his unimitable, innermost
fiber of himself.




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