Critically analyze the characterization in "My Aunt Gold Teeth" by Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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 "My Aunt Gold Teeth" by Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul is a short story that was originally published in 1958 in the Paris Review. Naipaul himself was born in Chaguanas, Trinidad, where the story is set, and like his characters in his story came from an Indian background, a family including pundits, religious experts with profound knowledge of the Vedas (Sanskrit texts sacred in the Hindu religion). 

The first person narrator of the story is a child, but the narrative voice often veers from the first-person viewpoint of the child to omniscient narration. The narrator appears almost contemptuous of the aunt, characterizing her by extended and unflattering description. The two main outward elements of the characterization are the gold teeth, which we encounter at the opening of the story, and which give her the nickname she bears (she is always called "Gold Teeth" in the story). The second element in the description is her weight; the narrator seems both obsessed with and disgusted by the fact that she is very fat. On a psychological level, she is characterized mainly by her level of superstition. The narrator sees religion as something ignorant people approach as a form of magic,with Roman Catholicism and Hinduism as Gold Teeth practiced them simply a set of rituals used to gain practical benefits. Her constantly praying for children and the negative attitude of the narrator and other members of the community towards her barrenness is simply taken for granted and used as the occasion for discussion of her superstitiousness.

We are told that Ramprasad, Gold Teeth's husband, is a pundit, knowing all five of the Vedas, something highly respected in Hindu society, and also are informed that he is relatively well off (providing the money allowing her to replace her teeth with gold ones). Physically, he is characterized as having a huge appetite for food, and becoming ill over the course of the story, but he is an essentially flat character, mainly serving as a pretext for development of Gold Teeth's character and critique of the way religion and medicine together are simply seen as instrumental, as means to an end, an uncritical grasping of everything that might be potentially useful.

The characterization of Ganash is also one-dimensional, with his being open to many religious traditions and his reassurance of a worried wife about a sick husband treated mainly as an occasion to critique what most people would consider a capacious and humane approach to religion as cynical self-advancement:

In his professional capacity Ganesh was consulted by people of many faiths, and with the licence of the mystic he had exploited the commodiousness of Hinduism, and made room for all beliefs. In this way he had many clients, as he called them, many satisfied clients.

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