A Bend in the River
In the "brilliant novel" (The New York Times) V.S. Naipaul takes us deeply into the life of one man—an Indian who, uprooted by the bloody tides of Third World history, has come to live in an isolated town at the bend of a great river in a newly independent African nation. Naipaul gives us the most convincing and disturbing vision yet of what happens in a place caught between the dangerously alluring modern world and its own tenacious past and traditions. From the Trade Paperback edition.
The curriculet is being added to your library
Right-click on the image below and select "Open image in new tab" to view a larger image of the map. Use details from the novel and the map to answer the question that follows this annotation. (This annotation contains an image)
What river is likely referenced in the title of this novel?
Marchande is the French word for "merchant."
This is the first mention of the narrator's name. Salim is an Arabic name meaning "safe" or "undamaged."
Point of view is influential in the telling of a story. Watch the video below on point of view and cultural perspectives and try to identify from which point of view this story is told. (This annotation contains a video)
From what point of view is this novel told?
Which of the following reasons does not likely cause Salim to feel a sense of dislocation?
Though probably not as well known, Arab slave trade on the east coast of Africa began as early as the 7th century. You can read this short article on East African Slave Trade for an overview of the topic: (This annotation contains a link)
Did you know that you can look up any word in the book or in the questions and answer choices? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Try this feature on the word "Dhow" and other unfamiliar words in the text.
What is the lie that Salim refers to?
Indar comes from a family with means, allowing him to study at the university in England. Indar equates Africa with weakness, symbolized for him by their lack of a flag. After all, it was the Europeans who brought borders and flags to the continent of Africa (see the map below). Indar has bought into the idea that Europeans are superior to Africans, a philosophy that upsets Salim. (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Salim accept Nazruddin's offer to buy his business?
View this video on the colonization of Africa to learn more about the history of the continent referred to in this novel. It also references Uganda and the Bantu people. As you watch this portion of the video, consider why Nazruddin would think well of the Bantu. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the irony of Salim's decision to take over Nazruddin's business?
Salim will return to this Latin phrase later in the novel where it will also be translated.
Here is a photo of a ruined, abandoned storefront in the Congo that looks very much like what the narrator describes. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the irony of the situation presented in the highlighted paragraph?
Ali is an Arabic name that means "high" or "elevated," an ironic name for a slave. Also the reader may wonder if the similarity of the names "Salim" and "Ali" suggest something about the characters' connection.
How has Metty's relationship with Salim changed?
The highlighted phrase is Latin for "always something new." This is the second classical allusion that Naipaul has used thus far in the novel, the first being the also untranslated Latin phrase on the monument. Salim, who cannot read Latin, does not know the meaning of these lines. Naipaul may have chosen to not include a translation so that most readers, like Salim, will find these words to simply be a "nonsense jingle."
The "bush" is a term that Naipaul uses often in the novel. The bush refers to rural, undeveloped sections of Africa. (This annotation contains an image)
What does the behavior of Metty and Ferdinand suggest about their characters?
Salim's disheveled flat in the run down town is symbolic of his situation in life. He is a man conflicted, struggling to find his personal identity, in a place of conflict and confusion. Salim has left his home on the coast and settled in a foreign place. Likewise, the country has been abandoned by the Europeans and the village is left to figure out its independence. Nothing is settled.
Why is "they" such a powerful word in this society?
The water flowers may foreshadow the dangers that lie ahead for this African country. Like the blooming flower, the newly gained independence appears as something beautiful, yet despite its attractive appearance, the flower threatens the important waterways. So too may the independence be threatening and destructive. (This annotation contains an image)
What has motivated Ferdinand to ask Salim to send him to America?
This French term is discussed later in this chapter. Be sure to watch for it.
Here is a tourist poster from the 1950s promoting the Belgian Congo. (This annotation contains an image)
Salim is likely referring to the Watusi (or Tutsi), a population of people stereotyped as giants of Africa. The Watusi people were often featured in magazine articles and short films. Here is a photo of Mutara III, king of the Watusi from 1931 to 1959. He was 6'8" tall. (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Salim believe that Ferdinand and Metty aren't as content as he is?
Salim, who likely recognizes the subtle rivalry between Ferdinand and Metty, is suddenly torn between anger, pity, and fear after scolding Ferdinand for stealing the ledger. Adding to Salim's uneasiness is the recognition that there aren't strict rules and laws and corrupt officials are the norm.
Why is it significant that Ferdinand refers to Salim by his name while Metty calls him "Patron"?
