Themes and Meanings

The major themes, reflected in the action, characters, and images of the story, concern the crippled personalities of those marginalized by history—the “guerrillas” of the title. Naipaul’s central idea about postcolonial society is its inability to create an identity apart from inflated rhetoric, play-acting, nostalgia for a nonexistent past, false hopes, and “tribal causes.” “People with causes inevitably turn themselves off intellectually,” he has said in an interview with Charles Michener for Newsweek. The island was once a part of the British Empire, and in spite of its apparent rejection of Imperial rule, it yet mimics the old patterns of life, symbolized most ironically in the name Jimmy chooses for his commune and in the furnishings of his house, his mind, and his art. The violent sexuality of the novel may be interpreted in political terms: As Naipaul has elsewhere suggested, “the politics of a country can only be an extension of its idea of human relationships.” Hana WirthNesher sees Jimmy’s murder of Jane in terms of political allegory, reading it as suicide, with his native self taking revenge on the European-colonial self that he both needs and rejects. The local politicians on the island think that they have won independence, but they have only to look at “the pink haze of bauxite dust from the bauxite loading station” to know that the economic powers running the island are not substantially different from those which dominated it in the colonial era.

Social Concerns / Themes

The status of Guerrillas as a major novel rests on its classification as a political novel. Unlike A House for Mr Biswas (1961), Guerrillas has a small cast of characters. Only three are of major importance: Peter Roche, a dispossessed white victim of South African oppression, who has emigrated to the nameless Caribbean island that is the novel's setting; Jimmy Ahmed, a half-Chinese, half-black "revolutionary" leader; and Jane, a Canadian who seems to be hoping for a personal definition through these two men.

For such a situation to express political concerns, the individual relations of the characters must be symbolic of a larger social relationship. In short, the personal relations should give an outline of a culture, as each character represents a part of the social world. Such an action tends toward allegory, and an initial interpretation of Guerrillas might be that of a story in which a white radical befriends a black revolutionary, and their friendship becomes the emblem of a new, just society. This view, however, does not account for the character of Jane, who, except for the excitement involved, is basically indifferent to the political dimension.

But this view of Guerrillas as a simple political allegory is inadequate. No one in the novel truly represents any social group. Consequently, the novel presents a web of tortured personal relations, much self-ignorance on the part of Jane and Jimmy, and the rape...

(The entire section is 243 words.)