Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Carol E. Elder


The purpose of this thesis is to examine V.S. Naipaul's view of the human condition as it develops from a local and comic perspective to a more universal and tragic awareness. The first group, entitled "The Mystic, the Politician, and other Eccentrics," is comprised of his first three novels--The Mystic Masseur, The Suffrage of Elvira, and Miguel Street. Each work is a highly satiric examination of a society in which the author perceives no sign of any intellectual depth as he moves rapidly from one humorous episode to another. The characters are generally of the lower class and uneducated. Their reactions are the result of a picaresque instinct for survival rather than thought.

The second group, entitled "The Assertion of Hope," contains his next four works--A House for Mr. Biswas, Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion, The Mimic Men, and A Flag on the Island. These books represent a period when Naipaul asserts hope and sees positive indication of inner strength. The structure of these works is less episodic, and the humor changes from mere literal play on words to more sophisticated irony. The characters impose meaning in their lives and are aware of the human dilemma, of boredom, and of uselessness.

The third group, "The Darker Vision," includes the short story collection In A Free State and Naipaul's latest novel, Guerrillas. The characters of this last have more depth and act on a level other than mere instinct. From a perspective that is not limited by ignorance or illiteracy, and therefore similar to that of the second group, they face the question of human existence. What differentiates the third group from the second is that Naipaul's later characters have no positive resolution to their problems. The optimism of the second group is not enduring.

One detail which emerges in examining the thesis is that Naipaul's female characters fail to develop the inner cohesion of men. Like the Hemingway heroines they fall into two distinct categories: the wife/mother, and the man-eater/dragon lady who, robbed of the natural functions of motherhood, is a confusion of values. Brought up in the Hindu religion until his departure for England in 1950, Naipaul writes from memory about women who are necessarily weak and submissive. His non-Hindu female characters are less submissive but also noticeably less happy.

The method used to examine this thesis is an analysis of the main characters. In attempting a thesis such as this, one must of necessity deal chiefly with the characters of the longer fiction work. Though some mention is made of some key short stories, these are treated in far less detail. Reference is made to Naipaul's nonfiction works, The Middle Passage, An Area of Darkness, and The Overcrowded Barracoon.