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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 188

The Mimic Men by V. S. Naipaul is an autobiographical memoir that explores the nature of reality through internal and external criticism and self-examination. The novel traces the reflections of a political exile in London and chronicles the conflict and growth experienced by the characters in this setting of cultural...

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The Mimic Men by V. S. Naipaul is an autobiographical memoir that explores the nature of reality through internal and external criticism and self-examination. The novel traces the reflections of a political exile in London and chronicles the conflict and growth experienced by the characters in this setting of cultural turmoil. The novel explores the themes of societal and personal chaos and turmoil caused by colonization.

Ranjit Ralph Singh is the main character, who suffers from disillusionment with the political/cultural climate in which he finds himself. He expresses jealousy and frustration with his inability as a person of Caribbean descent to climb the socio-economic ladder as quickly and as high as he would like. Throughout the novel, Singh employs a contrast between Great Britain and his fictitious home island of Isabella to communicate a sense of isolation and of being shipwrecked. He never identifies with the native people of Isabella, whom he blames for killing a valued racehorse, nor does he identify with the Londoners of his day. Singh’s world is a life full of flaws, failures, and unfulfilled expectations which he has come to accept.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473

In The Mimic Men, V. S. Naipaul, employing the confessional narrative method, follows the career of Ralph Singh, a colonial official exiled from the small Caribbean island of Isabella.

The story is divided into three parts, the first of which begins with Singh, already disgraced in exile, sitting in his room at a London boardinghouse. At forty, he reflects upon the events of his career, contemplating “the shipwreck which all my life I had sought to avoid.” Chronologically, Singh’s remembrances are untidy, beginning as they do with his years as a young man in London. Before his public, Singh deliberately takes on the role of an affluent colonial dandy; inwardly, he is anxious and aimless. Following many frivolous affairs, he meets and marries Sandra, a woman disappointed owing to her humble origins and her failure to win a university scholarship. Singh returns to Isabella with Sandra, using his inheritance to build Kripalville, a posh suburb. Success and riches do not prevent the resurrection of old anxieties about life on an obscure island composed of the sons of slaves. Both Singh and Sandra sense the shapelessness of Isabellan society and experience “a feeling of having been flung off the world.”

The second part of the novel, which describes Singh’s childhood, exposes the source of the aimlessness which torments his family. At home, Singh lives under the shadow of a disaffected father, whose career as a schoolteacher leaves him unfulfilled. His father also recognizes that, as an Asian, he is detached from his country of origin, condemned, in a sense, to being “shipwrecked” on a tiny Caribbean island. Eventually, Singh’s father seeks out the island’s lowly, disenchanted black workers and leads them away from the miseries of the city to the pristine reaches of the Isabellan forests. His messianic message makes him famous, even in England. The movement, however, soon fades; the blacks filter back to the city, while their Asian deliverer, yellow-robed, remains in the forest as a Hindu holy man.

It is at school that Singh meets Ethelbert Browne, a black student on scholarship. Their strained and nervous friendship is important to the story, for later, Browne will draw Singh into the unpredictable world of Isabellan politics.

At the beginning of part 3, Singh, divorced and unhappy, joins Browne; together they are the new men who challenge the government. Editing a paper called The Socialist, Browne organizes a political movement of the dispossessed which ultimately sweeps the election. Browne is elevated to the status of folk-leader, with suggestions of a cult of personality, and Singh is given an important position in government. After four years, however, Singh dramatically falls from power when his negotiations to nationalize the sugarcane industry end in failure. At forty years of age, Singh is forced into exile to live out his days in private reflection.

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