‘B. Wordsworth’ by V. S. Naipaul: Short Story Analysis
The ‘B’ in the name ‘B. Wordsworth’ stands for ‘Black’. V. S. Naipaul in this short story from the book ‘Miguel Street’ narrates a tale with a lot of sexual overtones about a poet who had the same name as the European William Wordsworth or, in the story’s case, ‘White Wordsworth’ but called himself the ‘Black Wordsworth’. Both are lovers of nature, have depth in character, have seen tragedy, write poems and most importantly, were symbols of what it meant to love art. However, because of circumstances, birth in a poor land, lack of opportunities, etc., B. Wordsworth as he calls himself dies in anonymity while the privileged ‘White Wordsworth’ goes on to become one of the greatest poets in English Literature. Their lives are parallel in many ways but V. S. Naipaul the Nobel Prize winner and one of my favorite authors wrote this story to define what it meant to live in his town of Trinidad, and how in such a town due to hardship, poverty and lack of opportunity – art or in this case ‘poets’ are not appreciated.
The story is narrated by a young schoolboy who gets tremendously attracted to B. Wordsworth when the poet comes to his home one day to ‘watch the bees’. Note in the short story that Black Wordsworth watches the insects that are not that appealing to the eye compared to ‘White Wordsworth’. B. Wordsworth watches the grosser insects like centipedes, scorpions, congorees and even the mighty ants. The narrator is fascinated by B. Wordsworth and befriends him instantly. The story goes on to chronicle the narrators life in the company of B. Wordsworth. As mentioned before, there are many parallels and sometimes ironies where the lives of White Wordsworth and Black Wordsworth are concerned. Both are dubbed as ‘the greatest poets in the world’ but one is destined to be remembered forever, while the other doesn’t even manage to sell one poem in his lifetime. The story is defiantly the truth about life in post-colonial area and how one seeks to create an identity in a poor society where mostly people are only concerned where their next meal is going to come from. The people other than B. Wordsworth speak broken English with a crude Trinidadian accent. It is impossible for an artist to create a name for himself in such a situation. Neither is their behavior deemed acceptable, like B. Wordsworth wanting to enter the narrator’s lawn to watch the bees in the gru-gru trees nor is their work wanted or appreciated, like when B. Wordsworth tried to sell his poem about ‘mothers’ to the narrator. The epic poem B. Wordsworth mentions in this short story is symbolized as his life, especially the last 25 years of his life which he spent alone without the woman he loved. B. Wordsworth like White Wordsworth is a sentimentalist, kind, compassionate and has a different approach to the world and all its problems. I really marvel at that part in the story when B. Wordsworth consoles the whipped narrator by showing him the stars to indicate that line of Hamlet’s in Shakespeare: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ Mark also the line asked by the watchman wanting to know what B. Wordsworth and the narrator were doing in the savanna race course and the quirky B. Wordsworth answering that that is what he has been asking himself for 40 years of his life, indicating a unique philosophical way of on the spot philosophical talk. Note that both ‘White Wordsworth’ as well as ‘Black Wordsworth’ are seemed to be fond of this kind of surreal thinking. At the end of the story, B. Wordsworth doesn’t want the narrator to pine over him. B. Wordsworth is dying due to an illness and he doesn’t want the narrator to get attached to his memory. He therefore lies to the narrator that certain truths he had told him were lies, and it was effectual enough to drive the narrator away from his friend’s life forever. It was only a year later when he passes by that way he sees that B. Wordsworth’s home has been torn down and everything he held dear from certain trees, his dead wife’s garden to the house itself were obliterated from the face of the Earth – ‘as if B. Wordsworth had never existed’. This is the irony that hits us in the gut when we remember how much literature and even non-literary lovers flock to the many places dear and preserved of the ‘White Wordsworth’. Thus, V. S. Naipaul manages, through his cunning use of psychology in literature, not only to make the narrator not pine much for B. Wordsworth, but also us, the readers. We come to the end of the story with mixed feelings towards the legacy of B. Wordsworth, a man who lived life with sincerity, who loved people genuinely, but who died anonymously bringing us again to that time in the story when they saw the stars on the racecourse and marveled at their insignificant mortality. Take away points from this short story are as follows:
- The descriptions of fruits and fruit bearing trees are quite unusually sensual in character, especially when B. Wordsworth asks the narrator to come home to eat ‘his mangoes’ and the description of how the narrator relished them.
- The street where B. Wordsworth lived was the poorest street in Trinidad.
- The story of the loss of B. Wordsworth’s wife and child at the same time. Through the sombreness of B. Wordsworth’s face, the narrator realized that the poet was talking about his own family.
- Wordsworth never again touched his wife’s garden after she died. It grew wildly indicative of chaos in emotions expressed and pushed to the subconscious level.
- The way he talks of himself in the third person or story form, indicative of an artist’s pride in a small way.
‘B. Wordsworth’ is a short story I always love to visit again and again to read, savor, and remember. I have taught this short story to my students for the past 10 years that it seems to be etched on my skin. If you are interested in more book reviews, short story analysis and author interviews you can visit my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in buying my books you can visit my website fizapathanpublishing.us and fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you!
Copyright ©2020 Fiza Pathan
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