Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 519
The most important quotes in the novel A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul relate to personal and cultural identity and the social problems that arose in Africa after the colonial period.
One of the most important motifs in the novel is the water hyacinth, growing in the river, that no one can destroy, symbolizing the fear the Africans hold of foreign invasion and cultural dominance.
In the local language there was no word for it. The people still called it "the new thing" or the "new thing in the river," and to them it was another enemy. Its rubbery vines and leaves formed thick tangles of vegetation that adhered to the river banks and clogged up waterways. It grew fast, faster than men could destroy it with the tools they had.... Night and day the water hyacinth floated up from the south, seeding itself as it travelled.
The biggest problem for people like the main character, Salim, is that Europe never really left the continent. People still look to the Europeans to show them the way, and even then, only the wealthy can afford to follow their example.
Europe no longer ruled. But it still fed us in a hundred ways with its language and sent us its increasingly wonderful goods, things which, in the bush of Africa, added year by year to our idea of who we were, gave us that idea of our modernity and development and made us aware of another Europe—the Europe of great cities, great stores, great buildings, great universities. To that Europe only the privileged or the gifted among us journeyed.
Further reinforcing this dominance is the idea that African history was written not by Africans, but by Europeans. In fact, the narrator states that everything he knows about African history he read in books by European authors, leading him to ask if history as we know it has anything to do with reality. As far as he understands, it is just one version of events, mostly written from the point of view of the victor.
Time, the discoverer of truth. I know. It's the classical idea, the religious idea. But there are times when you begin to wonder. Do we really know what went on during the conquest of Gaul? I was sitting in my room and thinking with sadness about all the things that have gone unrecorded. Do you think we will ever get to know the truth about what has happened in Africa in the last hundred or even fifty years? All the wars, all the rebellions, all the defeats?
Typifying this view is a scholar called Raymond, a so-called expert in African history and politics who
just quoted from the missionary reports. He didn't seem to have gone to any of the places he wrote about; he hadn't tried to talk to anybody.
Nevertheless, Salim still looks to history to give him hope for the future.
And if Rome is the great city of the past and London the great city of the present, perhaps the African city is the great city of the future.