V. S. Naipaul’s novel A Bend in the River is set in an unnamed African country which has just got its independence from the European power. He shows that the independence has removed the hope of eliminating ignorance. The people are no more genuine, they have become greedy and selfish, and their cultural identities are at stake because of their acceptance of different European cultural practices. Their indigenous culture has become mixed with a foreign culture. The country has become chaotic because of political unrest. Two different political groups have been developed; as a result, a conflict took place. Naipaul, throughout his novel, explores the ill political condition and social disorder of a previously colonized country that is no more colonized now but still influenced by the western power.
Though, the ending of colonial rules naturally brings hopes and ambitions for the newly independent countries, here we notice that this African state is governed by an autocratic ruler, the “Big Man” who is even worse than the colonizers. He pretends to bring peace and social justice. He takes action to nationalize the property of foreigners. Salim, the protagonist and the narrator as well is also a victim of such political decision. This attitude of Big Man gives rise to political and social disorder. From the very beginning of the novel; it is evident that the country has its troubles after independence which is very common for all other African countries. It is a chaotic, ambiguous world. Naipaul also blames the individuals of the country for their miserable condition. Their lack of awareness towards their political right and ignorance are the reasons that lead them towards a terrible life, even after independence. The beginning of the novel suggests us such impression of Naipaul. He says, “The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.” That means Africans are nothing and allow themselves to become nothing; they have no place in the world.
Though Europeans have officially left the country, still their intervention exists in every aspect of lives of these indigenous people. European values and ideas prevail everywhere. The Big Man, the dictator is the highest political leader of the country who imitates the way of practicing power as he sees in the West. This way of ruling is not suitable for the Africans. By mimicking Europe and trying to bring it to Africa, the Big Man decides to build the New Domain. The New Domain is a place aimed at educating the African youth, but the problem is that he decides to run this institution by some European teachers. This is a hypocritical decision. The Domain includes different modern luxurious buildings following a European model with Western values. The Domain, however, is a trick. Moreover, the president maintains his power by means of European airplanes, and by posting gigantic photographs of himself, printed in Europe. Actually, he does not care about the people rather he is concerned with his own well-being. He employs European experts in order to rebuild the destroyed town. Not only that but he also brings and uses European mercenaries with the intention of suppressing the rebellion. That shows that the country has again become dependent on European power and it seems that without Europe, The Big Man and Africa would not be able to survive. Even his maxims are not original. His radio speech as described by Salim, the narrator, conveys all the contradictions and hypocrisy of the Big Man’s principles: His speech includes some very common ideas like sacrifice and the bright future, the dignity of the woman of Africa, the need to strengthen the revolution etc. He is not able to introduce any new ideas that can help in the development and establishment of a newborn independent country.
Although The Big Man claims to have an independent state, he is dependent upon European advisers and experts. When the Big Man nationalizes the businesses of foreigners, he delivers them to his supporters, not to the people. What TheoTime, to whom Salim’s store is delivered, says is both pathetic and particularly significant: This is very pathetic because the relationship between Citizen TheoTime and his manager, the old owner of the store is a metaphor for the relationship between Africa and Europe. That is to say, Africa will always be dependent on Europe without confessing this dependency.
Of course, the political equation that runs the foreign policy of the state is reflected in the internal affairs of the state itself. All the people should be dependent on the Big Man and remember that he is always present and his photographs appear everywhere. The hidden solution that one tends to think about is a new revolution against the Big Man: A revolution that is expected to compromise by preserving certain social, cultural traditions and by adopting certain modern principles.
Another unrest political situation appears when a Liberation Army opposed to the Big Man. The Liberation Army tends to establish a liberal country, but in order to achieve this liberation, the Liberation Army members also resort to killing. Again, like the revolution against the colonialists, there will be destruction and bloodshed. This will be a revolution that will destroy the old regime and bring a worse one.
Therefore, the country of A Bend meets a conflict between two kinds of politicians: The Big Man and the Liberation Army members. But the misery of fate is that both are worse than the colonial rulers. According to the narrator of the novel, during the colonial era, there was miraculous peace when men could if they wished, pay little attention to tribal boundaries. Now, under the Big Man, the country is unfit for self-rule. This is a strong racist condemnation of native politics, with an implicit endorsement of the colonial ideology that justified the occupation and exploitation of other lands and people. By regarding and reinterpreting the epigraph of the novel in relation to the whole story, one concludes that most social and economic problems would disappear if the natives really wanted to solve them. But they do not want to change, and so they allow themselves to become nothing. If there is anyone to blame, it is the Africans themselves; they are responsible for their poverty and ignorance, and they do not have the will to change them.
The political situation that Naipaul shows in his novel is very common in every newly independent country. Naipaul did not mention any name of the country that gives his novel a universal appeal. Through this novel, Naipaul has shown the situation of the whole colonized world, where political unrest prevails. A person like Big Man takes the opportunity to suppress people in enjoying their human rights. The Big Man is a product of colonial rule. He is an agent of the Europeans. Though Europeans have left the country, still they have the scope to dominate the country politically and socially. Naipaul believes that the individuals that mean the indigenous people themselves are responsible for this ill political condition and social disorder since they are not aware enough of their rights and they are not able to select a perfect political leader who could rule the country through fulfilling their demands. Their ignorance is the curse that makes them bound to live in such a hell where there is no hope and ambition.
Author: Niaj A A Khan, MA in English Literature and Cultural Studies, ULAB