Representations of Masculinity and Femininity in Miguel StreetIt has been said about V.S. Naipaul’s novel Miguel Street that “One of therecurrent themes… is the ideal of manliness” (Kelly 19). To help put into focus whatmanliness is, it is important to establish a definition for masculinity as well as itsopposite, femininity. Masculinity is defined as “Having qualities regarded ascharacteristic of men and boys, as strength, vigor, boldness, etc” while femininity isdefined as “Having qualities regarded as characteristic of women and girls, as gentleness,weakness, delicacy, modesty, etc” (Webster). The charcters in Miguel Street have beeningrained with the pre- conceived notions of the roles that Trinidadian society dictates formen and women. Naipaul not only uses these notions to show the differences of thesexes, but takes another step in telling anecdotes of characters showing their anti-masculine and anti- feminine features. This will lead to the discovery that our definitionsof masculinity and femininity prove that those characteristics apply to the opposite sex inwhich the women often act like men, and the men often act like women. All of this willbe discussed through looking at both male and female characters in the book as well asthe boy narrator of the book. Finding examples of manliness are found with great ease considering that 12 ofthe 17 stories in some way deal with the theme of manliness (Thieme 24). It doesnt takelong before the first example, a carpenter named Popo, is introduced. In the chapter titled”The Thing Without A Name” we are told that “Popo never made any money. His wifeused to go out and work and this was easy , because they had no children. Popo said ‘Women and them like work. Man not made for work” ( Naipaul 17). This attitudeimmediately makes Popo stand out from the rest of the men of Miguel Street. Hat (acharacter that will be discussed later) deems Popo as a “man- woman. Not a proper man”(Naipaul 17) because Popo’s wife makes all the money. From this brief description ofPopo, the reader quickly learns as to what makes a man manly on Miguel Street. Popohas no children which questions his virility. It is also important to notice that Popo’s wifehas no identity except that of being Popo’s wife. We only first learn of her name,Emelda, through a calypso. An illusion is created that Popo’s wife is just another one ofPopo’s possesions. “Popo’s Wife” sounds no different than Popo’s tools or Popo’s car. Popo’s wife leaves him, and this change affects him as well as how the other menlook at him. Now “He smelled of rum, and he used to cry and then grow angry and wantto beat up everybody. That made him an accepted member of the gang” (Naipaul 18). This even forces Hat to admit that Popo “is a man, like any of we” (Naipaul 18). Thischange makes him closer to the others, merely because he drinks and desires to beat uppeople. Later in the chapter he is sent to jail for stealing furniture, which upon his return,”He came back a hero. He was one of the boys” (Naipaul 21). Jail is yet another form ofwhat makes a man more popular and more manly. Morgan, the pyrotechist, differs from Popo in that he has 10 children. Morganalso beats his children regularly. But yet he is not well liked on Miguel Street. He is atiny man, who tries very hard to be funny, but is only laughed at not laughed with. He ismarried to a Mrs. Morgan, a big spanish woman, who like Popo’s wife is only identifiedas being someone’s wife. One night, Morgan is caught by his wife sleeping with anotherwoman. The fighting is heard by most on Miguel Street and they can see that Mrs. Morgan is doing the beating this time. She is heard saying, “Leave the light on. Come, letwe show the big hero to the people in the street. Come, let we show them what manreally make like. You is not a anti- man , you is real man. You ain’t only make tenchildren with me, you going to make more with somebody else” (Naipaul 70). As thenarrator says , “For the first time since he came to Miguel Street, Morgan was reallybeing laughed at by the people” (Naipaul 71). The sarcasm in Mrs. Morgan’s ‘real man’statement, shows an example of how Morgan is seen by even his own wife as an exampleof anti- masculinity in his weakness, while Mrs. Morgan shows her anti- feminism in herstrength. The chapter about Hat, is the second last one in the book, which makes thischaracter unique. He is the only one to who we have already gained a character sketchof. Just like the narrator, Hat has been involved in most of the chapters. Hat’s characterprovides us with a kind of spokesperson for all the people on Miguel Street. It’s hiscomments that stay ingrained in the reader’s mind when thinking of other characters. Such an example of this is the already discussed character, Popo, being called by Hat a”man woman”. To the narrator, whom is fatherless, Hat is “very much a surrogate fatherfigure” (Thieme 28). It would appear that Hat is the ideal man. He is not married, doesnot condone hitting, and appears to be self sufficient. As the narrator says, “He was selfsufficient, and didn’t believe he even needed women. I knew of course that he visitedcertain places in the city from time to time, but I thought he did this more for the viciousthrill than for the women” (Naipaul 160). He is also a smart man. When he takes 12 ofthe kids from Miguel Street to a cricket match, he made people believe that they were allhis. Becuase of this he recieves admiration of the people around him, as well as gets adiscount on beverages because he orders so many. But just like the other characters his’ideal man’ status is somewhat of a illusion. From one of his trips away from Miguel
