Self- Alienation in V.S. Naipal’s Half a Life:A Study. The Dictionary of Literary terms defined Alienation as “thestate of being alienated or estranged from something or somebody; it is acondition of the mind”. Encyclopedia Britannica states it as “thestate of feeling estranged or separated from one’s milieu, work, products ofwork or self”.
Similarly, in the words of Erich Fromm “the meaning ofalienation is that the process of feeling in which anyone feels alienated fromself” (Sane Society, 17). Man’s reality is his real self and the meaningof 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 thatis other than his real-self.
There exists a gap between his idealised image andhis real- self. Even the pride in one’s respectability alienates a man from hisunsavoury past (Our Inner Conflicts,66 ). According to Taviss, Self- Alienationmeans the loss of contact of the individual selves with any inclinations ordesires that are not agreement with the prevailing social patterns, as a resultof which the individuals are forced to manipulate in accordance with the socialdemands or feel incapable of controlling their actions (Changes in the formof Alienation 34) Naipaul’s Halfa Life illustrates and highlights the self – alienation through theprotagonist. It consists all of Naipaul’s thematic concern like search foridentity, cultural dislocation, isolation and alienation. The novel presentsthe 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 withBernard 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 thingsoccur to make us what we are and we can surely live with all things that makeus” (A Perpetual Voyager 98). The protagonist of the novel Half a Life, Willie Somerset Chandran describeshis quest for self-identity. Naipaul skillfully delineates the protagonistWillie’s dilemma, his concern and need for self-existence in the novel.
Hesacrifices his native values. He even finds his changed name in his life.Several insulting incidents happened with him in England.
He had to suffer thetypical isolation in abroad. When he was very far from his homeland he sufferedfrom neurotic anxiety, an isolation and depression. The first thirty five pagesof the novel consist of Willie’s father’s life story, the next hundred and twopages are a record of Willie’s struggle for existence in London and theremaining page documentation his life in Africa.In the beginning of the novel Half a Life we can see that the characterWillie 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 mymiddle name Somerset?” He says that the bossy at school have just made out andthey are mocking at me. (Half a Life1) Thisstatement indicates the satire of Willie’s existence and his half life in thehalf made society. He came to know the reality about his family historyculture, heritage and roots from his father’s story.
His father tells him thathalf of his name does not belong to him; it is borrowed from name gives a cluedthat he possess a Christian identity on the other hand his surname indicateshis mixed ancestry. Thus Willie possesses a half identity which makes hischaracter incomplete as he faces this incompleteness right through the story.The statement reveals his father’s purpose for making him white so he gave himhalf a white man’s name to his son. So it is clear that Naipaul tries toindicate the impact of the colonizers on the colonials but it destructs thereal identity of a person and makes him an isolated soul.
Throughoutthe novel Willie travel from one place to other without a concrete andconsiderable survival. He cannot achieve a permanent identity because of hismulti cultural background. It can be said that Willie seems to be the shadow ofNaipaul himself as he has also a multi-cultural background and has not a fixedidentity. Willie moves here and there in search of the real identity. Willie’sfather was a Brahmin but was married to a low caste woman so Willie thinkshimself that he is half Brahmin and half untouchable so his contradiction withself begins in his childhood. He wasvery shameful on his condition because he couldn’t accept the discrimination. He began to hate his parents moreparticularly to his father and a sense of isolation made him a traveler.
His father soon grasps that his son issuffering from sense of isolation and thinks that to save him he should providehim freedom which would help him to expand his view about life style. He thinks, I use tothink that you were me and I was worried at what I had done to you. But now Iknow that you are not me. What is in my head is not in yours. You are somebodyelse, somebody, I don’t know and I worry for your because you are launched on ajourney I know nothing of. (Half a Life 49) In thefifties Willie goes to London to discover his real identity so he leaves hisnative land to get education and earn ample amount of money but surprisingly hehas to lose so many things instead, like loss of identity, loss of humanrelation etc.
He conscious pre occupied with the thought of getting success butunconsciously he is uprooted from his cultural existence. He faces so manyproblems to get his English education at school. Thelearning he was being given was like the food he was eating, without savor, thetwo were inseparable in my mind. And just as he ate without pleasure, so with akind of blindness, he did what the lecturers and tutors asked of him read thebooks and articles and did the essay.
He was unanchored, with no idea of whatlay ahead. (Half a Life 58) Willieconfronts the same situation in England. Though Willie goes to London to gethis real existence and identity but very soon he faces the reality and acceptsthe harsh fact that he does not need to munieer.
