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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Vidia Naipaul - artist of the absurd. Zinkhan, Elaine Joan

Abstract

This thesis acknowledges that the philosophical basis of the novels and short stories of Vidia Naipaul bears a significant resemblance to the tenets of Absurdity set out in Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus and witnessed in various other Absurdist writings. At the same time it attempts to demonstrate that Naipaul's Absurdist vision reflects a Zeitgeist fundamental to the West Indies. It in no way suggests, however, that Naipaul consciously imitated the thoughts of Camus or others, or that he deliberately set out to circumscribe West Indian feelings. Chapter One attempts to demonstrate that Naipaul's most crucial perceptions of life have been those of disorientation and futility. It then shows where awareness of an inharmonious existence has been especially prevalent in the twentieth century, and it goes on to examine in some detail the discovery of the Absurd Conjunction between the world and individual consciousness articulated by Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus. In addition it describes the alternatives which Camus and other Absurdist writers advance to counter-act the anguish of Absurd Discovery. The second chapter begins by revealing the relationship between the absurd as "ridiculous" and the Absurd as "anguish", demonstrating that while Naipaul's perception of the irreducibility of the world is more central to his later works, it begins already in his earlier ones. It then goes on to discuss various aspects of Absurd Discovery which appear in Naipaul’s fiction: discovery of the isolation of man; discovery of the hostility of the world to the desires of man; and discovery of the disparity between the possible and the actual. Chapter Three shows how Naipaul's characters respond to the challenge of meaninglessness with both negation and affirmation. Although his characters frequently submit to despondency, this is in most cases only an initial reaction. In a vein similar to that of Camus, Naipaul implies that the Absurd would best be confronted by rebellion, creativity, personal involvement or, barring all else, ironic assessment. The final chapter demonstrates that the world of Vidia Naipaul - the disorder to which he attests and the alternatives he offers - while exhibiting sentiments essential to the European Absurdists, also mirrors experiences general to the West Indies.. Rather than dissecting with dispassionate superiority a background from which he has had occasion to feel alienated, Naipaul has sensitively illuminated a geographical region which, both historically and sociologically, has come to encompass its own especial Sisyphean sphere.

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