In A Bend in the River Free Essay


In A Bend in the River Free Essay

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“We’re all going to hell, and every man knows this in his bones.

We’re being killed. Nothing has any meaning.

That is why everyone is so frantic.

Everyone wants to make his money and run away.

But where? That is what is driving people mad. T

They feel they’re losing the place they can run back to”.

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In the opening lines of the novel In A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul writes, “The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it”. Salim, the narrator of the story, lives in a community he cannot call home. The only way he can get rid of a past is to trample on it. Salim strives to free himself from the ties of African society’s past in order to start happy life in the present. The attitude of Salim towards postcolonial Africa is deeply affected by his European perspective on the changes in community life; nevertheless, he is capable of realizing the negative consequences of European colonization.

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            The key theme of the novel is the gradual darkening of the African communities as they return to their ancient traditions of bush and blood. The author suggests that the final reckoning has arrived, forcing all African people to come back to primitive lives. For this reason, Salim refers to the work of Father Huismans  (the liberal who thought too many wrong things about Africa) stating that true Africa is about to die, “that was why it was so necessary, while that Africa still lived, to understand and collect and preserve its things”. In the opinion of Salim, Huisman paid too much attention to cultural artifacts while the central problems of African society were ignored.

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            Salim is an African-born man of Muslim heritage who leaves his civilization with the hope to start a new life in deepest Africa, to achieve a feeling of personal liberation, and to develop a new understanding of the world. However, at a rather young age, he realizes that the feudal community had fallen and he “could no longer submit to Fate”. He strived not to be good, but to make good things for his people. The town where he begins his journey to freedom is “the site of dead civilization” with “ruins spreading over the acres”. Nevertheless, the civilization was not dead. At that moment, Salim felt that his life has been already lived out as if he was “in a place where the future had come and gone”.

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            Salim understands that his traditional way of life has already vanished and that the same thing has happened to other Africans as well. The past life does exist in the mind of the narrator but it is not present in the daily activities. Eventually, Salim learns a lesson that the only way to find rescue from the past is to remove oneself from the society. For this reason, Salim goes to London where he is able to explore his own manhood. He rejects all ideas of “home and ancestral pity, the unthinking worship of his great men, the self-suppression that went with that worship and those ideas”. Nevertheless, eventually, he realizes that he could not go back because there was nothing to go back to. Thus, he accepted his separation from African society because he started to enjoy liberation in London. Consequently, Salim does not even attempt to build a post-colonial society.

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            Talking about Africa, Salim writes, “Africa was my home, had been the home of my family for centuries. But we came from the east coast, and that made the difference. The coast was not truly African”. In these lines, it becomes apparent that Salim did not have any attachment to his motherland and he has successfully detached himself from his society.

            The special attention should be paid to the affair of Salim with Yvette, white woman who is a wife of Raymond. Before he met her, Salim wrote that has “fantasies were brothel fantasies of conquest and degradation, with the woman as the willing victim, the accomplice in her own degradation”. This remark contains powerful literalization of fantasy because Yvette is an image of the conquerability of Africa while Salim represents the conquering European man.

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            Africa itself serves as a metaphor for the unlimited power and absence of the external restrains, an absolute freedom, which puts the beliefs of Salem to test. Africa is a symbol of the fear of Europeans to become similar to the native people in the result of their communication with the African society. Africa is portrayed as the outcome of the flawed colonialism based on the primitivism of African community. The author uses the character of Salim, who is a representative of the local society, rather than a white person in order to exemplify the moral decline of the non-African people. Thus, Salim is both an insider and an outside. His life is inextricably linked with Africa but he has an outsider’s perspective on events. Salim is divided between two worlds. At the end of the story, when he is imprisoned and hears the voices of other Africans, Salim comments that he has “never felt closer to them, or more far away”.

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            Salim is more attracted to the European civilization because it was Europeans to write history books in which he read about the past of the African society. He relies on European books to explore the history of his people and, therefore, lacks the attachment to Africa. Nevertheless, it should be taken into account that Salim sees both advantages and disadvantages in European civilization. He refers to greed stating that “the Europeans wanted gold and slaves, like everybody else; but at the same time they wanted statues put up to themselves as people who had done good things for the slaves”.

            Even though Salim does not feel attachment towards Africa as a land where he was born, he fears that Africans could inherit the duplicity from the Europeans: “black men assuming the lies of white men”. The postcolonial state in which modern cities are erected in jungles and when children become university-trained intellectuals exemplifies the falseness of independent Africa. The new world has no past and no future, it is full of lies and violence where every person is dangling and there is no escape. The position of Salim as an outsider is especially perilous. For example, Salim comments death of Father Huismans as a proof of incompatibility between the European civilization and the African environment: “the idea Father Huismans had of his civilization had made him live his particular kind of dedicated life. It had sent him looking, inquiring; it had made him find richness where the rest of us saw bush or had stopped seeing anything at all. But his civilization was also like his vanity. It had made him read too much in the mingling of peoples by our river, and he had paid for it”. 

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            When Salim returns to his motherland, he realizes that there is no place to return to and that the time when he could change anything has been gone. Postcolonial Africa promoted a new way of living which “was the opposite of the life of our family on the coast. That life was full of rules. Too many rules, it was a prepacked kind of life”. When the whites have left Africa, Salim represents the only person who possesses moral compunction in his country. However, upon his return, he simply duplicates the traveling of Marlow.

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            In conclusion, the story told by Salim reveals that the arrival of the European civilization was doomed to fail to live in Africa because African primitivism could not be overcome. Naipaul, however, does not accuse the white colonizes of hypocrisy or exploration of failed African society. On the contrary, he wants to show that the clash of two civilizations caused confusion and loss of identity, as exemplified by the life story of Salim.

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