Plot summary | Genre | Cultural Context | Theme or Issue | Aspects of story | Hero / Heroine / Villain
The story is a semi-autobiographical account given by Naipaul of a year he spent in India in 1964.The opening section entitled Travellers Prelude deals with the difficulties surrounding bureaucracy in the country. Naipaul speaks about how he made many difficult efforts to recover alcohol that was confiscated from him. The book is divided into three parts. Part one is entitled A Resting Place for the Imagination. He speaks about his ancestors coming to India as indentured labourers. He also deals with his first experiences on the issue of race, of Muslims and Hindus.Naipaul was born an unbeliever. He grew up in an orthodox Hindu family. In India he explains how caste comes to mean the brutal division of labor and this was an unpleasant concept. While he was an unbeliever he was still saddened at the decay of old customs and rituals. Naipaul talks about the poverty in India and how it is one of the poorest countries in the world. When he moves to London he find himself as one more face in the midst of Industrialized England.
Naipaul speaks about the Indian English mimicry and how this is just like fantasy.
He goes on to speak about the custom of defecating everywhere and how they refuse to acknowledge this fact. The approach to many villages is not a pleasant experience therefore. Naipaul speaks about Mahatma Gandhi and how he was able to look at India squarely and see its problems in a totally objective manner.
Part Two opens with the image of a Doll’s House on the Dal Lake. This is in fact a hotel called Hotel Liward, which is situated in Kashmir. He speaks about his relationships with the various people who worked in the hotel and the ensuing conflicts, which occurred. We learn about the function of the Indian Civil Service. He is encouraged to join a pilgrimage to the Cave of Amarnath the Eternal Lord, which is ninety miles north of Srinagar.He, speaks about his joy and that of the other pilgrims as they climb the Himalayas and try to get inside a cave. Even though they are on a pilgrimage Naipaul states how as soon as they got inside the cave it was like a typical Indian bazaar. Naipaul recounts many anecdotes among them one about a young couple called Rafiq and Laraine. Rafiq is a poor musician. They spend a good deal of time fighting but eventually they get married. They split up however as she is unable to bear the poverty in India. She returns home to America.
Part Three is entitled Fantasy and Ruins.
This section deals with how the British possessed the country completely. Their withdrawal was irrevocable. He speaks about the English of the raj how they swaggered and had mannerisms and spoke a jargon. He mentions Kipling and how he is a good chronicler of Anglo-India. He talks about how the Taj Mahal is a great building without a function.
He goes on to speak about writers and how Indian attempts at the novel reveal the Indian confusion further.
Naipaul moves on to speak about Indian railways and how he befriended a Sikh while traveling by train in the south of India.
He comes to the conclusion however that India for him remains an area of darkness. He has learned over the years his separateness his contentment with being a colonial without a past and without ancestors. At the conclusion of the novel he tells us about his encounter with an emaciated man called Ramachandra. This man wants help to start litigation and get some land, which formerly belonged to Naipaul’s grandfather. Naipaul is disgusted at this incident and leaves in a mood of self-reproach. He talks about his flight home and how it was made up of anxiety and frustration. He admits that the journey to India should not have been made as it broke his life in two.
This novel is part autobiography and part travel genre. Naipaul writes about his experiences in India over span of one year. It is written in the first person narrative voice and Naipaul uses descriptive passages very well to outline his themes.
General vision or viewpoint
The general vision given in this novel of India is somber and dark. The title An Area of Darkness refers to India. Many of the negative aspects of Indian culture are highlighted and Naipaul seems to see the whole bleakness of the culture at every stage. Colonialism is an important issue in the story and again this is treated with a good deal of ironic detachment. Towards the conclusion of the story Naipaul acknowledges that he should never really have returned to the country.
Colonial India in the twentieth century forms the cultural context of this novel. Naipaul gives the reader a vivid insight into the various sects and cultural systems dominating this country. In Part Two of the novel Naipaul analyses the whole colonial process. There are copious references to Hinduism and Muslims and Buddhism and he paints some vivid pictures of the various customs, which these people engage in. Poverty is a key aspect of this culture ad contributes a good deal to the reason why he chose such a title for the novel.
Theme or Issue
The story abounds with descriptions of the extreme poverty of India. Naipaul describes India as ‘the poorest country in the world.’ The Indians defecate everywhere but fail to face up to this fact according to Naipaul. He analyses in a very logical way the reasons why he thinks Poverty exists in such a real way in India. He mentions at one stage how ‘divorce of the intellect from body labour has made of us the most resource less and most exploited nation on earth.’ The concluding section abounds in grim and rather depressing images of poverty. When Naipaul pays a trip to the village and meets the emaciated Ramachandra who is surrounded in dire poverty he is appalled and simply wants to leave the country at once. Poverty is seen as a self-defeating and destructive reality in this country.
The Caste System
Naipaul speaks a good deal about the caste system in India. He describes it as the ‘brutal division of labour’ and something, which is unpleasant. He mentions how the cast system only imprisons a man ‘in his function’ and makes so many people anonymous and faceless. Indians who are born overseas are not accepted by the system and have no identity. Naipaul devotes one section of his book to speaking about the work that Gandhi tried to carry out for his country. He tried to attack the psychology underlying the caste system and to show that there was dignity in man and a need to clean and have proper sanitation methods. Naipaul feels that Gandhi failed to get this message across.
One section of the novel is devoted to this theme. He mentions at one stage how the country only pretends to be colonial,’ yesterday the country’s mimicry was Mogul, tomorrow it could be Russian or American.’ He concludes by stating that the Indian English mimicry is like fantasy. When the British withdrew completely from India something of fantasy remained attached to their presence there. He draws a comparison between colonial India and colonial Trinidad. Trinidad is a British colony but in size it is only a dot on the map and therefore it is important to be British.Naipaul states that the England of India was different ‘an incongruous imposition’ in his words. He goes on to state the negativity of colonialism and how he felt the coming together of India and England as ‘a violation, buildings were too grand, too big for the puniness, poverty and defeat in which they were set. He mentions how these buildings strove to impose attitudes on people from both within and without. Overall the impression given in this book of colonialism in India is extremely negative.
Aspects of story
Towards the conclusion when he is invited to the village about the litigation
The Climax occurs when this poor man called Ramachandra asks him to give money for litigation
Naipaul leaves the village in disgust while at the same time refusing to give this man any money. Later on he acknowledges that yet this is a wrong way to act
Hero / Heroine / Villain
Naipaul emerges as the main hero.
There is no real heroine
Perhaps the terrors of colonialism.