The Enemy

by

V. S. Naipaul

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The Narrator’s Mother Character Analysis

“The Enemy” is fundamentally about the relationship between the narrator and his mother. According to the narrator, his mother has always hated his father, and she disapproves of her only son because she sees him as her husband’s child, not her own. The mother resists the family’s move to the wooden house because she knows how dangerous it will be, and although she shows some bravery in facing down a man who comes to threaten the family, she ultimately cannot put up with her husband’s apparent indifference towards her and her son’s safety. Once her husband becomes more abusive, screaming and throwing things at her, she decides to return to her mother’s house. She tries to convince her son to go with her, but he insists on staying with his father, causing a rift between the mother and son. When her son starts living with her again following her husband’s death, she starts out trying to rid him of his father’s influence over him, but she soon gives up on this, resorting to simply beating her son from time to time. She compares her own son unfavorably to other boys in the neighborhood and berates him for his incompetence, although she also occasionally shows him kindness. Her underlying love for her son comes to the surface at the end of the story, when she cries from worry over her son’s injury. Because the reader only ever experiences the mother from her son’s point of view, it is difficult to fully understand the mother’s feelings and motivations. However, it is clear that she feels wronged by her husband, who has acted abusively towards her, as well as hurt that her only child seems to prefer her husband to her. This may be the cause of her subsequent erratic behavior toward her son, vacillating between strictness, abuse, indifference, kindness, and love. Her son, too young to really understand his mother’s feelings, sees her, until the very end of the story, as simply his “enemy,” without ever suspecting that it may be himself, rather than his mother, who is truly “misunderstand[ing]” the other person.

The Narrator’s Mother Quotes in The Enemy

The The Enemy quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator’s Mother or refer to The Narrator’s Mother . 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:

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:
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The Enemy PDF

The Narrator’s Mother Character Timeline in The Enemy

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator’s Mother 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. His mother always hated... (full context)
Fear Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
...sugar plantation, but then his father insists on moving to a nearby wooden house. His mother is afraid and tells him to live in the house by himself, but the narrator’s... (full context)
Fear Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
...“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 responds... (full context)
Fear Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
...that she felt like something was wrong and had to come and see. The narrator’s mother, despite having put up a brave front throughout the scene, now starts to cry. The... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
...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 his... (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 narrator... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
Shame and Dishonor Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
...explains that his father died of fright. Everyone they know insists that he and his mother must leave the countryside, and that the safest place for them to go is Port-of-Spain.... (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 she... (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 boys... (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. He’s sometimes overcome by an urge to not... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Shame and Dishonor Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
...from his teacher, who tells him he is a “genius.” When the narrator tells his mother the grade he received, she doesn’t believe him at first and rebukes him for lying.... (full context)
Familial Love and Conflict Theme Icon
Shame and Dishonor Theme Icon
Colonialism, Power, and Revolt Theme Icon
...which the narrator would rather “drown” than “dishonour [himself] by obeying.” In the end, his mother asks for the narrator’s belt and whips him with it. Even so, the narrator still... (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 to adulthood when he will be... (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 very... (full context)