‘The Mimic Men’ by V.S. Naipaul is an intriguing story about an exiled politician who now lives as a writer. The refugee, Ranjit, is the protagonist in a world full of mystery, illusion, and political intricacy. Discover how the characters of the novel played a critical role in the disillusionment of Ranjit.
A Book About A Vacuum
The Mimic Men is a unique literary work that focuses on V.S. Naipaul‘s ability to translate the undeniable scrutiny that we see displayed in oppressed history. Naipaul’s literary style is echoed through the characters of his novel, The Mimic Men. This novel serves as the autobiographical memoir of a colonial exile/politician-writer living as a refugee in London. The Mimic Men is the embodiment of real and the unreal, happiness and sorrow, perfection and imperfection, and dispelling illusions. The novel inherently questions what is real and what isn’t – defining real vs unreal, while asking whether the world is what we believe it to be. This conflict is at the heart of the novel: the self-criticism, examination, reflection, and growth of the characters is a driving point of the narrative.
Let’s take a look at just a few of the characters that are presented in this novel.
Ranjit Ralph Kripal Singh
Ranjit Ralph Kripal Singh, the protagonist and narrator, is a politician in exile. The son of an impoverished schoolteacher and a wealthy heiress, Singh is a member of the Indian minority on a Caribbean island called Isabella. Singh feels displaced from his formative childhood years and during his college years abroad in London. Even during his later years as a real estate developer and a politician on Isabella, he suffers from displacement and feelings of overwhelming alienation. Ralph’s ideas of dissociation cause him to push foreign ideas into Isabella’s political arena – drastically changing the mindset of the people. After a coup, which fails miserably, Ralph is banished to London at the age of 40.
Sandra Singh is Ralph’s wife – much to Ralph’s irritation. Sandra is a large, big-boned, large-breasted woman with imposing features.
In the novel, she decides to distance herself from her lower-class London family in a desperate attempt to move upward in society.
Sandra decides to do so by getting a degree from the respected college where Ralph is enrolled. Ironically, Sandra’s plans are halted when she is unable to pass the examinations. After two attempts, she changes her course and persuades Ralph to marry her – with the intentions of going to Isabella with him. Once she arrives in Isabella, Sandra immediately attempts to fit in by mimicking the manners of the wealthy. Sandra is mocked and rejected by society. Eventually, she moves to Miami after leaving Ralph amidst a sea of infidelities.
Cecil is the younger brother of Ralph’s mother – making him Ralph’s uncle as well as his schoolmate. In numerous scenes we see Cecil acting over the top and flamboyant. These traits, along with his streaks of aggression, are said to have started in his childhood. Cecil inherits the bottling patent on which the family wealth is based, but he soon loses the family fortune and his license. Armed with a Luger pistol, he tyrannizes Isabella residents. It is implied with strong certainty that Cecil is the person who shoots Ralph’s father and his common-law wife.
Kripalsingh, later referred to as Gurudeva, is Ralph’s father. Kripalsingh is a schoolteacher for whom a brilliant future was once predicted. In ironic opposition to his great destiny, Kripalsingh becomes infuriated as one misadventure in his life follows another. Deciding that he must seize his great destiny, he deserts his family and becomes the leader of a protest movement . Kripalsingh is then regarded as a prophet or ascetic – living remotely in the mountains. The novel states that he fathers at least one other son besides Ralph. Eventually, Kripalsingh is killed.
Ralph’s time on Isabella is spent in a continual state of disbelief ”I had been able at certain times to think of Isabella as deserted and awaiting discovery.” This perspective is one of Ralph’s private childhood thoughts that seem to be influenced by his extensive reading, both at school and at home. Ralph quickly develops the Western (or European) way of life, thinking it is the foundation of being civilized. He abandons everything, even his Indian name in favor of the name Ralph. Isabella, currently a British colony, is reduced to model its educational system on English educational institutions. Ralph regards the Western European view of the world as the only correct one rather than one culture among many. Despite thinking that this will placate him, this disorients Ralph, displacing his sense of place and history from Isabella to London. The novel shows the duality, or opposition between two aspects, raging inside Ralph’s head during his period of dissociation.
”We, here on our island, handling books printed in this world, and using its goods, had been abandoned and forgotten. We pretended to be real, to be learning, to be preparing ourselves for life, we mimic men of the New World, one unknown corner of it, with all its reminders of the corruption that came so quickly to the new.” This is a statement made by Ralph towards the end of the novel. In this statement, we see Ralph has reconciled within himself the feelings of dissociation in Isabella with the reality that Isabella is not authentic. Ralph seeks to be original – something his native island desperately lacks. Ralph’s coup is to remind the citizens of Isabella that until they stop mimicking others, they will never be real – only a pretense of themselves.
The Mimic Men is a complex narrative that focuses on Ralph, a colonial exile as well as a politician-writer, living as a refugee in the imperial metropolis of London. The Mimic Men is the embodiment of the juxtaposition between reality and fantasy. V.S. Naipaul writes the novel with compelling depth, giving the reader a peek into what is real and what is merely mimicked. Duality is a concept that rages throughout the narrative. The well rounded characters of the novel – including Ralph, Sandra, Cecil, and Kripalsingh – show readers that the growth of the mind is stirred during times of internal turmoil. Many of the statements made by Ralph and his father in the novel show just how important it is to self-reflect and grow.