The Enigma of Arrival

by V. S. Naipaul

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What is the role of stories and storytelling in V. S. Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival?

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Stories and storytelling actually stand at the heart of V. S. Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival. The protagonist is a writer, and he sees the world in terms of stories. Notice that we are never told the writer's name. He is identified only by his vocation. He is a writer. That is enough. His life is a story, and the people around him are other characters who interact with him in the great plot that he is living out.

The writer tries to discern the stories of the people around him, but sometimes, he gets their stories wrong. In the first section of the novel, "Jack's Garden," the writer wants to place Jack deep in the English literary heritage of people rooted in the English countryside. But the writer learns that his story is not true. Jack is not any more a part of England's traditional landscape than the writer is. Jack has come from somewhere else and has made a place for himself. He has created his own story, and the writer learns that true story to replace his faulty one.

As the novel continues, the writer is surrounded by new stories when Jack dies and new people move onto the farm and make plenty of changes. The writer discovers the story of "flux and the constancy of change."

In the novel's second section, the writer tells his own story of how he arrived in England. He has been caught up in an image of who and what a storyteller should be. He tries to model himself on Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh, and he looks for sophistication in his material. He eventually learns, though, that stories are all around him. His material is in his daily life, right under his nose. Stories are not hard to find. They must simply be recognized and then told.

The rest of the novel's sections also present the world in terms of stories. In "Ivy," the writer focuses on stories of contrast and failure, while in "Rooks," he explores what it means to follow one's imagination through the creative process of writing stories. The final section, "The Ceremony of Farewell," concentrates on the story of death.

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