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Miguel Street by V.S. Naipaul: Characters & Themes

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tina Miller

Tina earned an MFA in Creative Writing, has several published novels and short stories, and teaches English and writing.

''Miguel Street'' by V.S. Naipaul focuses on 17 characters featured in one chapter each. Meet the residents of Miguel Street with an introduction to the men and women of the story and a look at the major themes that help tell their tales. Updated: 01/12/2022

Miguel Street by V.S. Naipaul

Miguel Street by V.S. Naipaul was published in 1959 and is comprised of chapters that serve as short stories. Each of the 17 chapters focuses on a character who lives on or visits Miguel Street. We see life through the eyes of the unnamed narrator and watch how the characters' lives change. What develops is a rich, historical description of life in Trinidad. Learn about the characters within the stories and the themes, or the main ideas, presented by the author of a piece of literature, that develop as we see life evolve on Miguel Street.

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  • 0:04 ''Miguel Street'' by…
  • 0:40 The Men
  • 2:01 The Women
  • 2:57 Themes
  • 5:59 Lesson Summary
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The Men

We see the goings-on of the people of Miguel Street through the narrator's eyes. He begins the story as a young boy who regularly interacts with some interesting characters. There are construction workers like Popo, drivers like Eddoes, and poets like B. Wordsworth. The men enjoy the ladies, especially George, who briefly runs a brothel-of-sorts. Elias, George's son, is educated and ''serious and ambitious.'' Man-man is also serious, even mad, regularly running for public office.

Life is not always serious, however. Morgan, whose house fire prompts an awe-inspiring fireworks display, is the comedian and ''pyrotechnicist.'' He may have also benefited from the teachings of Titus Hoyt. Hoyt is a ''a natural guide, philosopher.'' He's the street's educator and book enthusiast. Uncle Bhakcu is educated, but not about books. He is, per the narrator (but not his wife), a ''mechanical genius.'' The award for the saddest man on the street goes to Bolo, a barber duped by a house co-op purchase. The award for the most jovial goes to Hat. He taunts, commiserates, and bonds with the others. He offers advice (albeit unsolicited). As Hat observes, ''Everybody's growing up or they leaving.''

The Women

While everyone seems to be leaving, the women aren't. Dolly, Hat's wife, ''seemed to spend a great deal of her time at the front window looking out.'' Mrs. Bhakcu doesn't hide behind a window as she taunts her husband. ''But how you want me to shut my mouth up? You is my husband, and I have to stand up for you.''

Whether they intermingle or not, one common characteristic among many of the women is their maternal instinct. The narrator's mother gives guiding advice and commentary. Another mother, Laura, who, according to the narrator, is not much of a looker, has borne eight children. And as the women bring life to the community, for some of the women, like Miss Hilton, death is the only way out. ''While she lived, her front gate was always padlocked and no one ever saw her leave or saw anybody go in.'' The women are a stronghold among the men, even if they do not dominate the focus.

Themes

Let's look at some of the themes present in Miguel Street.

1. The Role of Women

Even in the background, the women control the livelihoods of those on Miguel Street, literally. The concept of motherhood is a common theme throughout. It's a way of life from which there is little to no escape. Mrs. Morgan recognizes, ''Life is a funny thing. . . a woman now trying to kill sheself because she can't make baby.'' Motherhood is expected. However, it's not without criticism. ''Now, to compare Laura, the mother of eight, with Mary the Chinese, also mother of eight, doesn't seem fair. . . But Mary, mark you, had a husband who owned a shop, and Mary could afford to be polite and nice to her children.''

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