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Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Miguel Street has been variously classified as a group of short stories, as a series of sketches, and as a novel. The latter classification is supported by the fact that it is unified by a single narrator and by several patterns and themes. Furthermore, although each chapter is dominated by a single character, those major characters reappear as minor characters in other chapters. At the end of the book, all the characters who still live on Miguel Street gather to present to the narrator (who is departing for college) gifts representing their own attitudes toward life. Thus, the narratives are tied together, justifying the label “novel.”

According to V. S. Naipaul, the genesis of Miguel Street was a shout that he remembered from a Port of Spain boyhood: “What happening there, Bogart?” The purpose of the novel is to answer that question. What happens in Miguel Street seems to be a repeated pattern of aspiration, defeat, and adjustment, all defined and judged by Miguel Street itself.

In this close community, characters search for an identity which will be respected by the Street. Bogart, for example—the first character whose life is explored in the novel—has made himself popular by the mysterious self he has created, a tailor who never sews, an imitation Humphrey Bogart who disappears from time to time and returns with elaborate accounts of his adventures, every time more like an American gangster, expansive but chilling. When Bogart is arrested for bigamy, his real problem becomes clear. Unable to father a child with his Tunapuna wife, he has impregnated a girl in Caroni; forced to marry the Caroni girl, he has returned to Miguel Street and to the men whom he can impress. Having proven his virility to himself, Bogart can act like Bogart. Unfortunately, he has had to commit bigamy in order‘to do so, and even on Miguel Street, he is not safe from the law. Hat understands why Bogart returned to Miguel Street: “To be a man, among we men.”

For Popo, the second character in the novel, the respect of the Miguel Street men comes only after the desertion of his hardworking wife. Discouraged, drunk, angry, and rowdy, Popo is accepted as a man, whereas before he was only a “man-woman.” Although his reputation dwindles when he brings back his wife and remodels the house to please her, Popo once again impresses Miguel Street when he is arrested for large-scale thievery of materials and furniture. Unfortunately, on his return from prison, Popo turns industrious; Miguel Street men believe that profitable employment should be left to the women.

Structurally, every chapter is related thematically to those which precede it and to those which follow it. Thus, the account of Popo’s difficulties with his wife and with his reputation for virility is followed by that of George, who is an outcast on the Street because he beats his wife and his children incessantly, and by that of George’s son Elias, who cannot pass any examination to better himself but who refuses to complain about his job driving a cart just as he has refused to admit his father’s brutality. The sketch of the mad Man-man, finally removed from the...

(The entire section is 808 words.)