The Enemy

by

V. S. Naipaul

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Enemy can help.
The narrator is an unnamed young Indo-Trinidadian boy who struggles to assert himself in his relationship with his mother. The narrator is initially closer to his father than his mother, and when his parents split up, he chooses to stay with his father, causing a rift between him and his mother. In fact, he sees his mother as the story’s titular “enemy.” The narrator emotionally connects with this father while they live together, but when his father dies and he moves back with his mother, he starts to think of himself as a “boy who had no father.” He even becomes “grateful” for his father’s death because it has, as he sees it, saved him from a potentially dominating relationship. However, the narrator has a troubled relationship with his mother, who beats and insults him, although the narrator also acknowledges that she shows him occasional “glimpses of kindness.” At school, the narrator shows some talent for writing, as when he receives a high grade on an essay about his experience of nearly drowning. Meanwhile, he yearns to grow up and escape from his mother and often acts out against her authority. However, at the end of the story, the narrator finally recognizes his mother’s love for him when he sees how worried she is after he injures himself. “The Enemy” is a kind of coming-of-age story for the narrator as he struggles to form his own identity in opposition to both his father and his mother. Yet he plays a largely passive role in the story, seemingly caught between the stronger wills of his two parents. Toward the end of the story, however, the narrator starts to take on a more active role, first through his attempts to assert his will against his mother’s, and then in his final epiphany of his mother’s love for him.

The Narrator Quotes in The Enemy

The The Enemy quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator or refer to The Narrator . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
).
The Enemy Quotes

I had always considered this woman, my mother, as the enemy. She was sure to misunderstand anything I did, and the time came when I thought she not only misunderstood me, but quite definitely disapproved of me. I was an only child, but for her I was one too many.

Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:

She hated my father, and even after he died she continued to hate him.

She would say, “Go ahead and do what you doing. You is your father child, you hear, not mine.”

Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:

The real split between my mother and me happened not in Miguel Street, but in the country.

My mother had decided to leave. my father, and she wanted to take me to her mother.

I refused to go.

My father was ill, and in bed. Besides, he had promised that if I stayed with him I was to have a whole box of crayons.

I chose the crayons and my father.

Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:

We were living at the time in Cunupia, where my father was a driver on the sugar estates. He wasn’t a slave-driver, but a driver of free people, but my father used to behave as though the people were slaves. He rode about the estates on a big clumsy brown horse, cracking his whip at the labourers and people said—I really don't believe this—that he used to kick the labourers.

I don’t believe it because my father had lived all his life in Cunupia and he knew that you really couldn't push the Cunupia people around. They are not tough people, but they think nothing of killing, and they are prepared to wait years for the chance to kill someone they don’t like.

Related Characters: The Narrator , The Narrator’s Father
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:

Everybody agreed on one thing. My mother and I had to leave the country. Port-of-Spain was the safest place. There was too a lot of laughter against my father, and it appeared that for the rest of my life I would have to bear the cross of a father who died from fright. But in a month or so I had forgotten my father, and I had begun to look upon myself as the boy who had no father. It seemed natural.

In fact, when we moved to Port-of-Spain and I saw what the normal relationship between father and son was—it was nothing more than the relationship between the beater and the beaten—when I saw this I was grateful.

Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

My mother made a great thing at first about keeping me in my place and knocking out all the nonsense my father had taught me. I don’t know why she didn’t try harder, but the fact is that she soon lost interest in me, and she let me run about the street, only rushing down to beat me from time to time.

Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

But you mustn’t get the impression that I was a saint all the time. I wasn’t. I used to have odd fits where I just couldn’t take an order from anybody, particularly my mother. I used to feel that I would dishonour myself for life if I took anybody’s orders. And life is a funny thing, really. I sometimes got these fits just when my mother was anxious to be nice to me.

Page Number: 211-212
Explanation and Analysis:

Slowly the friendliness died away. It had become a struggle between two wills. I was prepared to drown rather than dishonour myself by obeying.

Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

At times like these I used to cry, without meaning it, “If my father was alive you wouldn’t be behaving like this.”

Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

So she remained the enemy. She was someone from whom I was going to escape as soon as I grew big enough. That was, in fact, the main lure of adulthood.

Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

My mother came and I could see her eyes glassy and wet with tears.

Somebody, I cannot remember who, said, “Boy, you had your mother really worried.”

I looked at her tears, and I felt I was going to cry too. I had discovered that she could be worried and anxious for me.

I wished I were a Hindu god at that moment, with two hundred arms, so that all two hundred could be broken, just to enjoy that moment, and to see again my mother’s tears.

Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Enemy LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Enemy PDF

The Narrator Character Timeline in The Enemy

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator appears in The Enemy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Enemy
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
The narrator always considered his mother his enemy. He believes that she misunderstands and disapproves of him.... (full context)
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
The narrator’s father is a driver on a sugar plantation in Cunupia, on Trinidad. He is violent,... (full context)
Fear Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
The narrator’s family starts out living in the barracks of the sugar plantation, but then his father... (full context)
Fear Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
...the “trouble really start[s].” One day, a man comes to the house and asks the narrator’s mother when her husband is coming home. When she tells him she doesn’t know, he... (full context)
Fear Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
Soon, the narrator’s aunt comes over and asks what is wrong, explaining that she felt like something was... (full context)
Fear Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
At night, the narrator and his parents start to hear voices outside. The voices say things such as how... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
...they find that he has been killed and cut into pieces on their steps. The narrator’s mother starts to beg his father to let them move out of the house. But... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
After the narrator’s mother leaves, his father falls ill and spends much of his time in bed. The... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
The narrator tries to make up tricks to show his father. But when he finally finds a... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
The narrator tries to assure his father that they will be safe, that they have the gun... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Shame and Dishonor Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
The narrator explains that his father died of fright. Everyone they know insists that he and his... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Shame and Dishonor Theme Icon
At first, the narrator’s mother tries to “knock out all the nonsense” that the narrator’s father taught him, but... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
The narrator’s mother treats him as if he is a “freak,” comparing him to all the other... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Shame and Dishonor Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
The narrator admits that in his relationship with his mother, he isn’t a “saint” all the time.... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Shame and Dishonor Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
To illustrate this point, the narrator recounts the story of when a man named Hat rescued him from nearly drowning at... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Shame and Dishonor Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
...in the hammock or not turns into a “struggle between two wills,” in which the narrator would rather “drown” than “dishonour [himself] by obeying.” In the end, his mother asks for... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
The narrator continues to think of his mother as his enemy as he grows older, looking forward... (full context)
Fear Theme Icon
Shame and Dishonor Theme Icon
...lavatory built is Hat, and many people gather to help demolish his old latrine. The narrator is too small to help demolish it, but he goes to watch. The men try... (full context)
Shame and Dishonor Theme Icon
When the narrator goes unconscious after being hit by the falling wall, he has a dream of traveling... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Just then, the narrator’s mother arrives, her eyes wet with tears. Someone tells him that his mother had been... (full context)