The Enemy by V.S. Naipaul

In The Enemy by V.S. Naipaul we have the theme of fear, love, jealousy, faith, power, conflict and change. Narrated in the first person by a young unnamed boy the reader realises after reading the story that Naipaul may be exploring the theme of fear. Not only does the narrator live in fear of his mother but the narrator’s father also died of fright. It is also noticeable that the narrator’s mother is afraid of the house in Cunupia though it is difficult to say as to why. Possibly due to the voices at night time that can be heard when it is dark. Though not all the voices are given content by Naipaul it is possible that a lot of the voices that the narrator’s mother hears are coming from those on the sugar plantation who want to revolt due to the circumstances that they find themselves in. It is also possible that Naipaul is using the voices from the plantation as foreshadowing to later in the story when the narrator revolts against any kindness that his mother may show him. Though the narrator wishes to remain strong and rebuke his mother it is also possible that the kindness that the narrator’s mother is showing him is alien to the narrator. He is simply not used to it and as such rebels against it. It is also possible that the narrator’s mother is jealous of the narrator’s relationship with his father. So attached is the narrator to his father.

Religion also plays a part in the story through the lessons that the narrator’s father teaches him. This may be important as the narrator’s father may be trying to instil some sense of faith into his son. It is also noticeable that the narrator’s father tells the narrator that in times of trouble he should call out Rama! Rama! Sita Rama! This too would play on the theme of faith. There is also no doubt that the narrator’s relationship with his father is more loving than the narrator’s relationship with his mother. They are both very close to each other. Though some critics might suggest that the narrator has been bribed by crayons to stay with his father. There is a sense that their love is deeper. It is also possible that the narrator’s mother does not like the power that the narrator’s father has over the narrator. Again she may be jealous of the father, son relationship.

The narrator also appears to be in constant conflict with his mother. There is nothing that he can do right for her. However what is interesting is that neither character for the majority of the story leaves themselves open to affection. The narrator’s mother for the main part of the story begrudges the narrator and the narrator himself when his mother does try to be affectionate gets angry with his mother. Which may be a normal state of affairs for the narrator as he appears to be receiving mixed messages from his mother. She blows both hot and cold though for most of the story she is aggressive and unloving. There may also be some symbolism in the story which may be important. The crayons the narrator has when he is with his father may symbolise his innocence. Similarly the final wall that falls on the narrator at Hat’s home in many ways mirrors the barrier that had existed between the narrator and his mother. Just as the wall falls down so too does the wall that the narrator’s mother has built which has caused her to not show the narrator any affection or love.

The end of the story is also interesting as there is a reconciliation between the narrator and his mother. The narrator sees his mother crying and realises that she really loves him despite how she may have treated him. It is for this reason that the narrator wishes that he had a hundred hands to break so that he could keep seeing his mother cry with love for him. It is also noticeable that it has caused a serious accident for the narrator’s mother to come to the realisation that she really loves the narrator. Though some critics might suggest that the narrator’s mother always loved the narrator it was just a matter of her not showing it. Either way it is clear to the reader that the narrator’s relationship with his mother has changed and changed positively. For the first time in the story the reader senses that things will improve between both the narrator and his mother. No longer will she scold him without just cause rather she may be as protective of him as the narrator’s father had been. At the end of the story the narrator has found the love that he had with his father. Even if he had forgotten about his father soon after he had died. If anything life looks like it will improve for the narrator. The hardship he faced with his mother is no longer. Mother and son are reconciled though it took a serious incident for the mother to realise just what she had. A young son who needed to be loved.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Enemy by V.S. Naipaul." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 12 Sep. 2017. Web.


  • nice harmonious blend!

  • Thanks a lot! This really helped me for my Lit assessment tomorrow.

  • Thanks a lot this has helped me in understanding the story better.

  • Could one of the themes be the struggles of life in developing countries?

    Belonging to such a country myself, I could relate to the lives of the boy and his family.
    Education is elusive, poverty and frustration abound. The lack of reliable systems, (eg law and order) makes for a nasty power struggle where might is right. The weak find it hard to obtain justice. The government does not do much to help the weak, old or needy people – in fact the government is usually corrupt.

    People who are downtrodden are fearful.

    Day to day life is harsh and frustrating – and parents who are struggling hard in a hopeless and unfair environment – feel the responsibility of children is even more difficult. Physically abusing children is the norm sadly.

    Religion, though always special becomes even more so – God can help you if all else fails…

    What do you think?

    • I agree with you. But people in developing countries have struggled in these environments and gained good education and are now asset of developed countries.

  • Please can anyone send me the full story so I can read, The Enemy by V.S. Naipaul and The Contest by Annie Proulx?

  • a great post and a great help for understanding the story better.

  • Dear Sender Please Point Out and suggest important short question of the Enemy

  • This just helped me

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