He tries to adjust in a new kind of lifewhich is also not of his own and begin to lead his life with that falseidentity He adapted certain things he had read and he spoke of his father asbelonging to an ancient Christina community of the subcontinent a communityalmost as old as Christianity itself. He kept his father as a Brahmin. He madehis 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) Williecomes to know about the ground reality of those persons who have left fromtheir customs, and civilization. Naipaul has given very real picture of theplace 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 noway of forming relationships on his own proposal. Whatever joys and freedom he experienceshere is incomplete. Even the girls he comes to contact are not his friends butthe 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 betrying to make love to my friend’s girl friends. I have discovered that isquite an easy thing to do. But I know it is wrong, and it would get me intotrouble one day. The trouble is I don’t know how to go out and get girl on myown.
No one trained me in that. All men should train their sons in the art ofeducation. But in our culture there is no seduction. Our marriages arearranged. (Half a Life 70) Willie thinksthat he can make his own identity unreservedly and he began to understand thathe is free to present himself as he wished.
His life becomes worthless when hefinds that he has nothing in this world to live for. He starts believing thathe is alone and found himself in acute neurotic anxiety. It is not only Williebut he has also experienced the racial prejudices; the victim of this foxinghostility 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 thepeace, pleasure and satisfaction. In England after getting tried by leading alife of false identity Willie decides to find out his own identity. At thispoint he finds himself in confusion. He does not know where he is going.
He fails to see his future in London when heheaps 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 alsoa multi-cultural background. Willie decides to go to Africa with Ana to achievehis own self. But once against he proves to be wrong in his decision to settlein Africa. His condition becomes even worse in this African country where heexpected to belong.
He has to face the same problem in this country as he hasfaced in London. He remains a stranger and unknown in this new land. In thissituation he thinks “I don’t know where I am. I don’t think I can pick my wayback. I don’t ever want this view to become familiar. I must not unpack. I mustnever behave that I am staying” (Half aLife 135).
Williesuffers from the same problems which he has seen in London. He imitates that inLondon people know him by his own name that is Willie but in Africa peopleaddress him as ‘Ana’s London Man’. In this condition he feels that he has losthis identity.
Being educated in London he manages English well. But now inAfrica he has to learn a new language to adjust there. The loss of languageindicates his loss of existence in this new land. Willie once again findshimself in a predicament. Hethought about the new language he would have to learn.
He wondered whether hewould be able to hold into his own language. He wondered whether he wouldforget his English. Willie was trying to deal with the knowledge that had cometo him on the ship that his home language had almost gone, that his English wasgoing, that he had no proper language left, no gift of expression. (Half a Life 132) Williefeels more alienated person in Africa in comparison to London, he leadseighteen years of his life in Africa in stable search of his identity. Herealizes his failure and thinks that he has achieved nothing worthwhile inAfrica.
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 theexpectation of finding his trueexistence 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 liveyour 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). Willieleaves 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 theglimpses his character in them. Theywere of another generation, but Willie saw himself in them. He thought, “Thatwas 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 arefifteen or twenty years younger and the world has changed. They have proclaimedwho they are and they are risking everything for it. I have been hiding formyself.
I have risked nothing. And now the best part of my life is over” (Half a Life 138). Willie’sstatement that now the best part of my life is over indicates the time he haspassed in London and Africa and he has achieved nothing. The time which he haswasted in the search of his identity he might have use it. Thus the novel concludeswith the self-realization of Willie.
Willie, the Indian immigrant cannotidentify himself either with his previous land or to his new land. With Half as Life, Naipaul has succeeds inadditional society’s perception of race, identity and failure. Willie is not aparticularly interesting character, but he is endearing and debatablyuniversal.
After listening to the story ofwretchedness and self-disgust of his father, Willie expressed his hatredtowards him “I despise you what is there for me in what you have said? Youoffer me nothing”. (Half a Life35).However, Chandran would argue “It has been a life of sacrifice. I have noriches 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. Butforeigners have their own ideas of beauty and certain other things, and all Ican hope for Sarojini is an international marriage” (Half a Life 36). In the first chapter, the novelfocuses on the life of Chandran, who actually goes through a series ofupheavals in search of identity.
In an effort to break with the ancestrythrough his insistence on marrying a dalit woman by following the ideals set bythe Mahatma during the preindependence period, Chandran had an obsession to bea 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 lifeshows us that the man was to undergo starvation till he breaks with it tobecome a letter writer outside the Maharaja’s place. Chandran’s father, whocontinued as a courtier of the Maharaja, was however obsessed with the templecult.
Chandran, who understood his grandfather’s rage against the poverty ofthe Brahmin by sticking to their ancestral profession, wanted to do somethingby which he could be a free man and live with dignity. Though he studied in theMaharaja’s college, he was however disillusioned to learn the stereotypemechanical way of learning. That is why he found no interest in learning theromantic poets and other renowned writers who told only lies to his ownobservations. He therefore wanted to do something greater for which he burntbooks as a protest against the English education in India. Later on when hejoined the service in the Maharaja’s Tax Department, he was also frightened tothink of leading such a life of servility to work in the office throughout hislife. It was very much frightening on his part for which he was not workinglike others. He did not even want to marry the Principal’s daughter for whichhe was framed the charges of corruption.
