Named for a slum in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Miguel Street is the story of a place. At the same time, it is also the story of a boy.
The seventeen chapters of Miguel Street are often anthologized separately as short stories, but read as a novel they constitute a Bildungsroman—in the European tradition, a novel of development or education—that traces its hero’s progress toward manhood, culminating in the hero finding his place in the world. Naipaul appropriates this European tradition to comment upon the emergence of Trinidad as an independent nation. (It achieved independence from Britain on 31 August 1962; Miguel Street was published in 1959 and set during the 1930s-40s.)
“Bogart,” the first story, concludes with what might be called Miguel Street‘s “thesis”: after abandoning two women, one of whom has borne him a child, Bogart finally returns to Miguel Street “‘To be a man, among we men’” (16). The narrator is being brought up without a father, but he is surrounded by older men, among them Bogart and those who admire him. What kinds of manhood do they represent?
Rex Harrison (1908-1990), Hat’s namesake
Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957), Bogart’s namesake
Each of the stories or chapters tends to focus on one character. For your reading response this week, choose any of the stories assigned for Thursday and describe what it says about masculinity on Miguel Street. How does the character or incident you’ve chosen illustrate the sort of man produced by this community? What does the narrator learn? How does this “lesson” build on or counteract those from previous stories, previous men? For example, how do the initial ambitions of Elias, subject of “His Chosen Calling,” Wednesday’s last story, challenge or reinforce these norms?
As usual, your ~100 words on this topic are due at 11:59 PM, Tuesday, September 10. See you then!