Self- with all things that make us” (A

Self- Alienation in V.S. Naipal’s  Half a Life:A Study.  

The Dictionary of Literary terms defined Alienation as “the
state of being alienated or estranged from something or somebody; it is a
condition of the mind”. Encyclopedia Britannica states it as “the
state of feeling estranged or separated from one’s milieu, work, products of
work or self”. Similarly, in the words of Erich Fromm “the meaning of
alienation is that the process of feeling in which anyone feels alienated from
self” (Sane Society, 17). Man’s reality is his real self and the meaning
of self – alienation is the alienation from this real-self.  He remarks that the situation of self –
alienation arises when a man makes an ideal-image of himself in his mind that
is other than his real-self. There exists a gap between his idealised image and
his real- self. Even the pride in one’s respectability alienates a man from his
unsavoury past (Our Inner Conflicts,66 ). According to Taviss, Self- Alienation
means the loss of contact of the individual selves with any inclinations or
desires that are not agreement with the prevailing social patterns, as a result
of which the individuals are forced to manipulate in accordance with the social
demands or feel incapable of controlling their actions (Changes in the form
of Alienation 34)

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             Naipaul’s Half
a Life illustrates and highlights the self – alienation through the
protagonist. It consists all of Naipaul’s thematic concern like search for
identity, cultural dislocation, isolation and alienation. The novel presents
the struggle and conflicts of inhabitants surviving in different countries.
Naipaul being an Indian has used his own experiences and diasporic sensibility.
Naipaul explained his concept of multi-cultural identities in an interview with
Bernard Levin “I don’t think any of us can claim that we come from one single.
Enclosed tribal world. We are little bombarded cells, aren’t we? Many things
occur to make us what we are and we can surely live with all things that make
us” (A Perpetual Voyager 98).

            The protagonist of the novel Half a Life, Willie Somerset Chandran describes
his quest for self-identity. Naipaul skillfully delineates the protagonist
Willie’s dilemma, his concern and need for self-existence in the novel. He
sacrifices his native values. He even finds his changed name in his life.
Several insulting incidents happened with him in England. He had to suffer the
typical isolation in abroad. When he was very far from his homeland he suffered
from neurotic anxiety, an isolation and depression. The first thirty five pages
of the novel consist of Willie’s father’s life story, the next hundred and two
pages are a record of Willie’s struggle for existence in London and the
remaining page documentation his life in Africa.

In the beginning of the novel Half a Life we can see that the character
Willie Chandran is searching for his ancestry which is the main theme of the novel.
The story begins with young Willie’s simple question to his father “Why is my
middle name Somerset?” He says that the bossy at school have just made out and
they are mocking at me. (Half a Life

statement indicates the satire of Willie’s existence and his half life in the
half made society. He came to know the reality about his family history
culture, heritage and roots from his father’s story. His father tells him that
half of his name does not belong to him; it is borrowed from name gives a clued
that he possess a Christian identity on the other hand his surname indicates
his mixed ancestry. Thus Willie possesses a half identity which makes his
character incomplete as he faces this incompleteness right through the story.
The statement reveals his father’s purpose for making him white so he gave him
half a white man’s name to his son. So it is clear that Naipaul tries to
indicate the impact of the colonizers on the colonials but it destructs the
real identity of a person and makes him an isolated soul.

the novel Willie travel from one place to other without a concrete and
considerable survival. He cannot achieve a permanent identity because of his
multi cultural background. It can be said that Willie seems to be the shadow of
Naipaul himself as he has also a multi-cultural background and has not a fixed
identity. Willie moves here and there in search of the real identity.

father was a Brahmin but was married to a low caste woman so Willie thinks
himself that he is half Brahmin and half untouchable so his contradiction with
self begins in his childhood.  He was
very shameful on his condition because he couldn’t accept the discrimination.  He began to hate his parents more
particularly to his father and a sense of isolation made him a traveler.  His father soon grasps that his son is
suffering from sense of isolation and thinks that to save him he should provide
him freedom which would help him to expand his view about life style. He thinks,

            I use to
think that you were me and I was worried at what I had done to you. But now I
know that you are not me. What is in my head is not in yours. You are somebody
else, somebody, I don’t know and I worry for your because you are launched on a
journey I know nothing of. (Half a Life 49)