Finally, he kept away from power andalso led a life of sacrifice under confusion, compulsion and disillusion. Though he could establish hisidentity as a spiritual man, later on Chandran was rather disillusioned to seethat Willie, his son was drifting away from his ideals. In the beginning of thesecond chapter, there is also a reference to both the identities of Chandranand Willie in the question of the Canadian teacher in the mission school “Whatdoes your father do?” (Half a Life 37).The strange reply of Willie with irritation is also interesting to note “Youall know what my father does” (Half aLife 37). In the mission school where their mother had been a student,Willie and Sarojini studied. But it was a branded school where backward castechildren also read.
It was noteworthy that Willie was doing excellent in thecomposition class by composing stories of inventive nature. However, the fathernoted that Willie invented stories of lies like Shelley, Wordsworth and others.He thought about his son “But I have done him nothing. He isnot 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’twait like other decent folk.
Like so many backwards nowadays, she wants to jumpthe gun” (Half a Life 41). A week later when Chandran againwent through the exercise book of his son, he found another offensivecomposition against mom and pop. He therefore thought that the boy was “trueson of his mother, was challenging him, with all the slyness of a backward, andhe wasn’t sure what he should do” (Half aLife 41). Remembering the Mahatma’s “Civil disobedience”, he did nothing tothe exercise book. Willie, back from school, thought that about his father “Notonly is he a fraud but he is also a coward”(Halfa Life41). Though Chandran did not discuss anything about the compositionwith his son, he was rather disturbed.
He thought there was somethingtreacherous in the exercise book. He read the next composition in the exercisebook titled King Cophetua and the BeggarMaid. This time he was more disappointed about the attitude of his son “We’ve created a monster. He really hates hismother and his mother’s people, and she doesn’t know. But his mother’s unclewas the firebrand of the backwards. I mustn’t forget that. The boy will poisonwhat remains of my life. I must get him for away from here”.
(Half a Life43) Thinking so he told himto pursue his higher education in Benares, Bombay or Calcutta, but Willieinsisted that he would go to Canada with the help of the fathers of theMissionary school. He further persuaded his son that he himself led “a life ofsacrifice” 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 intolittle monkey and send you right back here to work with your mother’s familyand other backwards. You are a fool”.
A few days later Willie would write alonger composition titled “A life of Sacrifice”. By reading this composition,Chandran was greatly disturbed and thought about Willie “His mind is diseased. He hates meand he hates his mother, and now he’s turned against himself. This is what themissionaries have done to him with mom and pop and Dick Tracy and the JusticeSociety of America comic magazine and Christ on the cross movies in PassionWeek, and Bogart and Cagney and George Raft the rest of the time.
I cannot dealrationality with this kind of hatred. I will dearl with it in the ways of themahatma. I will ignore it. I will keep a vow of silene so far as he isconcerned” (Half a Life 47). During his crisis Chandran waspracticing this vow of silence. However, two or three weeks later he was tobreak the silence due to a breakdown of Willie after seeing a picture of apriest with glasses and a wristwatch standing with one foot on a statue of theBuddha. Willie had decided not to go to school, nor even to got to Canada tobecome a missionary.
The boy therefore stopped going to school. Chandran wasmoved to see his son one day sleeping with his face down with the closed copyof the school edition of The Vicar ofWakefield . There was such unhappiness and suchenergy there that he was overwhelmed with pity.
He thought, Iused to think that you were me and I was worried at what Ihad done to yu. But now I know that you are not me. Whatis in my head is not yours. You are somebody else, somebodyI don’t know, and I worry for you because you are launched on a journey I know nothingof (Half a Life 49).
This realization of his father was agreat compliment to his son. To his father Wilie was meant for a specialpurpose. He therefore wrote to the contact persons abroad whom he helped inIndia to help him to get a place for his son in some institute. But it was notthat easy.
Many letters came with no concrete help. Finally, there was apositive 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 afterindependence. His fame and his title had made him memorable to Willie Chandran’sfather” (Half a Life 50). This manwanted to display his power to Willie’s father. It was a letter containing somegold for Willie “The letter contained a little of the gold the little man hadspun a place and a scholarship had been found for Willie Chandran in a collegeof education for mature students in London” (Half a Life 51). This letter created an opportunity forWillie to go to London. It was therefore the father’s achievement becauseChandran had himself assured his son in the early life.
But; then, Willie’sfather did not know the concrete journey of his son. He did not know what hisson’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 theobjective of psychological insight, furnishes a coherent view of the humanpredicament in all its paradoxes and contradictions. His fiction is thetestament of the desperate faith of a man without ancestors, withouttraditions, and without a home, seeking to arrive at the point of rest in hismind through the power of art.
WORKCITIEDPRIMARY 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