Naipaul, An Area Of Criticism Essay, Research Paper
An Area of Criticism Naipaul s visit to India was the first time he returned to his roots and had a chance to examine his heritage. He writes of his journey and experiences in An Area of Darkness in great detail, at times seemingly mocking the Indian culture to a great degree. The extent of his criticism goes beyond mere ridicule, but points out severe problems at the core of Indian society. Through humor, Naipaul sustains his audience in amusement and causes the readers to open their eyes to a new world unlike their own, and a set of beliefs very different from what they are normally exposed to in everyday life. Naipaul opens his book with a prelude, devoted partly to describing the journey he took towards reaching his final destination, India. He tells of his travels through Greece, Egypt, and other countries before arriving at the port of Bombay. He tells of Cairo, and its narrow streets encrusted with filth. He speaks ill-naturedly about the city, stopping briefly only to remind of how it once used to be orderly and beautiful. Naipaul speaks of Cairo just as he would of India. He does not see it necessary to fill the readers minds with idle fancies about the non-existent glory of a city. He does not point out the fact that Cairo is dirty and disordered in order to humor his audience by mocking a culture. Instead, he points out what he sees and comments on the way that the city functions, something that will not change as a result of his writing, but perhaps cause individuals to see Cairo, as well as India later on, in a new light. In his prelude, Naipaul also writes of horsecabs and taxis in Alexandria. He describes their mission to obtain passengers in an extremely humorous fashion, causing the reader to empathize with what is being said, and laugh at the drivers misfortunes. And every passenger became the target of several converging attacks. Naipaul laughs and ridicules the cab and taxi drivers, but all he is doing is putting a funny situation into adequate words. This scene is in Alexandria, but Naipaul has the same style of writing about India as well. He does not intend to mock or criticize India, just as he did not intend to criticize the cab drivers. The method he chooses to describe the scenes show exactly what stuck out in Naipaul s mind. His writing is not meant to form an opinion for the reader, but rather show Naipaul s opinion about the culture and understanding of the situations at hand. The story of retrieving the seized bottles of alcohol was memorable in my mind. The impression Naipaul gives is that he was surprised to find a part of India that was ordered, even luxurious. He points out a misunderstanding he had when his companion fainted in an office, but he clarifies that it was merely a misunderstanding, and that he should have known better. He also makes the distinction of him being an outsider, prejudging everything that happens to him and taking a set of beliefs he is used to from his own culture and using it to assess a different culture. Even though throughout the story there are lines of criticism and ridicule, the overall effect was a feeling that India was a civilized, westernized country. As opposed to his rather positive descriptions in the prelude, Naipaul becomes a lot more critical of India in chapter three. At first he simply describes the surroundings, writing of the harsh reality in the streets of India. At this point he is not yet mocking or criticizing anything, but rather expressing his sorrow for the poverty -stricken citizens, and adding a small paragraph about how a foreigner could not truly understand these matters. He also justifies every position in Indian society, stating that the beggar, like the priest, has his function. He does not claim to understand this order of things though. After the beginning of this chapter, Naipaul devotes a large portion of the chapter to Indian habits of desecration. Here he begins to use a lot of sarcasm in describing the culture. He tells of quite a few different places where Indians chooses to defecate, and then feels the need to add that Indians defecate everywhere. He goes into great depth about the habit of squatting, taking a necessary comical approach to his writing, and mentioning numerous times that the other Indians do not seem to see, or perhaps chooses not to notice these squatters. Naipaul emphasizes the act of publicly defecating to such a great extent because this is new and different to him. It obviously shocked him at first, and he felt it necessary to go into great detail about the matter more as an interest and fascination with the culture, as opposed to a chance to mock India. Furthermore, he gives a sort of explanation for these behaviors, telling of Indian rituals that are an Indian method of argument so that the visions of squatting and filth become smaller and begin to disappear. Again, Naipaul comments on the difference between an observer, who cannot see beyond the ritual act to the differences of opinion in sanitation. Even though Naipaul s writing seems to ridicule and disapprove of these Indian habits, he always provides some form of argument in favor of the Indian culture.
Another aspect of Indian culture Naipaul devotes much thought to is labor. Every Indian has his own job, which is not to be confused with any other job, as close as it may seem. To perform someone else s job is degrading. He mentions this in his prelude as well, when he describes the situation where his companion fainted. He asked the different clerks for water, but did not receive a response. He grew very impatient and frustrated, until he realized that water was on its way to him and everything was being taken care of. The orderly fashion of India, where every person has their own set of responsibilities and tasks, was different from what he was used to. I should have known better. A clerk was a clerk; a messenger was a messenger. Naipaul also writes of the man with whom he shared a railway sleeper. Naipaul did the man a favor by agreeing to switch bunks with him, yet when he did the porter s job of spreading the bed sheets for him, the Indian just stood there and watched, withdrawn from the situation. For in his eyes, labor is degradation. This topic is referred to yet again when Naipaul describes the method of washing steps or sweeping hotel floors. They are not required to clean. That is a subsidiary part of their function, which is to be sweepers in all of the above examples Naipaul humorously describes the methods in which Indians work. Everything is in a certain order for them, which cannot be challenged even in emergencies. While Naipaul finds this quite different and somewhat ridiculous, he is aware of the fact that these systematic habits seem out of the ordinary to him he is an outsider. He makes fun of the certain cases he came in contact with, but he does not, nor does he intend to mock the Indian culture as a whole. He knows that he could not possibly see things in the same perspective as natives, who grew up learning about this order. Therefore he provides explanations in his writing for the unusual fashion in which things run in India. The most important thing to keep in mind about Naipaul is that he is not writing a travel guide, but telling of his experiences in a foreign country. In no sense is this a book for a traveler. It is a book written by a traveler. He does not only look at the sights and the landscapes, but also explores the people. Naipaul had no intention of making fun of India, just as he did not want to write a book based on the non-existent beauty and glory he saw of the country when he visited. Instead, he wrote of what he interpreted from his experiences, giving insight to what he thought was a gloomy situation for the country, and of his hopes for a change in India.