Pliny the Elder wrote, "Semper aliquid novi Africam adferre," usually quoted as "ex Africa semper aliquid novi," or "there is always something new from Africa." While Father Huismans takes the motto seriously, Naipaul may see irony in it. As the country is transitioning from independence to colonialism and back to independence, there is a pattern of circularity instead of pattern of new things.
Salim is "staggered" by the Latin motto for all of the following reasons except which one?
As African countries started to gain their independence following World War II, tribal wars and civil wars were commonly fought. The country borders that had been drawn by the Europeans often grouped together African peoples with very different ethnic, religious, and political backgrounds. As the Europeans left the continent, the tensions among these groups grew, often to the point of fighting.
What is the irony of the soldiers in town?
Metty's story, which he has heard from local Africans, speaks to the profound effects war can have on society. They believe that there has been some magical, supernatural force exerted on the army that causes their equipment to fail. This visions alludes to the hopelessness and fear that war brings to the people.
How has the impending war affected Shoba?
Salim watches the president's men and the effect they have on the staff of the van der Wayden. Normally, the hotel employees "dropped around" in practical stillness. Now, they frantically wait on the white soldiers who are aware of their power. Salim is left not knowing whether to feel shame or fear. Also, it is worth noting that Salim has never spoken the name of the president. He is simply referred to by his position and his anonymity seems to add to this power.
Which of the following statements does not describe one of Salim's ironic reactions to the sound of gunfire?
African masks often have religious symbolism and are used in ceremonial rituals. Masks vary greatly in their appearance, but they are often intricately decorated. Some examples are shown below. (This annotation contains an image)
Why might the African people be offended by Father Huismans's collection?
In the first two paragraphs, Father Huismans's death is compared with the death of straggling ants. What literary device has Naipaul used?
The change in the fortunes of Salim and the town are dramatic. Remember that Salim had literally buried his valuables for their protection; now he making money selling items he has yet to have in his possession.
Mahesh is better able to survive failed business ventures because he lives by what motto?
Uranium is a valuable, radioactive metal because it is reduced to make fuel for powering nuclear stations. Uranium is also used by the military to power nuclear submarines and nuclear weapons. When learning that someone "wants to sell a piece," Mahesh misinterprets this as a literal piece rather than its figurative meaning of "an interest in." (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following statements is not a reason why Salim is feeling anxious?
What motivates the President to build this modern town in the bush of Africa?
It seems to Salim that all the people around him are finding themselves while he remains lost. Mahesh has found financial success, Ferdinand has the polytechnic, and now Metty has a child. This theme of alienation was introduced in the beginning of the novel and Salim has yet to find true meaning or a place in his life.
In his anger towards Metty, Salim shows his limited worldview in all of the following ways except
The reader should remember that this novel is narrated in the first person by Salim and thus he cannot absolutely know what is in Indar's mind. Instead, he projects his own insecurities and self-doubt onto Indar. He feels like a lesser man than Indar. Ironically, this is likely how Metty feels towards Salim.
What does Salim most likely mean when he uses the phrase "another kind of language"?
Notice how the presence of Indar has caused Salim to look at the town with different eyes. What were the cities and shanty towns become "rubbish." He sees things "for the first time." Clearly, Salim's feelings of inferiority are affecting him.
How has the idea of "keeping one's head down" changed for Salim now?
Compare the description of Indar's house to that of Salim's flat presented earlier in the novel. Imagine how Salim must feel at this point.
Here is a photo of Mobutu Sese Seko, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1965 to 1997. He is the leader that Naipaul likely bases his unnamed president on. (This annotation contains an image)
How has Ferdinand changed since his days spent in the lycée?
Salim continues to struggle with finding his identity. After initially feeling like an outsider in the town at the bend in the river, Salim started to feel a connection there. Now, through his reunion with Indar and the trip to the Domain, he's again unsure what to believe.
Which of the following details does not suggest that Yvette and Raymond are trying to appeal more to African culture than their European sensibilities?
"Barbara Allen" is a traditional English and Scottish ballad that dates back to the 17th century. It was popular during the folk revival in the United States during the 1950s and 60s. Listen to the version linked below and then answer the question that follows this checkpoint.
Why is Salim so affected by "Barbara Allen"?
You may have noticed in the last several pages Salim's many references to the body and especially the body as related to touch. Touching is an indispensable part of life that is both practical and vital. Salim mentions touch because he experiences so little of it. The lack of touch has likely affected his self-esteem and loneliness.
What is the irony of the advice that Raymond gives the boy?
This is the detail that makes the story "at once simple and extraordinary." The young boy of the story turns out to be the President. The revelation also lends obvious bias to Raymond's opinion. As one who is apparently instrumental in his path to become president, Raymond would have clear reasons to promote the Big Man's accomplishments.
