Dissertation > Literature > Literary Theory > Countries in Literature

Identity Crisis in Self-exile: a Postcolonial Study of V.S. Naipaul's Half a Life and Magic Seeds

Author WangZuo
Tutor FuLi
School Harbin Institute of Technology
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords V. S. Naipaul self-exile identity
CLC I561.06
Type Master's thesis
Year 2012
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V. S. Naipaul, praised by New York Reviews of Books as a master of modernEnglish prose, is a Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature. In2001and2004, hepublished Half a Life and Magic Seeds respectively. These two books, consideredas his last books, draw wide critical attention. Similar to a Volume I and Volume II,they describe Willie s first half of life and the later one in pursuit of uniqueidentity by self-exiles. In the final phase of his life, Willie comes to the realizationthat it is wrong to hold an idealist view of the world; for people like him, it isdifficult to gain a unique identity in the postcolonial situations due to the fluidityof identity as a concept. With his works, Naipaul criticizes the provinciality ofIndia and such colonies and the hypocrisy of England and other imperialist powers.In the meantime, he conveys his understanding of hybrid identity and his empathyfor people who have encountered colonization.The thesis is divided into three parts. The first chapter describes Willie s firstself-exile, from India to England. In his cultural exile, Willie s identity for the firsttime engages in fluidity. Casteism, as the ills of Indian society, leads to Willie shostility to his national culture since his childhood. Shame brought by his parentscross-caste marriage triggers his realization of the ignorance and backwardness ofcasteism in India; disharmony flooded in the memory of his childhood familyengenders his desire for European family style with caring parents and lovelychildren. Thus, he discriminates what India represents, including its spirit andlanguage, and equips himself with English culture, trying to become a member ofthat society. This thesis holds the view that Willie fails to give an objectivejudgment of his mother culture and cultural assimilation through self-exile results only in the fluidity of identity rather than the alteration of identity. The secondchapter talks about Willie s two self-exiles: from England to Africa and then toBerlin, which are also the reflection of Willie s fluidity of identity. Willie suffersfrom racial discrimination in his endeavor to assimilate himself into the Englishculture; meanwhile, he feels that he is incompatible with its values. Hence, heescapes from London to Africa, making an attempt to retrieve the way of life incolonies. However, in Africa where there is a conflict between the culture of thecolonizer and the colonized, Willie with dual cultural identity joins himself in thecamp of colonizers, which consequently brings him into confrontation with localanti-colonization forces and compels him out of Africa. This thesis deems thatWillie is short of initiative and courage despite that he has great expectations.Therefore, he is unable to recognize the fluidity of his identity when culturalcontexts change. The third chapter discusses Willie s returning and the lastself-exile. Frustration brought by earlier self-exiles causes Willie s reevaluation ofthe current situation and future position of his motherland. He wishes to return toIndia as a savior, helping his motherland to break away from the control ofcolonizers and to carry forward its cultural quintessence. Yet, the revolution hejoins is to satisfy the desire of those radicals in India, which traps him into anothermeditation on the value of his self-exiles. In desperation, he goes back to Londonthrough self-exile. He is sought after by the upper class in London owing to hisliterary creation on cultural conflicts. However, recognition gained in this way isillusory and cultural differences open up no possibility for Willie to be a realLondoner. This thesis reveals that in a society crowded with colonizers and thecolonized, it is impractical for Willie to hold an idealist view of the world and gaina unique identity. In the assimilation and contradiction of different cultures, his identity is altered.Through the discussion, this thesis points out how post-colonial people inpredicament pin hope on self-exile to get rid of their mother culture and to get intouch with alien cultures for a new identity. However, they fail to realize thatidentity, formed by multiple elements, cannot be cast off however far they travel.Self-exile only leads to its fluidity. The conclusion is that, under the postcolonialpredicament, the colonized will finally realize their hybrid identity.

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