The novel “Miguel Street” by V.S Naipaul is actually a collection of short stories interwoven by the same conflict that the society of Miguel Street faces. It is written into different chapters, each sketching a different protagonist of its own, ending with failure. However the narrator throughout the novel is one, a small unnamed boy who becomes mature along with his age as the novel progresses. Apart from that the continuous presence of almost all the characters throughout the novel keeps the book intact. The fascinating thing about the Miguel Street is that everyday an eventful event takes place. After I finished reading all the chapters of the book, I noticed a common conflict that the Miguel Street faces, which is that almost every member of the society of Miguel Street attempts to escape reality and almost all of them as a result end up with nothing but failure. Except for Elias and the narrator boy, no one has any ambitions, which makes the Miguel Street a ‘slum’.
Immediately in the beginning of the novel we are introduced to Bogart, who is found to be a victim of bigamy, by legally marrying one girl and then marrying another, thereafter, instead of facing the burdens of taking care of a family, he runs away. So in a way, he runs away from reality and comes to Miguel Street. Popo, another inhabitant of Miguel Street is another interesting character to look at. I would say, he is more or less a victim of laziness. He calls himself a carpenter, even though he hasn’t done that many works of a carpenter.
What he has ever built was a little galvanized-iron workshop and even that incomplete. Thereafter, he was always busy building “a thing without a name”. But one day his wife runs away and to bring her back, instead of using his own talent and energy, he steals furniture. However, his wife does come back but he himself ends up with failure by getting jailed for three years. When he comes back he does not continue to build “the thing without a name”. Instead, he then becomes a real carpenter by making chairs, tables, and wardrobes. So this shows that all this time he was running away from reality, because he had the talent to make furniture but opted to steal.
Another character that you can compare with Popo is B. Wordsworth, who just like Popo’s “thing without a name”, but in the form of desire to write a poem that would ‘sing to all humanity’. I think he is not really a poet; he is just too obsessed to be one, due to that he says that he will write the best poem in the world, which will take him twenty-two years, but as time passes and he gets older and weaker, he realizes that he can’t write such a poem and decides to shatter his illusion with the narrator boy and he himself vanishes forever from the narrator’s life.
Mrs. Hereira is another victim of ‘escaping reality’. She gives up everything; she gives up a very nice and rich person, just for her beloved Toni, even though Toni is very poor and cruel. He beats her most of the time and Mrs. Hereira runs out to the narrator boy’s mother. Narrator’s mother in the beginning calms her down by telling her that everything will get better with time. But, when narrator’s mother sees that Mrs. Hereira’s conflict with her husband is not settling down but getting worse everyday, she advices her to leave Toni as he is no good for you. But Mrs. Hereira keeps on taking Toni’s side by supporting him and making the narrator’s mother wrong about her views of Toni. So here we can see that she is avoiding reality because she knows that Toni is not good and does not love her but still she keeps on taking Toni’s side to keep his image. However, she gives up escaping reality at the end and goes back to her previous husband Henry.
Another woman who tries to avoid reality is Laura. She is a happy woman always enjoying every second of her life. She has eight children from eight different men, and she does not find anything awful with that. But when one of her daughter Lorna makes a baby with some man, Laura is hurt badly. Her enjoyful life turns into a misery. Therefore, Lorna is drowned one day and when police comes to inform Laura, she says “It good. It good. It better that way.” So, it is more of an irony to see Laura rejecting her own maternal instinct.
Another inhabitant of Miguel Street who shows irony is Bolo. Bolo himself cautions the people of Miguel Street that whatever you read in newspapers, do not believe it. As we see, when everyone is celebrating after hearing the news on radio and newspaper that the war has finished, Bolo finds them silly. But later on we see that he himself falls into the newspapers advertisements to win some cash.
Now whether its poverty or a man’s greed of gaining easy money that makes Bolo believe in those advertisements, whatever it is, but he is running away from his own created reality. Even after realizing that that the ‘Missing Ball Competition’ was fake, he still goes for the ‘housing scheme’. After, even failing there, he decides to leave Trinidad and pays someone to take him to Venezuela, but even there he is cheated. So, after all this, he goes for the Sweepstake ticket and after trying for three years, he finally wins three hundred dollars, but at the end, refuses to believe it. So we see even Bolo is in a way running away from reality.
At the end of the book, we finally get to see how Hat falls into the conflict of escaping reality. We see Hat’s presence throughout the book, we see he is mature, conscious and has a critical mind to judge people. However, he brings home a woman and marries her even after seeing what had happened to his own brother Edward, when he brought a woman, as the narrator boy’s mother puts it “You see how man stupid. Hat sees what happen to Edward and you mean to say that Hat still get hisself mix up with this woman?” They lived “like two strangers” as Eddoes observes it and what happens to their relationship is nothing new to the society of Miguel Street. Hat’s wife Dolly runs away with another man with all the expensive gifts that Hat had given to her. Hat tracks her down, beats her and hands himself over to the police.
I have just highlighted some of the inhabitants of the Miguel Street and how they are plunged into the conflict of ‘escaping reality’. As we see Bogart, Popo, B. Wordsworth, Mrs. Hereira, Laura, Bolo and Hat, all in one or the other way were escaping reality and therefore ending up with nothing but failure. In fact, almost everyone in Miguel Street ends up with failure and perhaps that’s why Miguel Street is described as ‘limited, and limiting. Therefore the only way to escape the limitations of a society like Miguel Street is to leave it altogether as the narrator boy does.