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Universität Augsburg 28.06.2005

Phil.-Hist. Fakultät Referenten: Ralph Aubele, Martin Bißle,

Lehrstuhl für Amerikanistik Wolfgang Kirchmann

Hauptseminar „Recent American Fiction“

Dozent: Prof. Dr. Hubert Zapf

V.S. Naipaul – The Baker’s story

  1. Biography

    • Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born on

August 17th, 1932 in Chaguanas (Trinidad)

    • Family descended from immigrants from the north of India

    • Attended Queens Royal College, the island’s

leading secondary school

    • At the age of 18 Naipaul travelled to England where,

after studying at University College at Oxford,

he was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1953

    • From then continued to live in England

    • Married Patricia Hale in 1955

    • 1954 – 1956: editor of the BBC

“Caribbean Voices” programme

- Between the years 1957 and 1961 he was a regular

fiction reviewer for the New Statesman

    • Spent a great deal of time travelling to Asia, Africa and America

    • Has been awarded a number of literary prizes: the Booker Prize in 1971, the T.S. Eliot Award for Creative Writing in 1986

    • He is an honorary doctor of St. Andrew's College and Columbia University and of the Universities of Cambridge, London and Oxford

    • Knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1990
    • Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001

Naipaul's works consist mainly of novels and short stories, but also include some that are documentary. He is to a very high degree a cosmopolitan writer, a fact that he himself considers to stem from his lack of roots: he is unhappy about the cultural and spiritual poverty of Trinidad, he feels alienated from India, and in England he is incapable of relating to and identifying with the traditional values of what was once a colonial power.

  1. Summary

    • Grenadian baker tells his story, how he became a rich man by doing a job, blacks normally do not do on Trinidad

    • After the woman of a Chinese baker got pregnant, he starts helping to deliver bread

    • Later on he even starts baking bread himself to earn some extra money

    • When the woman dies, he loses his job and decides to open his own bakery because of a divine advice

    • Although he does a good job, no one wants to buy his bread but he keeps on baking

    • A friend of his, Percy, makes him aware of the fact, that this is just because of his colour and the role it is meant to play

    • Finally he employs a Chinese man, Macnab, to sell his bread in order to succeed

  1. Characters


    • born in Grenada, “Black as the Ace of Spades”

    • grew up among 9 children

    • doesn’t know his father

    • his mother brought him to Trinidad when he was very young and he was raised by someone else

    • very religious

    • now married to a Chinese woman who is helping him with his business
    • one of the richest men in Port-of-Spain, owns several bakeries


    • not married

    • has 10 children

    • has got a job with some white people in St Ann’s

Chinese Family:

    • are owning a bakery

    • work very much

    • Chinese man doesn’t talk very much and loves gambling

    • Chinese woman dies and soon after her man looses the bakery to another Chinese man because of him gambling

    • after loosing the bakery the Chinese man leaves with his children

Indian feller:

    • lives in Port-of-Spain

    • is being worried about the money he lent to the narrator


    • went to Laventille elementary school with the narrator

    • introduces the idea of different people having to do different jobs

    • succesfull


    • half black, half Chinese

    • follows the narrator to Arouca because he wants to earn money he needs for a Carnival-Band costume

    • is the first Chinese seller employed by the narrator

4. Textual Analysis
4.1. Narrator

  • first-person narrator: A black Grenadian narrates his own tale.

 story is restricted to the perspective of the narrator – however the narrator’s attitude is constructed by the social totality

4.2. Plot

  • straight forward narration; reduced to the chronological outline  traditional plot:


creating expectations; foreshadowing (rise to wealth, hints on racism)


He decides to go into business for himself. He quickly discovers that he cannot make a profit and cannot understand why; unable to pay off interest.

Turning point:

becomes aware of the invisible but strict social code: various occupations in Trinidad are monopolized by different ethnic groups.

“…though Trinidad have every race and every colour, every race have to do special things” (144)

striking observation about island capitalism and racism

As I say, I only going in the shops from the back. But every Monday morning I walking brave brave to Marine Square and going in the bank from the front.” (146)
4.3. Language

  • colloquial, dialect

 Oral tradition of storytelling

 Fact and fiction are drawn in close proximity

  • humorous elements/ irony: “social comedy”

 Is the narrator fully aware of the whole significance of the story he is telling?
4.4. Symbolism

  • crosses:

 Religion as a way to escape the confusion and meaninglessness of life

“… without that I would have been nowhere at all” (140)

 The tendency of people to submit themselves to roles invented for them by others

  • khaki short pants/ merino:

 Individuals are reduced to their outward appearance

  1. Postcolonialism

  • Divided in “Post” and “Colonialism”  ”after colonialism”

  • Very restrictive and controversial: suggests an ended period, implies political independence

  • Does not imply the material and psychological effects of colonialism

  • Neocolonialism: administrative structures, economic and cultural dependence are still omnipresent  but former colonial powers are no longer responsible

Postcolonial literature deals with the colonial and the original heritage and interacts between these two: nature, slavery, diversity, race, society, culture, language, independence, identity, confusion.

  • Postcolonial literature does not inevitably condemn the colonial past

  1. Themes

6.1. Typical Naipaul themes

  • Doubling: the process of setting up a pair of opposites to point out cultural mixtures between colonized and colonial powers

  • Foils: mark some differences of mentioned objects by describing it intensively, to stand them out from normality

  • Comedy: Naipaul calls his first stories “social comedies”, warns against taking them too serious and absolute  but misconceptions are common with first world critics whereas third world critics criticize his oversimplistic descriptions. The ending changes during his career towards a more pessimistic one.

  • Fiction and non fiction: often real or at least credible characters but fictional or unnamed places, which are just described:

“When […] I began to travel as a writer, I was uneasy and uncertain. My instinct was towards fiction; I found it constricting to have to deal with fact.” (Naipaul. Finding the centre. P.10-11)

6.2. Themes in “The Baker’s story”
- religion: Christianity as consequence of colonialism; divine advices, crucifix  guide
- language: oral tradition  identity; the voice as a weapon against the oppressor
- postcolonialism: social structures, isolation, confusion, diversity
- mimicry and assimilation to circumvent established determination model

Boxill, Anthony. V.S. Naipaul’s fiction in quest of the enemy. Fredericton: York Press, 1983.
Cudjoe, Selwyn R. V.S. Naipaul – A Materialist Reading. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.
Fischer-Tröstler, Ingrid. Colliding worlds – Probleme der Entwicklungsländer in ausgewählten Werken von V.S. Naipaul. Giessen: Universitätsverlag, 1992.
Naipaul, V.S. A flag on the island. New York: Macmillan, 1967.
Naipaul, V.S. Finding the centre. London: Deutsch, 1984.
Thieme, John. The Web of Tradition: Uses of Allusion in V. S. Naipaul’s Fiction. London: Hansib Publ., 1987.
Thorpe, John. V.S. Naipaul. Harlow: Longman, 1976.

White, Landeg. V. S. Naipaul: A Critical Introduction. London: Macmillan, 1975.

http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/2001/index.html (26.06.05)

http://www.postcolonialweb.org/caribbean/caribov.html (26.06.05)

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