            In the
fifties Willie goes to London to discover his real identity so he leaves his
native land to get education and earn ample amount of money but surprisingly he
has to lose so many things instead, like loss of identity, loss of human
relation etc. He conscious pre occupied with the thought of getting success but
unconsciously he is uprooted from his cultural existence. He faces so many
problems to get his English education at school.

learning he was being given was like the food he was eating, without savor, the
two were inseparable in my mind. And just as he ate without pleasure, so with a
kind of blindness, he did what the lecturers and tutors asked of him read the
books and articles and did the essay. He was unanchored, with no idea of what
lay ahead. (Half a Life 58)

confronts the same situation in England. Though Willie goes to London to get
his real existence and identity but very soon he faces the reality and accepts
the harsh fact that he does not need to munieer.   He tries to adjust in a new kind of life
which is also not of his own and begin to lead his life with that false

He adapted certain things he had read and he spoke of his father as
belonging to an ancient Christina community of the subcontinent a community
almost as old as Christianity itself. He kept his father as a Brahmin. He made
his father’s father a courier. So playing with words, he began to remake himself.
It excited him and began to give him a feeling of power. (Half a Life 61)

comes to know about the ground reality of those persons who have left from
their customs, and civilization. Naipaul has given very real picture of the
place and condition of Willie. A number of insulting events happened with him.
He suffers the typical isolation in a foreign country. In London he can find no
way of forming relationships on his own proposal. Whatever joys and freedom he experiences
here is incomplete. Even the girls he comes to contact are not his friends but
the beloved of his own friends. They do not come to him through his identity.  He blames his problem on his upbringing

 If I stay here I would always be
trying to make love to my friend’s girl friends. I have discovered that is
quite an easy thing to do. But I know it is wrong, and it would get me into
trouble one day. The trouble is I don’t know how to go out and get girl on my
own. No one trained me in that. All men should train their sons in the art of
education. But in our culture there is no seduction. Our marriages are
arranged. (Half a Life 70)

            Willie thinks
that he can make his own identity unreservedly and he began to understand that
he is free to present himself as he wished. His life becomes worthless when he
finds that he has nothing in this world to live for. He starts believing that
he is alone and found himself in acute neurotic anxiety. It is not only Willie
but he has also experienced the racial prejudices; the victim of this foxing
hostility of the west towards the East. People go to abroad for getting money,
power and prosperity and they achieve it but in return they fail to achieve the
peace, pleasure and satisfaction. In England after getting tried by leading a
life of false identity Willie decides to find out his own identity. At this
point he finds himself in confusion. He does not know where he is going.   He fails to see his future in London when he
heaps completed his studies so he decides to go to Africa with his lover Ana,
the first woman, who admired his writings. He decides to marry Ana who has also
a multi-cultural background. Willie decides to go to Africa with Ana to achieve
his own self. But once against he proves to be wrong in his decision to settle
in Africa. His condition becomes even worse in this African country where he
expected to belong. He has to face the same problem in this country as he has
faced in London. He remains a stranger and unknown in this new land. In this
situation he thinks “I don’t know where I am. I don’t think I can pick my way
back. I don’t ever want this view to become familiar. I must not unpack. I must
never behave that I am staying” (Half a
Life 135).

suffers from the same problems which he has seen in London. He imitates that in
London people know him by his own name that is Willie but in Africa people
address him as ‘Ana’s London Man’. In this condition he feels that he has lost
his identity. Being educated in London he manages English well. But now in
Africa he has to learn a new language to adjust there. The loss of language
indicates his loss of existence in this new land. Willie once again finds
himself in a predicament.

thought about the new language he would have to learn. He wondered whether he
would be able to hold into his own language. He wondered whether he would
forget his English. Willie was trying to deal with the knowledge that had come
to him on the ship that his home language had almost gone, that his English was
going, that he had no proper language left, no gift of expression. (Half a Life 132)

feels more alienated person in Africa in comparison to London, he leads
eighteen years of his life in Africa in stable search of his identity. He
realizes his failure and thinks that he has achieved nothing worthwhile in
Africa. This self-realization forces him to get back the time he has wasted.
And finally he again takes a decision of his life, to leave Ana with the
expectation of finding his  true
existence and his lost name and identity that is Willie , not Ana’s English man
“I mean I’ve given you eighteen years. I can’t give you any more. I can’t live
your life anymore. 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 136).