Street, he brings back a woman named Dolly. Dolly has her own identity because she isnobody’s wife. Perhaps that means she has yet to become someone’s possession. Dollyeventually leaves Hat for another man, upon which Hat finds her and beats her so bad heends up in jail. While going to jail and beating should be still considered manly things,the narrator loses a little respect for Hat. As one critic has said, ” Thus Eve and theserpent enter the narrator’s Garden of Eden revealing Hat to be a mere corruptible mortal,dependant upon women, and not the manly, handsome, and cool British Hollywod heroafter all” (Kelly 20). In the final chapter the narrator who is now 18 has gone thorugh his owntransformation. Losing Hat as a father figure could be attributed to this. The narrator is”drinking like a fish, and doing a lot besides” (Naipaul 166). His defence to his motheris, “Is not my fault really. Is just Trinidad. What can anyone else do here except drink? “(Naipaul 167). His mother is encouraging him to leave Miguel Street so that he doesntget stuck here. As one critic has pointed out, “…virtually all the characters of MiguelStreet seem paralysed by their environment” (Thieme 21). It’s important to see the thenarrator is quickly becoming like all the other men on Miguel Street. All the drinkingand womanising is something that can only be avoided by leaving. The narrator’s mothersees this and singlehandedly saves him from becoming like Hat, George (another drinkerand abuser) or any of the other permanent residents of Miguel Street. Although the mother taking charge of the narrator’s future takes place at the endof the book, it is a good starting point to discuss the feminism and anti feminism onMiguel Street. The mother is the one who beats the narrator, and takes charge on herson’s future. She gets him out of there on a scholarship to study drugs. Obviously allturned out well, as the book is written in perfect english. The narrator appears to be theonly character who has fully comprehended the english language in spelling andgrammar, because the only mistakes are when quoting other characters in the text. It can be said that since the narrator had no father, his mom was forced to be amom and dad to the narrator, but the same cant be said for Laura. In the chapter titled’The Maternal Instinct”, we are introduced to Laura a woman who has had eight babieswith seven different men. She is the ideal anti feminine character in the book yet shealso seen as “the representative of all the island women, doomed to their broken dreams,frustration and hopelessness. Their poverty and dependency have the appalling quality ofdeadly genes passed down through the generations” (Kelly 21). Her ability to raise thesechildren on her own, has garnered the respect of others on Miguel Street. She has kickedthe men out, not the more typical problem of the men walking out. It’s important tonotice that even Hat says respectful words of her, “Man, she like Shakespeare when itcome to using words” (Naipaul 85). When the latest man, Nathaniel stays around to bethe father of two of her children, he tries to be macho with the other men on the street.He would say to others, ” Women are just like cows. Cow and they is the same thing”(Naipaul 86) and “Women and them are like a good dose of blows, you know. You knowthe calypso: Every now and then just knock them down. Every now and then just throwthem down. Black up their eye and bruise up their knee and then they love you eternally”(Naipaul 87). Not surprising, Nathaniel macho appearance is an illusion to the others.As Naipaul later says, ” Nathaniel was lying of course. It wasnt he who was giving theblows, it was Laura. That came out the day when Nathaniel tried to wear a hat to coverup a beaten eye” (Naipaul 87). Naturally this discovery made Nathaniel fall out of favorwith the others. Another moment where Laura conveys some of her anti feminism is how shedeals with being a grandmother. One of her children, Lorna is pregnant, but eventuallycommits suicide. Laura expresses little emotion to this tragedy, saying “It good. It good. It better that way” (Naipaul 90). She may be correct, but her stolid view on her owndaughter is something one would expect from the sex with more “strength”. One critic when talking about Miguel Street and its men and women relationssaid “Relations between men and women serve as the barometer with which thecommunity measures the maintenance of its codes, but its fluctuations also reflect theintervention of class, and to a degree, race , in their modulations, which ultimatelyremain consistent with the colonial paradigm of social relations” (Mustafa 42). I think alot can be looked into that matter. We expect how men and women should act, but yet inMiguel Street it ends up being all about illusion. This doesnt apply to the secondarycharacters of the novel, as they serve their purposes of being the stereotypical men andwomen of Trinidad and in this case, Miguel Street. But the main characters never turnout to be who you initially think they are. Laura, Emelda, Mrs. Morgan and the narrator’smother are examples of women who take charge in their homes. They work, they beatand raise their children, and take on the roles of being the masters of their homes. Hat,Popo, Morgan, Man man (who only acts like he’s crazy), and Big Foot (who as big as heis, is really a wimp inside) are examples of the illusion that men are the superior ones ofMiguel Street. Only a shallow read could see that otherwise. When all is said and doneit is the women who carry the qualities of “strength, vigor and boldness” while the menhave the qualities of “gentleness, weakness, delicacy” although definitly not “modesty”. On Miguel Street, the only male quality the men have is the lack of modesty, the rest isall illusion.