Racism And Racial Theories in V.S. Naipaul's 'Half A Life'

Term Paper 2008 12 Pages

Didactics - English - Literature, Works



1. General introduction
1.1. The Writer
1.2. The Book

2. Racism and a reference to (post-)colonialism
2.1. A definition of racism
2.2. Racism and Colonialism

3. Willie Somerset Chandran and the Racism in 'Half A Life'
3.1. Textual references
3.2. Conclusion: Willie Chandran and his thoughts about race

4. Bibliography

1. General introduction

1.1. The Writer

Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born on August, 17th 1932 in Chaguanas, a city in Trinidad and Tobago, as a descendant of a Indian immigrant to the country.

Later on he lived in Port Of Spain with his family, where he attented The Queens College. Due to a scholarship, which he won, he was able to study in Oxford, England.

After his studies he worked as an editor at the BBC for the "Carribbean Voices" project, and later on as an editor for various departments.

His first novel was "This Mystic Masseur", a story which is later on meant sarcastical by most reviewers.

With the possibility of viewing his own native origin from a wider distance, he put more and more detail in his works, which reflected happenings in post- colonial circumstances in mostly satirical ways. Naipaul begins to travel a lot in the 1960s, and processes his impressions within his novels, which are mostly fictional, but also partly autobiographic and in form of reports about his trips. The places where his stories take place are not bound to his personal origin, but to a various amount of global locations which appear to have been affected by international colonisation.

His theories about post-colonial society and the struggling of the descendants in post-colonial environments were widely respected from the instant they were published, and some of the aspects his books were written about have been recognised as almost prophetical. He also investigates the social mechanisms between colonised societies and the former colonisers, which affect the people decades after the official end of superiority of the colonisers. Often neglected as a "travel reporter", his reports are far more content of academic and non- academic observations, which make his stories interesting for valuers of social sciences, and for people who just travel a lot.

1.2. The Book

"Half A Life" has had its debut on October 16th, 200, just a few days after its author was awarded with the Nobel Prize of Literature.

The novel is about the struggle of Willie Somerset Chandran to find his own identity in a world minted by post-colonial breaks in society and politics. His father, a Brahmin, is described as a person who went through his life by outer influences, and sparsely by own intention, what ends up in a marriage with a woman whom he does not love nor respect.

After knowing the reason for being named Somerset, as his father told him, he leaves with a significant urge his origin to make up a new life in London, England.

After years of studying, and encounters with different personalities of more or less multicultural background, he recognises the urge to write, to process his inner unease about his origin and the perceptions of the 'modern' world in which he lives at that moment.

Some struggles with the clash of cultures later, which had social, economical and sexual paragraphs, he meets the East-African girl Ana, who has mixed cultural backgrounds.

After a while he decides to go to her country, an unknown Portuguese colony in eastern Africa.

The main concern in the next eighteen years is to overcome his own rudimentary understanding of sexual desire and process with under aged prostitutes or an affair with a woman of the town. He severely observes the break in the history of that country with the last struggles of official Portuguese government and the waiting liberation movement incorporated by the guerilla. In the last paragraphs of his life there he recognises that his life in Africa is far from what his own life should be, and he leaves Ana, after betraying her for years, for good.

2. Racism and a reference to (post-)colonialism

2.1. A definition of racism

Racism is a cultural phenomenon which appears in broader communities of the same ethnicity or in smaller groups of people with apparently the same physical attributes. It suggests that human beings can be divided into groups and standards of similar or equal attributes and characteristics and so enables several social and cultural consequences and several ideologies whose basic arguments depend on the set-up of a natural or cultural human hierarchy. The terms of this classification are mostly biological, but also of a cultural (religious, linguistic and general cultural differences) base. The definition of racism are of various kinds and keep a whole set of social scientists busy, but the basic terms are after thousands of years of racism almost clear outlined.

Albert Memmi was able to outline the various characteristics of racism and its influence on human characters in both a more extreme and a recessive way:

"Es gibt zweifelsohne den Rassisten im engeren Sinne des Wortes, der unter Berufung auf biologische Unterschiede den anderen unterdrückt und daraus seinen Nutzen zieht; derüberzeugt ist, diese unterschiedlichen Merkemale ließen sich zu kohärenten Bündeln zusammenfassen, die er als Rassen bezeichnet - [...] Aber ebenso unstreitig gibt es den Rassisten im weiteren Sinne - [...] - der die biologischen Unterschiede m ö glicherweise auch sieht, sie jedoch nicht zur Grundlage seiner Beschuldigungen macht."1 Both forms of racism have the same consequence: violent and verbal aggression, and a definitive revaluation of the most inner self on someone else's account.

Race itself is best defined by Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin in their work 'PostColonial Studies: The Key Concepts':

"'Race' is a term for the classification of human beings into physically, biologically and genetically distinct groups. The notion of race assumes, firstly, that humanity is divided into unchanging natural types, recognizable by physical features that are transmitted 'through the blood' and permit distinctions to be made between 'pure' and 'mixed' races. Furthermore, the term implies that the mental and moral behaviour of human beings, as well as individual personality, ideas and capacities, can be related to racial origin, and that knowledge of that origin provides a satisfactory account of the behaviour."2


1 Memmi, Albert, Rassismus, S. 97, Hamburg 1992

2 Ashcroft, Bill, Griffiths, Gareth, Tiffin, Hellen, Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts, S.198, Abingdon 2000


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University of Cologne – Englisches Seminar
V.S. Naipaul Rootlessness Postcolonial studies psychology literature



Title: Racism And Racial Theories in V.S. Naipaul's 'Half A Life'