Theodor Mommsen was a 19th century historian whose most famous work is "The History of Rome," a multi-volume history of ancient Rome.
"He had made us all men and women of Africa; and since we were not Africans the claim gave us a special feeling for ourselves..."Which of the following literary devices does the author use in the above passage?
Consider what Raymond and Indar have said about the President. Consider also the description of the President and how his large picture is present throughout the region. Look also at the photo below of President Mobutu below. Would you say that this leader is more like a president or a dictator? What is the difference between the positions? (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following statements best expresses Indar's frustrations?
This stretch of pages marks a change in the narrative style of the novel. For the first time, Naipaul has "turned over" the story. Instead of having Salim summarize in his own words what Indar tells him, and instead of interjecting Salim's opinions into the mix, he allows Indar a long monologue. In fact, Indar's monologue takes up twelve pages. As you continue to read Indar's words, consider why Naipaul lets him speak for himself in such a lengthy manner.
Which of the following best describes the tone of Indar's words about Gandhi and Nehru?
Mahatma Gandhi was the leading figurehead of the Indian independence movement. He is most remembered for his nonviolent civil disobedience philosophy that caused great change. In fact, following his assassination in 1948, Gandhi inspired worldwide peace movements. Jawaharal Nehru was the first prime minister and architect of modern India. He held the position from 1947 until his death in 1964. He was heavily influenced by Gandhi who was his mentor. Below you will see a picture of the two men together. (This annotation contains an image)
The scene at India House is absurd as Indar is passed from one official to the next, with the person behind each desk not knowing what to do with Indar. It becomes quickly apparent that Indar will not be successful in his quest for an ambassadorship.
Indar and Romeo are similar in all of the following ways except
Paradoxically, Indar has been described as both "a man of two worlds" and "a man without a side." This tension, a tension that Salim, Metty, and Ferdinand similarly feel, makes is difficult for Indar to discover his identity and true purpose in life.
What can be inferred from Salim's repeated use of absolutes like "all," "nothing," and "every"?
Notice Salim's word choices in describing the market: "squawking," "dull-eyed," "scuffed," "damp-haired," "misery," "idlers," "cripples," and "scroungers." His tone is cruel and condescending, showing how much he has changed since Indar's arrival. The people he was once glad to see return to the market are now unworthy of him.
What is likely the underlying reason for all of Indar's complaints?
The irony here is that Ferdinand appears to be the more worldly of the two, despite the fact that he is young and has never left the country. Also, Ferdinand doesn't care about appearance while Indar likely does and his attempt to be modern and wealthy backfires.
This detail suggests that Indar and Yvette may have had an improper relationship. Perhaps this explains the change in his opinion of Raymond. The touch also gives credence to Salim's first notion that the two were together.
If Tivoli was meant for Europeans, why is there a large photograph of the President in the restaurant?
What might Yvette mean by this comment? Why is she able to make some sort of judgment about them that Salim cannot make? Is the comment a veiled insult of Salim?
How might Raymond and Yvette's house symbolize their relationship and his governmental position?
Notice that Salim calls his interest in Yvette an "obsession." Why might he refer to his feelings in this manner? Are these feelings healthy? Do you think this relationship has a chance of being long-lasting?
What evidence is there of Salim's self-proclaimed obsession with Yvette?
Salim's relationship with Yvette is built on deception. The most obvious deception is that Yvette is a married woman. But Salim has deceived Yvette as well, claiming an interest in Raymond's writings. She may have seen through his ruse, but Salim has not been honest with her. Also, recall that Salim earlier scolded Metty for his relationship with a woman. Thus he shows himself to be rather hypocritical.
Please read Walt Whitman's "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" linked below and then answer the question that follows this checkpoint. (This annotation contains a link)
What theme best connects Whitman's poem and Raymond's story?
What is the irony of Salim's relationship with Yvette?
Since their initial meeting, Salim has been obsessed with Yvette's physical appearance, culminating when the two share a bed in Salim's flat. Now Salim starts to notice imperfections in Yvette that he attributes to her relationship with Raymond. It seems unlikely that Yvette's appearance would change so drastically is such a short period of time, so Salim is likely projecting his growing frustrations about their relationship onto her appearance.
In what way are Salim and Yvette similar?
Salim understands the paradoxical idea that freedom requires rules. When rules of order are stripped away (in Salim's case by a rebellion), there is often chaos. Salim describes the experience as "floating and lost." In contrast, rules provide peace and consistency.
Please watch this short video explaining propaganda and then answer the question that follows this checkpoint. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the most significant problem with the type of propaganda like Maximes?
