A Bend in the River: Summary, Characters & Analysis

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  • 0:00 Background
  • 0:20 Main Characters
  • 1:08 Summary
  • 3:25 Analysis
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

This lesson will include a summary of V.S. Naipaul's 'A Bend In The River.' It will also include a list of the main characters, as well as an analysis of the themes and motifs of the book.


V.S. Naipaul is a British novelist and travel writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2001. Written in 1979, A Bend In The River is a drama about human nature and finding one's way in postcolonial Africa.

Main Characters

The main characters of the book include:

  • Salim: The narrator and protagonist of the book, he's a young Arab-African of Indian descent. He tries to find his future in his native Africa, but finds that it no longer has any room for him.
  • Metty: One of Salim's family's servants in his hometown, she becomes Salim's shop assistant. Metty is naive, and still clings to old African customs.
  • Ferdinand: The son of Zabeth, the village magician, whom Salim mentors as a kid. He later becomes a high ranking government official, and bails Salim out of jail.
  • Raymond: A white former colonialist, now in charge of the university the government has built in the town at a bend in the river. He's desperate to return to the capital, however, and hopes to get there by constantly praising the Big Man as the savior of the nation.


As we begin V.S. Naipaul's A Bend In The River, we meet our narrator, Salim, whose family has lived in Eastern Africa for generations. However, there is trouble brewing there, and Salim becomes worried about his future and the future of his family. So he buys a shop deeper inside the continent, from a man called Nazruddin. Once he gets there, however, he sees that the small town, by a bend in the river, is in ruins from the destruction of the revolution.

Despite this, Salim stays and works in his shop selling whatever small items, such as pots and pencils, that he can. Slowly, Salim makes friends with other people who, like him, are waiting for the town to return to its normal state. As Salim carries on with the shop, Metty, one of his family's servants, joins him. She tells Salim that the situation back home has deteriorated and everyone has scattered all over. Metty stays and becomes Salim's assistant in the shop. Salim also agrees to mentor one of his regular customer's son, Ferdinand.

Meanwhile, a local rebellion breaks out, giving the government an excuse to establish a presence in the town. One of the government buildings becomes a university. It's here that Salim meets Raymond, the dean. Raymond is not happy to be there, however, and hopes that his constant academic praise of the Big Man, the name the local people have given the president, will take him back to the capital.

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