VS Naipaul

Miguel Street

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Miguel Street Summary

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Although a collection of short stories bound together in one book is seldom called a novel, Miguel Street by V. S. Naipaul accomplishes this rare feat by tying all the stories under one unifying narrator. Miguel Street is the story of the unnamed narrator, (easily identified as the author himself), and his childhood memories in war-torn Trinidad and Tobago. An interesting method of storytelling is implemented here, where each chapter is led by a different character, however each of those protagonists appears as a supporting character in other chapters. The sole uniting factor is the narrator, who appears throughout, and wraps up the book in the end with his own chapter and his own story.

The book is relatively short, and each story is pithily written, with tons of dialogue making the narrator’s inner thoughts infrequent, and the themes driven solely by the action. Each chapter recounts the life, purpose and ambition of each character, and the novel’s motif brings each story together through their letdowns and inadequacies.

For instance, the first chapter talks of Bogart, a quiet boring man who claims to go off on his own adventures, and leaves to America to live the American dream, but instead becomes an Americanized failure, hence naming himself after a fictional movie character. The second chapter is about Popo, a narrator favorite, and a self-proclaimed carpenter who never built anything of substance in his entire life – another example of a character living in an imagined world. The next two chapters follow George and Elias, one a failure in marriage and in divorce, the other in education as well as manual labor.

Chapter five tells the story of Man-man, labeled the town madman because of his eccentricities, but ironically goes insane when his dog dies and he “sees God.” Chapter six is about Wordsworth, another character named after a foreigner, accentuating the austere desire for escape from all the inhabitants of Miguel Street. Wordsworth claims to be writing “the greatest poem in the world,” however he has never written anything beyond the first line.

The following chapters tell the stories of Bigfoot, Hat and Titus – the failed boxer with a rough appearance, the abusive father and husband imprisoned for arson, and another literary “thinker” living in fantasy, respectively.

Chapter ten is about Laura, a prostitute with eight kids from 7 different men. She is callous, abusive and rough around the edges, as well as within them, however she is brought to tears for the first time when she discovers her oldest daughter, Lorna, who forgoes her opportunity to become educated and ends up pregnant instead.

The next two chapters revolve around Eddos, and Mr. and Mrs. Hereira. Eddos is a garbage man who likes to look sharp and collect books just to keep up on his shelf, finding value in having them instead of reading them. Toni Hereira and Angela Hereira, are a couple who moved into a recently deceased lady’s home. Toni is a war veteran, a drunk and a wife beater, and Mrs. Hereira eventually leaves him, and the narrator’s mother befriends her to take care of her after the breakdown of her marriage and spirit.

The thirteenth chapter is about the narrator’s uncle Bhakcu. Bhakcu, another male wife beater, was fascinated with cars, and often times found hovering around one. The narrator tells how the most familiar part of his uncle to him was his legs and feet, because they were always sticking out from under a car he was repairing. However, with all his time under the hood, it is revealed that he actually has no idea how to fix cars. The next chapter is about Bolo, a man who was “born sad.” After being scammed multiple times, he loses faith in people as well as the world, causing him to “not believe it” when he actually wins in the sweepstakes.

The next few chapters are about Hat again, and his brother Edward. Both brothers had an inkling towards the beauty of the world, admiring paintings and trinkets, but ironically, their relationship side was quite foul. Edward’s barren wife left him for an American man, because she was unable to give him a child, which in their neighborhood was quite an indignity. Hat is revealed once more as the severely flagrant one, claiming that it is a good thing if a man beats a woman every now and again.

The final chapter brings all of these stories together in multiple ways, mainly allowing the narrator to finally accept his aversion to this street, and his desire to vacate it. Titled “How I Left Miguel Street,” the chapter begins with his mother telling him that it is best for him if he left, something that he had been pondering, and packed his bags and decided to head for New York.

The final scene is of him hugging his mother and walking towards the airplane, which stands in the face of one of the major themes: overt masculinity. It is quite clear the amount of sexism and machismo there is on Miguel Street, where almost all the male characters either beat their wives, or are in direct support of it, many of which attribute this to the other major theme of broken dreams. Every character in Miguel Street has some sort of dream or longing that they were never able to satisfy, causing them to live in their imagination, choosing fantasy over the dark and dismal existence that they lived, which was beautifully and intricately canvased by this Nobel Prize winning author.