A status symbol is an object whose value is more in its associated reputation than its primary purpose. Swimming pools have become status symbols in many cultures. For the people in Salim's town, the pools, even though they are not often used, become a status symbol that give them worth.
Why do the townspeople dismiss Noimon's departure as unimportant?
Salim's questions about Shoba must be similar to the questions he asks of himself. Has he made the right decision in leaving the coast and coming to this town? Should he have married Nazruddin's daughter as had been expected? Does he regret the life he has chosen over the life he left behind?
The President has adapted his ways in all of the following manners except
Police officers harassing minorities is unfortunately a topic that we still see all too often today. A Google search of the phrase "police corruption" turns up 138 million results. What do you think motivates corrupt officers like the ones who harass Metty? What is their end game?
What is most significant about the destruction of the African madonna and child?
Read Emily Dickinson's "We grow accustomed to the Dark--" and then answer the question that follows this checkpoint. (This annotation contains a link)
In what way is Salim's situation a metaphorical darkness that is similar to the darkness in Dickinson's poem?
This is the second time in two pages that Salim uses this phrase. One wonders if he really believes what he says or whether he is trying to convince himself that he does.
What is the implication of the phrase "little adventure"?
Notice that Salim uses the passive voice at the beginning of the sentence. Passive voice is when the subject of the sentence ("She") receives the action expressed by the verb ("hit"). Active voice is when the subject of the sentence performs the action expressed by the verb. One effect of the passive voice is that it "hides" the doer. Why would Salim favor the passive voice over the active voice in this situation?
Which of the following statements is not an explanation of the irony of Salim turning to Mahesh?
Zabeth has returned to the narrative for the first time since earlier the novel. Coming full circle back to Zabeth perhaps foreshadows that a change is in store for Salim.
Infer what the real motivation is for Salim to leave the town at the bend in the river.
This flight would take approximately eight hours. While this is fast, it feels especially fast to Salim because of the distance traveled. Remember back to the beginning of the book where Salim tells about his difficult travels from the coast of Africa to the inland town.
Why does Salim have difficulty in "grasping" the city?
"Killing the goose that lays the golden egg" is an idiom that is used to describe a short-sighted action that destroys the profitability of an asset. It is a statement about greed, and Nazruddin claims that the Arabs are being greedy with oil and money. Is his statement accurate and fair? What might motivate him to make such a statement?
What aspect of Nazruddin's personality is reinforced by the stories he tells Salim?
Despite his occasional setbacks, Nazruddin is a successful businessman with enough wealth to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. It is unsurprising that he continues to be a mentor-like figure to Salim.
After reading Kareisha's account of Indar's troubles, what is the root cause of his failure?
The idea expressed by Salim is that "you can't go home again." This is a phrase that originates from the title of a Thomas Wolfe novel. It means that once you've left home and seen other parts of the world, you will never be able to recapture what home originally was. Because of everything Salim has seen and experienced, the place he returns to will not be the same place that he left.
"I had my ticket and it was in order, but my name wasn't on the passenger list. Some francs had to pass first."This detail is yet another example of what theme that runs throughout the novel?
While Salim is probably correct in his criticism of the whiskey-drinking passengers, he is a bit arrogant himself. He refers to his "experience of intercontinental flight" as though he is a regular flyer when he has only been out of the country once.
A pathetic fallacy is a literary device in which the author attributes human feelings and responses to weather.If this passage is an example of a pathetic fallacy, what does it suggest about Salim's mood?
Nationalization is a process in which a government takes ownership over a private business or private assets. This process still occurs today in the Congo and other countries. Imagine how Salim must feel to have his business, an investment that he grew, be taken from him and then being "awarded" a fair salary.
"... what the Big Man gives the Big Man can take away. That's how the Big Man gets them. He gives and he takes back."What is the irony of the President's statement?
Salim, who is used to having a servant, has become the servant himself. This humiliation continues his disillusionment with the country.
In the highlighted paragraphs, all of the following elements suggest a growing tension between Salim and Théotime except
The term "métis," like "half caste," is a term used to designate a person of mixed ancestry.
"Discipline Avant Tout" means "Discipline Above All." Why is statement ironic?
A paradox is a statement that initially appears to contradict itself but ultimately reveals a truth. The paradox here--"I never felt closer to them, or more far away"-- is the perfect way to describe the tension and anxiety of the situation. Salim understands their frenzy but he also feels apart from them.
What might the paperweight symbolize to Ferdinand?
If we are to believe that Metty was the one that tipped off the officials to Salim's hidden stash of ivory, Metty's demand to Salim is rather bold.