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.