The Mimic Men
Naipaul's The Mimic Men: Mimicking Decultivation
The Mimic Men sets the tone of Naipaulian malaise of the New World conditions and their deep impact on one's psyche. For it is important to remember that Ralph Ranjit Kripal Sing, the exiled ex-politician hero of The Mimic Men is an 'insider', one who has practiced the most dubious forms of colonial mimicry as a politician and dandy, as husband and businessman and sees through the charade of politics, the deep humiliation and self contempt that results from defeat and failure.
Naipaul's The Mimic Men is divided into three parts and surprisingly the author has kept the name of the protagonist a secret until the beginning of the second part. The action of the first part takes place in London in the protagonist Ralph Sing's youth. He has come there as a student on a scholarship. He lived in the boarding house owned by one Mr. Shylock. The house-keeper is a Maltese woman known as Lieni. The narrator counts plenty of experience to save himself from extinction and the resulting "dust to dust; rags to rags; fear to fear" ( Mimic Men 48). In fact, the word 'extinction' has been used in a number of times in the novel. The situation where the narrator finds himself is an existential nothingness and he says, "The tragedy of power like mine is that there is no way down. There can be only extinction (Mimic Men 48). By the time the narrator looks back and begins to write his past, he is forty. Later when the narrator took to writing like his creator Naipaul himself, he says, that he did so in order to give "expression to the restlessness, the deep disorder...which this great upheaval has brought about." ( Mimic Men 38)
Part II of the novel talks about the protagonist's unhappy childhood, unenterprising boyhood and the pressures that exerted him to leave his native island Isabella. He hailed from a poor family background in his words, "On Isabella when I was a child it was a disgrace to be poor" (Mimic Men 101). He descended from generation of idlers and failures. That caused him "deep, silent shame" (Mimic Men 101). Though his father was a schoolteacher and poor, his mother was from a rich family. Her brother Cecil was at school with the protagonist. He used to imagine that his father had landed on the island after his ship had been wrecked and he had lost all hopes of going back. Part II also talks about his Aryan background in India and how he added another name to his original name of Ranjit Kripal Sing. Ralph Sing is the example of thoroughly, psychologically colonized man, one who knows both the hurts and the excitements of the short-lived euphoria of inconsequential 'empires of our times.' The burden of guilt and betrayal, the consciousness of a collective 'shipwreck' which all imitative and third-rate mimic societies suffer, makes Ralph Sing the voice of a quiet acceptance of colonial complicity. Ralph is the mimic man raised through a thorough-bred colonial education. The vision of disorder that haunts Sing is not only political, though. He can see no link between action and its result, man and landscape, the perennial reminders of slavery and brutalization. So, in the end a kind of neurosis sets in to carry Sing to the limits of self- derision.
In part III the narrator Ralph Sing shares the ups and downs of his eventful life in Isabella soon after his coming over to that island nation with Sandra his wife from London. His marriage and his entry into politics were aberrations, whimsical, arbitrary acts...(Mimic Men 219). Sandra quietly left him on a shopping trip to Miami. She never returned. And he never heard about her after that. It was with the instigation of one of his friends Browne that he became a politician. Browne was a man of the people. He was editing a newspaper called 'Socialist' and was regularly contributing articles in it. Like Browne, Ralph Sing was not a thorough politician. He did not want to make a quick buck. The prospect of power in Isabella fatigued him. He felt he had no hold with the earth. He had no positive vision and hope. He had only a "vision of a disorder which it was beyond any one man to put it right" (Mimic Men 248). After 4 long years Ralph Sing was in a dilemma whether to return to Isabella as a failed politician or to stay back in London. In order to get some respite from his terrible loneliness and to boost up his self-image, he went to a brothel. With her also he failed as a sexual partner. His partner, to quote his words, "was in despair. The smile of hysteria was replaced by tears; she reproached her self for my failure" (Mimic Men 283). Quite secretly he went back to Isabella. He had thrown away his power. Such a state psychologically decolonized him. The mimic man's emancipation is impossibility, knowing the degree to which he has betrayed and violated himself, killing all truth and native purities.
The precariousness of colonial or post-colonial leader, highlighted in The Mimic Men, is his slavery to the West on the one hand and his unease with his 'portion of the world'. The 'imported' culture, economy, industry, institutions and education are the mark of societies that Sing or Browne hoped to retrieve from disorder. Sing's escape, his stay-back in London after the delegation has gone back to Isabella follows a penultimate, short visit to Isabella. But his ultimate exile in England is the most 'fruitful' for him, for he is once again, as he says, 'in well-organised' country and he has no wish to go back to the cycle of events he has freed himself from.
Ralph Sing, the mover between cultures and geographies, politics and exile, finally turns a complete colonial, waiting 'perhaps' to work on 'a history of the British Empire'. Sing's trying to find a settled role in a society defined by the extremes of Negro proletariat on the one hand and the ex-colonial Creole aristocracy on the other, presents the difficulty to 'place' himself and the world he has come to. The attitude of the reader to Sing's renouncing of public life, rejecting its emotions as fraudulent and settling down to write a memoir, will naturally be confused. Naipaul's tendency for engraving and supplanting one 'narrative' over the other reaches a limit in The Mimic Men.
V.S. Naipaul's postcolonial citizen helplessly reveals doubleness of identity in his existence whether in his island Isabella or in his city of choice and dream, London. Along with doubleness, irony and black humour also go with it. In fact such are the popular devices of Naipaul in all his fictional works. Ralph Sing's increasing tension and alienation wherever he is, is a result of this awareness. He is also not able to identify with the colonizer though he find himself in his own colonizer's state and gets the colonizer's education and speaks the colonizer's own language. The case of Ralph Sing it is simply not possible for him to shake off disposition and disunity. He chose London because he thought that a glamorous city like London could help him beat his sense of alienation. But London fails because Ralph Sing does not have a distinctive cultural identity with one particular culture. What Shashi Kamra points out as the general characteristics of a Naipaulian protagonist quite aptly fits in Ralph Sing ofThe Mimic Men:
Naipaul's narrator, subverting the chronological and objective order he has created through subjective ordering of his protagonist's life and by questioning that order in his tone of irony and satire, creates the terror of placelessness and timelessness as a void- a pit without bottom. (79)
- Kamra, Shashi. The Novels of V.S. Naipaul: A Study in Theme and Form. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1990.
- Naipaul, V.S. The Mimic Men. Harmondasworth: Penguin, 1969.