Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The themes of the novel are those truths which the narrator learns as he grows up on Miguel Street, values which the community holds in common, values which are moral rather than legalistic. Indeed, Sergeant Charles, the local officer of the law, is given to apologizing for enforcing it, and no one in the Street seems to think less of anyone else simply because he is given a prison sentence. Sometimes, as with Popo, he will return a hero.

The Street, however, has its own standards. It disapproves of the cruelty of George toward his wife and his children, the beatings, the forced marriage of his daughter, the contempt toward his intelligent son. Although occasional beatings may be necessary, the kind of pleasure that Mrs. Hereira’s lover takes in brutality is deplored. Nor does the community approve of the coarse language and the rudeness toward women which they observe in Laura’s lover Nathaniel. Indeed, the Street is delighted to learn that Laura beats him, rather than his beating Laura, as he boasted.

It is significant that the triumphs in Miguel Street are not worldly successes, but endurance, dignity, and compassion. “One of the miracles of life in Miguel Street,” comments the narrator, “was that no one starved.” Nor were children neglected; thus Eddoes’ baby Pleasure is cared for by all the women in the Street. Observing the lives of those around him, the narrator learns the importance of self-respect; sympathetically, he tells no one that he has seen Big Foot’s cowardice. He also learns the value of beauty from the eccentric painter Edward, the would-be poet B. Wordsworth, and Hat, the collector of tropical birds. Finally, he learns the importance of imagination, which enables all the individuals of Miguel Street to accept one another’s peculiarities and to take joy in the possibilities which each day brings. It is clear that the values learned by the narrator are the themes of Naipaul’s novel.