leaves Africa and decides to go to Germany where his sister Sarojini lives.
There he sees several Tamil boys playing on the street and manages to see the
glimpses his character in them.   They
were of another generation, but Willie saw himself in them. He thought, “That
was show I appeared in London. I am not as alone as I thought”. Then he thought
“But I am wrong. I am not like them. I am forty-one in middle life” They are
fifteen or twenty years younger and the world has changed. They have proclaimed
who they are and they are risking everything for it. I have been hiding for
myself. I have risked nothing. And now the best part of my life is over” (Half a Life 138).

statement that now the best part of my life is over indicates the time he has
passed in London and Africa and he has achieved nothing. The time which he has
wasted in the search of his identity he might have use it. Thus the novel concludes
with the self-realization of Willie.

        Willie, the Indian immigrant cannot
identify himself either with his previous land or to his new land. With Half as Life, Naipaul has succeeds in
additional society’s perception of race, identity and failure. Willie is not a
particularly interesting character, but he is endearing and debatably

            After listening to the story of
wretchedness and self-disgust of his father, Willie expressed his hatred
towards him “I despise you what is there for me in what you have said? You
offer me nothing”. (Half a Life35).
However, Chandran would argue “It has been a life of sacrifice. I have no
riches to offer you. All I have are my friendships. That is my treasure” (Half a Life 36). In the context of Sarojini,
Chandran said to his son “Her prospects in this country are not bright. But
foreigners have their own ideas of beauty and certain other things, and all I
can hope for Sarojini is an international marriage” (Half a Life 36).

            In the first chapter, the novel
focuses on the life of Chandran, who actually goes through a series of
upheavals in search of identity. In an effort to break with the ancestry
through his insistence on marrying a dalit woman by following the ideals set by
the Mahatma during the preindependence period, Chandran had an obsession to be
a great man like him. His compelled life of spirituality gave him an identity,
which his son now challenges. His grandfather’s lineage to the temple life
shows us that the man was to undergo starvation till he breaks with it to
become a letter writer outside the Maharaja’s place. Chandran’s father, who
continued as a courtier of the Maharaja, was however obsessed with the temple
cult. Chandran, who understood his grandfather’s rage against the poverty of
the Brahmin by sticking to their ancestral profession, wanted to do something
by which he could be a free man and live with dignity. Though he studied in the
Maharaja’s college, he was however disillusioned to learn the stereotype
mechanical way of learning. That is why he found no interest in learning the
romantic poets and other renowned writers who told only lies to his own
observations. He therefore wanted to do something greater for which he burnt
books as a protest against the English education in India. Later on when he
joined the service in the Maharaja’s Tax Department, he was also frightened to
think of leading such a life of servility to work in the office throughout his
life. It was very much frightening on his part for which he was not working
like others. He did not even want to marry the Principal’s daughter for which
he was framed the charges of corruption. Finally, he kept away from power and
also led a life of sacrifice under confusion, compulsion and disillusion.

            Though he could establish his
identity as a spiritual man, later on Chandran was rather disillusioned to see
that Willie, his son was drifting away from his ideals. In the beginning of the
second chapter, there is also a reference to both the identities of Chandran
and Willie in the question of the Canadian teacher in the mission school “What
does your father do?” (Half a Life 37).
The strange reply of Willie with irritation is also interesting to note “You
all know what my father does” (Half a
Life 37). In the mission school where their mother had been a student,
Willie and Sarojini studied. But it was a branded school where backward caste
children also read. It was noteworthy that Willie was doing excellent in the
composition class by composing stories of inventive nature. However, the father
noted that Willie invented stories of lies like Shelley, Wordsworth and others.
He thought about his son

            “But I have done him nothing. He is
not me. He is his mother’s son. All this mom-and-pop business comes from her.
She can’t help it. It’s her background. She has these mission school ambitions.
Perhaps after a few hundred rebirths she will be more evolved. But she can’t
wait like other decent folk. Like so many backwards nowadays, she wants to jump
the gun” (Half a Life 41).

