Rare placidity indeed! Productive at best of a zombie-like involvement and sustained in adversity by thoughts of extinction, it is a placidity which, in the failure of his marriage, first reveals itself to be. in fact, even more inimical than all his previous agitation.
Yet, the posturing goes on; and involuntarily, but unresistingly, the protagonist finds himself being drawn into what is undoubtedly the most elaborate imitation of all – the imitation politician.
Naipaul’s conception of the colonial politician is by no means a flattering one. Yet here, if nowhere else, one feels the author’s sense of compassion for would-be revolutionaries condemned by their country’s economic insufficiency to expand the energies performing the duties of just so many Public Relations Officers, and striving vainly to hide their futility from their followers by a pathetically vulgar parade of the trappings of power. Commenting on his own failure to retain a seat on the lsabellan Legislative Council, the protagonist remarks:
“The career of the colonial politician is short and ends brutally; we lack power, and we do not understand that we lack power. We mistake words and the acclamation of words for power, as soon as our bluff is called we are lost. Politics for us is a do-or-die, once-for-all charge.”
It is, in fact, just this spirit of desperation which Naipaul suggests through his review of the protagonist’s political activities. In the first place, it is what explains the vehement support everywhere accorded a couple of men distinguished not for any positive ideology, but for their ability to proclaim successfully “the dignity of distress.”
“Simply by coming forward – Browne and myself and The Socialist, all together – we put an end to the old order.” The result is a political movement of a type unprecedented in the history of the island. With a few masterful strokes Naipaul creates a graphic picture of the growing political upheaval.
“Imagine Browne, the Leader, in his shabby journalist’s suit, energetic, enthusiastic, frequently breaking into the local dialect, for purposes of comedy or abuse. Beside him set myself, as elegant in dress as in speech …. Imagine the developing organization in the Roman house, the willing black hands of clerks from business houses and our civil service. Imagine the lengthening reports of our speeches in the Inquirer. Imagine that other mark of success: the police in heavy serge shorts, becoming less aggressive and more protective as their numbers grow … Add the smell of Negro sweat as, to applause we make our way through our followers, shining eyes in shining faces … Whatever was said, the end was always the same: applause, the path made through the crowd, the hands tapping, rubbing, caressing my shoulder, the willing hands of slaves now serving a cause they thought to be their own.”
Success seems inevitable, and so it proves. Yet it is a success which carries with it the seeds of its own negation. The racial unity so casually suggested by the leadership of the new party is denied by acts of racial hostility performed ostensibly in the name of the movement. In like manner, the power which is suggested by an overwhelming victory at the polls is -denied by the very real economic impotence of the oppressed thousands on whose support they have to depend:
We had no trade unions behind us, no organized capital. We had no force of nationalism even, only the negative frenzy of a deep violation which could lead to further frenzy alone, the vision of a world going up in flames.
Nor does there seem to be any way out of this desperate situation. Rather, subsequent events only serve to justify the protagonist’s conviction that any attempt to achieve true emancipation must, perforce, end in just such a vision of futility. It is an essentially paralyzing vision, one that renders the protagonist incapable of any effort to retain his so-called political authority. More significantly however, it signals the beginning of the protagonist’s retirement from even the most superficial type of involvement. In the face of such total and inexorable defeat, action becomes increasingly impossible; and, in the end, there remains only the desire to escape, to escape from all attachments, all responsibilities, into the final emptiness.