Political Analysis of Naipaul’s “A Bend in the River”

V. S. Naipaul established his novel A Bend in the River in an unnamed African country that has just achieved its independence from the then European thrall. 

Naipaul shows that independence has removed the hope of eliminating ignorance. The people are no more genuine, they have become greedy and selfish, and their cultural identities are at stake because they adapted to European cultural practices. 

The indigenous culture has blended with a foreign culture. The country has become chaotic because of political unrest. Two different political groups are head-on, and as a result, a conflict took place. 

Naipaul, throughout his novel, explores the ill political condition and social disorder of a previously colonized country. This country is no more under colonial rule now; however, still influenced by the European power.

Naipaul Points out The Big Man, The New Dictator of The Freed African Country

Though the ending of colonial rules naturally brings hopes and ambitions for the newly independent countries, we notice that an autocratic ruler governs this African state. He is known as the “Big Man,” who is even worse than the colonizers and happens to be the president of this newly freed country.

This new ruler of the state pretends to bring peace and social justice. He takes action to nationalize the property of foreigners. Salim, the protagonist and the narrator, is also a victim of such political decisions. This attitude of Big Man inflicts political and social disorder. 

Naipaul Holds Indigenous Responsible for Their Miserable Conditions after Independence

From the beginning of the novel, it is evident that the country has its troubles after independence, something familiar for all post-independence African countries. 

The African country penned by Naipaul is a chaotic and ambiguous world. He also blames the individuals of the country for their miserable conditions. Their lack of awareness of their political right is the primary reason for leading them to a terrible life, even after independence. 

The beginning of the novel suggests such an impression of Naipaul. He says, 

“The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.” 

Here, Naipaul expresses his concern that the people of that free African state are not proactively improving their situation. He goes on to share his verdict that those people cannot exist on that land since they have raised their hands from everything, leaving problems to their perpetual condition.

The Big Man Upholds European Agenda Rather Than Indigenous Welfare

Though Europeans have officially left the country, their intervention exists in every aspect of the lives of these indigenous people. European values and ideas prevail everywhere.

The Big Man, the dictator, is the highest political leader of the country who imitates practicing power as he sees in the West. This way of ruling is not suitable for the Africans. By mimicking Europe and bringing it to Africa, the Big Man decides to build a new domain

The new domain aims to educate the African youth, but the problem is that he decides to run this institution by some European teachers. This is a hypocritical decision. The domain includes different modern luxurious buildings following a European model with Western values. 

The domain, however, is a trick. Moreover, the president, The Big Man, maintains his power by employing European airplanes and posting gigantic photographs of himself, printed in Europe. 

He does not care about the people of his country; and instead, he is concerned about his position and prosperity. He employs European experts in order to rebuild the destroyed town. Furthermore, he brings and uses European mercenaries intending to suppress the rebellion. 

Thus the country has returned to the enslavement under European power, and it seems impossible for the African country and the Big Man to survive without European intervention. 

Naipaul Accuses The President of Being A Dependent Ruler on The Europeans

Even the president’s maxims are not original. As described by Salim, the narrator, his radio speech conveys all the contradictions and hypocrisy of his evil principles. His speeches include some common ideas like sacrifice and the bright future, the dignity of the woman of Africa, the need to strengthen the revolution, etc. He is not able to introduce any new ideas that can help in the development and establishment of a newborn independent country.

Although the Big Man claims to run an independent state, he is dependent on European advisers and experts. When the Big Man nationalizes foreigners’ businesses, he delivers them to his supporters instead of the country’s people. 

Theotime, to whom Salim’s store is delivered, says that it is both pathetic and particularly significant: This is very pathetic because the relationship between Citizen Theotime and his manager, the old owner of the store, is a metaphor for the relationship between Africa and Europe. Therefore, Africa will always be dependent on Europe, mentioned or secret.

Naipaul Considers The Rebellion Against The Big Man A Worse State Than Colonial Rules

Of course, the political equation that runs the state’s foreign policy is visible in the state’s internal affairs. All the people should be dependent on the Big Man and remember that he is always present. His prevalent photographs everywhere make sure of that particularly. 

The unspoken solution that one may tend to think about is a new revolution against the Big Man. A revolution should be compromised by preserving certain social, cultural traditions and by adopting certain modern principles.

Another unrest political situation occurred when a Liberation Army opposed the Big Man. The Liberation Army tends to establish a liberal country. However, in order to achieve this liberation, its members also resort to killing. Again, like in the revolution against the colonialists, there will be destruction and bloodshed. This revolution will destroy the old regime and bring a worse one.

Therefore, the country of ‘A Bend’ meets a conflict between two kinds of politicians: The Big Man and the Liberation Army members. Nonetheless, the misery of fate is that both are worse than the colonial rulers. 

A Contrast between Colonial And Post-Independence Eras

According to the novel’s narrator, there was miraculous peace during the colonial era when men could pay little attention to tribal boundaries if they wished. Now, under the Big Man, the country is unfit for self-rule. This is a solid racist condemnation of native politics, with an implicit endorsement of the colonial ideology that justified the occupation and exploitation of other lands and people. 

One concludes by regarding and reinterpreting the novel’s epigraph about the whole story that most social and economic problems would disappear if the natives wanted to solve them. 

However, they do not want to change, and so they allow themselves to become nothing. If there is anyone to blame, it is the Africans themselves; they are responsible for their poverty and ignorance and do not have the will to change them.

The political situation that Naipaul shows in his novel is prevalent in every newly independent country. Naipaul did not mention any name of the country that gives his novel a universal appeal. 


Through this novel, Naipaul has shown the situation of the whole colonized world, where political unrest prevails. A person like Big Man takes the opportunity to suppress people in enjoying their human rights. 

The Big Man is a product of colonial rule. He is an agent of the Europeans. Though Europeans have left the country, they have the scope to dominate the country politically and socially. 

Naipaul believes that the indigenous people themselves are responsible for this ill political condition and social disorder since they are unaware of their rights. Besides, they cannot select a perfect political leader who could rule the country by fulfilling their demands. 

Their ignorance is the curse that makes them bound to live in hell with no hope and ambition.

Author: Niaj A A Khan, MA in English Literature and Cultural Studies, ULAB

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