Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Shiva Naipaul chronicles the erosion of human idealism and power. The world of the Khojas and Lutchmans is one in which reality is distorted into false fable, before asserting itself with unrelenting pitilessness. In this world, expectation exceeds fulfillment, and passion dwindles into wastefulness. Although they differ from one another in scale and status, the characters share a common fate: They are compelled to acknowledge the futility of their efforts to transform their world and shape their destinies.

The smaller characters—Ram, Romesh, Bhaskar, Doreen, Mrs. MacKintosh—are plagued by bad luck or disillusionment. With no real economic or social power of his own, Ram is simply a tyrant at home, and a failure at his obsessions. Romesh is an absurd victim of his own cinematic fantasies. He thinks and acts like a Hollywood gangster until reality catches up with him. Doreen’s love life is a maze of confusion and misunderstanding, but fundamentally she is punished by life for her selfishness. Mrs. MacKintosh, deserted by an unreliable husband, seeks to exploit others before they can exploit her, but she, too, is nothing more than a lonely, rather desperate woman who can barely eke out a meager existence in a world that wastes little sympathy on its victims. The world turns some characters into cynics: Bhaskar’s sullen solitariness in the later stages of the book is a natural result of his disappointment in life.

Even the larger characters are circumscribed by this pattern of failure. Govind Khoja, the superficially sophisticated disciple of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is full of sententious precepts and advice, yet none of his ideals...

(The entire section is 679 words.)