            A week later when Chandran again
went through the exercise book of his son, he found another offensive
composition against mom and pop. He therefore thought that the boy was “true
son of his mother, was challenging him, with all the slyness of a backward, and
he wasn’t sure what he should do” (Half a
Life 41). Remembering the Mahatma’s “Civil disobedience”, he did nothing to
the exercise book. Willie, back from school, thought that about his father “Not
only is he a fraud but he is also a coward”(Half
a Life41). Though Chandran did not discuss anything about the composition
with his son, he was rather disturbed. He thought there was something
treacherous in the exercise book. He read the next composition in the exercise
book titled King Cophetua and the Beggar
Maid. This time he was more disappointed about the attitude of his son  “We’ve created a monster. He really hates his
mother and his mother’s people, and she doesn’t know. But his mother’s uncle
was the firebrand of the backwards. I mustn’t forget that. The boy will poison
what remains of my life. I must get him for away from here”. (Half a Life43) Thinking so he told him
to pursue his higher education in Benares, Bombay or Calcutta, but Willie
insisted that he would go to Canada with the help of the fathers of the
Missionary school. He further persuaded his son that he himself led “a life of
sacrifice” and did not get his degree, but Willie must have to get his degree.
He did not approve of the missionary idea of his son : “They will turn you into
little monkey and send you right back here to work with your mother’s family
and other backwards. You are a fool”. A few days later Willie would write a
longer composition titled “A life of Sacrifice”. By reading this composition,
Chandran was greatly disturbed and thought about Willie

            “His mind is diseased. He hates me
and he hates his mother, and now he’s turned against himself. This is what the
missionaries have done to him with mom and pop and Dick Tracy and the Justice
Society of America comic magazine and Christ on the cross movies in Passion
Week, and Bogart and Cagney and George Raft the rest of the time. I cannot deal
rationality with this kind of hatred. I will dearl with it in the ways of the
mahatma. I will ignore it. I will keep a vow of silene so far as he is
concerned” (Half a Life 47).

            During his crisis Chandran was
practicing this vow of silence. However, two or three weeks later he was to
break the silence due to a breakdown of Willie after seeing a picture of a
priest with glasses and a wristwatch standing with one foot on a statue of the
Buddha. Willie had decided not to go to school, nor even to got to Canada to
become a missionary. The boy therefore stopped going to school. Chandran was
moved to see his son one day sleeping with his face down with the closed copy
of the school edition of The Vicar of
Wakefield .

            There was such unhappiness and such
energy there that he was overwhelmed with pity. He thought,       

used to think that you were me and I was worried at what

had done to yu. But now I know that you are not me.       

is in my head is not yours. You are somebody else,    

I don’t know, and I worry for you because

 you are launched on a journey I know nothing
of (Half a Life 49).

            This realization of his father was a
great compliment to his son. To his father Wilie was meant for a special
purpose. He therefore wrote to the contact persons abroad whom he helped in
India to help him to get a place for his son in some institute. But it was not
that easy. Many letters came with no concrete help. Finally, there was a
positive response “But he was spared the humiliation of an all-round refusal.
There came a letter in a blue envelope from London, from the House of Lords,
from a famous man who had paid a brief visit to the ashram just after
independence. His fame and his title had made him memorable to Willie Chandran’s
father” (Half a Life 50). This man
wanted to display his power to Willie’s father. It was a letter containing some
gold for Willie “The letter contained a little of the gold the little man had
spun a place and a scholarship had been found for Willie Chandran in a college
of education for mature students in London” (Half a Life 51).            

         This letter created an opportunity for
Willie to go to London. It was therefore the father’s achievement because
Chandran had himself assured his son in the early life. But; then, Willie’s
father did not know the concrete journey of his son. He did not know what his
son’s destiny was, what his identity would be. Even Willie, a boy of twenty,
did not know what his London life would bring for him in future.  

Naipaul’s fiction combining the accuracy of empirical fact and the
objective of psychological insight, furnishes a coherent view of the human
predicament in all its paradoxes and contradictions. His fiction is the
testament of the desperate faith of a man without ancestors, without
traditions, and without a home, seeking to arrive at the point of rest in his
mind through the power of art.




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