The Enemy by V.S. Naipaul: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson summarizes V.S Naipaul's 1955 short story ~'The Enemy.~' After learning about the plot, important events, and characters in the story, we will explore its themes of fear, abuse, and family. Then, we will analyze the story's underlying meaning connected to colonialism and identity.

A Trinidadian Childhood

In ''The Enemy,'' a short 12-page story, V.S. Naipaul relays a complex and ambiguous tale of growing up in Trinidad. It is told from the point of view of a young boy, unnamed, whose family is torn apart by abuse, violence, and fear. Born in Trinidad and raised in a Hindu Indian family, V.S. Naipaul grew up to become a famous and honored author. Much of his writing is about the Caribbean region and could be said to be semi-autobiographical.

Trinidad is a Caribbean island located off the coast of Venezuela.


Naipaul wrote ''The Enemy'' in 1955 and collected it in the short story anthology A Flag on the Island (1967). The story opens with a boy's confession: ''I had always considered this woman, my mother, as the enemy. She was sure to misunderstand anything I did, and the time came when I thought she not only misunderstood me, but quite definitely disapproved of me.''

The boy lives with his mother and father in the town of Cunupia, Trinidad, where his father works as a supervisor on the sugar plantation. Even though the workers are freemen, they call him a slave-driver. Suffice it to say that the father is not well-liked. This fact is driven home hard when, at night, the family is terrorized by voices coming from the darkness outside. Likely, the workers from the sugar plantation have descended upon the house of the ''slave-driver'' with the intent of retaliating for a day of excruciating labor.

At home, the family lives in constant terror. The boy and his parents even adopt a dog, Tarzan, and train him to guard the porch. But one morning the boy walks out to discover that the dog has been mutilated. The situation is too much for Mother. Unhappy in marriage, she insists on separating. And caught in the mix, the boy must choose between Mother and Father. He decides to stay with Father, because he can tolerate his abuse; he dislikes his mother even more.

After Mother moves to Port of Spain, the capital city, tensions continue to rise. One night, a heat storm hits Cunupia. Convinced that it's God or the workers coming to strike him dead, Father has a sudden heart attack reacting to a bolt of lightning. The boy believes that his father died of fright.

A Caribbean boy

So, the boy moves to Port of Spain to live with his mother. Things don't get much better for him after that. The boy resents his father for dying and refuses to obey his mother's orders. The boy has come to believe that his mother hates him. She praises the other children in the neighborhood but treats her son with disdain.

In one scene, Mother scolds her son for resisting to learn how to tie his shoes. He considers it a sign of weakness, and the mere responsibility of wearing shoes becomes a sense of shame. In another scene, Mother invites her son to join her in the hammock. He refuses.

In the final scene, the boy is riding on a bus when he experiences a sudden and overwhelming panic attack. He faints. He wakes up to water being poured over his face. He has broken his hand. Back at home, his mother cries for him. In the closing passage, the boy finally realizes that his mother loves him. He sees a new side of her as she cries for him. He wishes he was a god with 200 arms so that he could break them and watch his mother cry.

A god with many arms
Hindu God

Themes: Fear, Trauma, Family

The boy and his parents are crippled by fear. Whether it's the retaliation of the plantation workers, the wrath of God, loss, abuse, or bodily harm, all three of the main characters live in the shadow of a dark and impending future. The boy's fears of rejection mount to a complex in which he refuses the love of his mother. Even in moments when she warms to him, such as in the scene where she invites him to lay in the hammock, he pushes her away. Her punishments greatly outweigh her affection. Mother also fears her abusive husband, the health of her son, and suffers from the emotional abuse inflicted by the plantation workers. Perhaps more than the others, it is Father who harbors the greatest fear. He literally dies from fright.

The boy suffers abuse from both parents. Naipaul does not go into detail about any physical abuses. The boy's traumatic childhood is fraught with mental and emotional abuse. Father is a violent man. Mother is distant and strict. With the death of his father and the mercurial behavior of his mother, the boy struggles to understand how he can be good.

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