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A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul: Themes & Quotes

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the themes and some quotes from the V.S. Naipaul novel 'A Bend in the River.' This book describes some of the issues faced in Africa post-colonialization.

Decolonization

Imagine growing up in a wealthy family believing you will inherit the family business and home and never have to worry about anything. How would you respond if it was all suddenly taken away and you had to start over from scratch?

This is the situation that many African families face in A Bend in the River after Africa is decolonized, including the protagonist, Salim. Let's examine the themes of identity and post-colonialism and quotes that support these themes from V.S. Naipaul's novel.

Identity

One of the themes that emerges is the search for identity and masculinity in a world in which men who were once leaders have been made submissive during the change in leadership. Salim narrates the opening line of the novel: ''The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.''

At one time, Salim identified himself through his family, his home, and his business, but once all of those things are gone, he needs to figure out who he is. As tensions rise in the community, Salim goes to London and becomes engaged.

While in London, Salim misses home and realizes that ''my anguish about being a man adrift was false, that for me that dream of home and security was nothing more than a dream of isolation, anachronistic and stupid and very feeble. I belonged to myself alone. I was going to surrender my manhood to nobody.''

Salim realizes that Africa is not his home and that to restore his masculinity, he will need to rebuild his life in a city like London.

Post-Colonialism

Another theme of the novel is the negative effects of post-colonialism. After winning independence from the European colonists, revolutionists begin to systematically ''wipe out the memory of the intruder. It was unnerving, the depth of that African rage, the wish to destroy, regardless of the consequences.'' Statues, monuments, and even street signs are destroyed.

The narrator reminisces about ''the colonial time, when men could, if they wished, pay little attention to tribal boundaries.'' In the vacuum of civilized government that had been so suddenly created, ''travel was not as safe as it once had been,'' and transportation businesses failed.

While Salim recognizes the rage that colonialism inspired in the African people, he also recognizes that the response to that anger, which is to destroy all of the progress made by the colonists, will ultimately destroy the African community. It is no longer safe to travel between tribes and Africans are killing each other in an attempt to get vengeance on the Europeans.

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