Individuals desiring to succeed found that their native traditions and values had become suspect, while their successes and their failures did not have a grounding in the Western pattern.They carried too much baggage, so to speak, and yet had lost a living connection to an authentic cultural past.
Again, Naipaul resorted to an historical analogy, drawing on the Western literary tradition, especially the , with London being textually associated with Rome.
And, yet, while the destructive symbiosis described in the novel makes abundant use of classical allusions, they are multivalent and serve as sardonic or ironic commentary on the inadequacies or instability of the center’s professed ideals.
Living in a no-man’s land of the soul, their relation to the West was that of “mimic men.” Thus Simon (in the 1975 essay “A New King for the Congo”), manager of a nationalized company in the former Zaire, who had “a background of the bush”: It is with people like Simon, educated, moneymaking, that the visitor feels himself in the presence of vulnerability, dumbness, danger.
Because their resentments, which appear to contradict their ambitions, and which they can never satisfactorily explain, can at any time be converted into a wish to wipe out and undo, an African nihilism, the rage of primitive men coming to themselves and finding that they have been fooled and affronted.
A ferocious anti-Naipaul industry developed, with Naipaul dogged by accusations of racism and bigotry.
There is a repetitiveness in the attacks, which increasingly rely on a now well established vocabulary.
These essays were the outcome of travels to far-flung places of empire that were undertaken by Naipaul after the appearance of his breakthrough novel, writings was the blighted lives of inhabitants of “the world of half-made societies” (from his 1974 essay “Conrad’s Darkness”).
Empire was no more, but the institutions of the nations artificially created, seemingly ex nihilo, were expected to embody “Western” values.
The ambition as well as the despair and dislocation of such postcolonials were intimately connected to Naipaul’s own story.
He often said of himself that, despite a desire to be a writer, as a member of a dispossessed Indian substratum on a colonized Caribbean island with a majority black population, he lacked the grounding in the cultural compost from which great literature grows.