The Enemy


V. S. Naipaul

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“The Enemy” is a coming-of-age story about a young Trinidadian boy (who’s the story’s narrator) and his relationship with his father and mother. His mother hates his father and considers the narrator his father’s child, and the narrator thinks of her as his enemy. His father is a driver on a sugar plantation who mistreats the laborers. One day, his father decides to move the family out of the barracks and into a nearby wooden house. His mother doesn’t want to move, fearing that living in the house will not be safe. Soon after they move in, a man shows up at the house and threatens to wait for the narrator’s father, presumably to attack him.

After this incident, the family lives in terror, keeping weapons nearby. They start to hear threatening voices whispering outside their house at night. After getting a dog that they keep outside, they wake up one morning to find him dead, cut to pieces on their front steps. The narrator’s mother, unable to keep living in this constant fear, tells her family that she is going to leave and tries to bring the narrator along with her. But his father has promised him a box of crayons if he stays with him, so the narrator decides to stay, causing a rift between him and his mother.

Soon, the narrator’s father becomes ill and spends most of his time in bed, and the narrator spends a great deal of time talking with him. His father teaches him about God, shows him tricks to demonstrate the force of gravity, and shows him how to mix two colors together to create a different color. One night, during a severe thunderstorm, his father becomes terrified because he believes the threatening voices will be able to do anything to them in the darkness and noise of the storm. His father dies that night from the fear.

The narrator, who’s embarrassed that his father died of fright, goes back to living with his mother, and they move to Port-of-Spain. Here, he sees other father-son relationships, most of which are abusive, and feels grateful that his own father is dead. The relationship between the narrator and his mother, meanwhile, becomes more antagonistic. His mother increasingly criticizes him and beats him. The narrator, in turn, becomes disobedient towards his mother, often engaging in fierce struggles of will with her over seemingly trivial matters. The narrator considers his mother “the enemy,” looking forward to escaping from her as soon as he grows up.

One day, a neighbor named Hat is tearing down his old latrine to replace with a new lavatory, and the narrator impulsively rushes out in front of a falling wall and is knocked unconscious. When he wakes up, his hand broken, he hears that his mother has been worried about him and sees the tears in her eyes. For the first time, he realizes that his mother truly loves him. He wishes that he were a Hindu god with two hundred arms, just so all of them could be broken and he could see his mother’s tears again.