The Enemy


V. S. Naipaul

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The Enemy Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on V. S. Naipaul's The Enemy. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of V. S. Naipaul

Vidiadhar Surajprasad (V. S.) Naipaul was born in the rural town of Chaguanas in Trinidad in 1932. He was descended from Hindus who had migrated from India to Trinidad under the British colonial system of indentured labor. His father, Seepersad Naipaul, was a journalist from humble origins who married into a far wealthier family (providing the inspiration for Naipaul’s novel A House for Mr. Biswas). At the age of 16, Naipaul was awarded a scholarship that allowed him to travel to England to study English literature at the University of Oxford. During his studies at Oxford, he started to write for the BBC’s program Caribbean Voices. In 1955, he married an Englishwoman, Patricia Ann Hale. This marriage lasted until 1994, although it was deeply troubled because of Naipaul’s abuse and infidelity. Naipaul’s first novels, The Mystic Masseur (1957) and The Suffrage of Elvira (1958), as well as his short story collection Miguel Street (1959), are focused on life in colonial Trinidad. His first major critically acclaimed work was A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), which focused on the main character’s struggle for personal identity and independence, symbolized by his desire to own his own house. The short story collection In a Free State (1971), which won the prestigious Booker Prize, is set across multiple countries; Guerillas (1975) focuses on a failed uprising on a Caribbean island; and A Bend in the River (1979) is a pessimistic depiction of a newly-independent African nation. Naipaul also wrote several other short story collections and novels, as well as many nonfiction books, especially travel books. In 1995, Naipaul’s wife Patricia died of cancer, and Naipaul soon broke off his affair with the Anglo-Argentine woman Margaret Murray Gooding, with whom he had been involved since 1972. He then married Nadira Khannum Alvi, a Pakistani journalist; their marriage lasted until his death in 2018.
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Historical Context of The Enemy

“The Enemy” takes place in Trinidad (now Trinidad and Tobago), which has a long history of European colonization, starting with Christopher Columbus’s arrival on the island in 1498. During the 16th century, the Spanish colonized Trinidad, and a large portion of its indigenous population was enslaved and sent to work in other Spanish colonies. After the Spanish crown began to encourage European settlement in 1783, Trinidad started to become a major site of the Caribbean plantation economy. This resulted in the establishment of cotton and sugar plantations, an influx of enslaved laborers, and an increase in trade. In 1797, the British seized Trinidad from Spain, and it became an official colony of the British Empire in 1802. Trinidad became an economically significant sugar colony, fueled by slave labor. From 1834–1838, however, slavery was abolished entirely in the British Empire, and the owners of plantations turned to indentured workers from South Asia for cheap, easily exploitable labor. The colonial system of indentured labor would last until 1917. This history accounts for the large minority of Indo-Trinidadians (like the narrator and his family in “The Enemy”) in Trinidad and Tobago. Naipaul’s early fiction, like “The Enemy,” is largely concerned with the lives of Indo-Trinidadians—that is, the descendants of South Asian indentured workers—and sometimes also focus on racial tensions between the two major ethnic groups in Trinidad. Naipaul’s later fiction is largely concerned with the fates of newly independent post-colonial states. In these novels and stories, Naipaul is ambivalent decolonization; while he doesn’t praise colonialism outright, he offers a deeply pessimistic view of independence.

Other Books Related to The Enemy

“The Enemy” was first published as part of Naipaul’s 1967 short story collection A Flag on the Island. Many of the short stories in this collection, like “The Enemy,” are set in Trinidad, although some are also set in London or in unnamed Caribbean countries. “The Enemy” was not originally intended to be read alongside the other stories of A Flag on the Island, but rather as part of the earlier short story cycle Miguel Street, which was published in 1959. The stories in this collection are closely interlinked, each of them focusing on a different character living on the fictional Miguel Street in Port-of-Spain (Trinidad’s capital city). All of the stories in Miguel Street. The stories of Miguel Street, including “The Enemy” are semi-autobiographical, drawing on Naipaul’s own childhood experiences in Trinidad. For this reason, they share many similarities with Naipaul’s other semi-autobiographical works, such as A House for Mr. Biswas. For example, the episode in which the narrator of “The Enemy” nearly drowns is based on in a drowning that Naipaul witnessed when he was 12 years old. Other Caribbean writers of Naipaul’s generation, such as Derek Walcott (most famous for his epic poem Omeros) and Samuel Selvon (whose most famous novel was The Lonely Londoners) wrote about similar themes as Naipaul, albeit in quite different ways. Samuel Selvon in particular shared many similarities with Naipaul, as he was born to Indian parents in Trinidad, lived in Port-of-Spain, and then lived in London from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Key Facts about The Enemy
  • Full Title: The Enemy
  • When Written: 1955
  • Where Written: London, England
  • When Published: 1967
  • Literary Period: Postcolonialism
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Setting: A plantation and nearby house in Cunupia, Trinidad; then, Port-of-Spain (the capital of Trinidad)
  • Climax: After an impulsive decision, the narrator is knocked unconscious and breaks his hand. When he wakes up, he learns that his mother has been worried about him and realizes that she truly loves him.
  • Antagonist: The Narrator’s Mother
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for The Enemy

An Unknown Writer. Miguel Street, which included “The Enemy,” was the first manuscript that Naipaul tried to publish. However, the publisher was concerned that a short story collection by an unknown Trinidadian writer wouldn’t sell well, and they encouraged Naipaul to write and publish a novel first. So, he wrote and published two novels, The Mystic Masseur and The Suffrage of Elvira, before publishing Miguel Street in 1959.