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A Bend in the River

Page history last edited by David Hodges 14 years, 1 month ago

A Bend in the River 

by V.S. Naipaul 


Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, commonly known as V. S. Naipaul, is a Trinidadian novelist and essayist, widely considered a master of modern English prose. In addition to earning numerous literary prizes from the 50s through the 90s, Naipaul received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. His novel, A Bend in the River, from which this excerpt is taken, is set in Africa, "in a country somewhere in the interior that has recently suffered revolution and civil war and is now under the authority of a new President." The main character, Nazruddin, is a symbol of unpredictable change and the insecurity of uncertain relationships.


As you read, pay attention to the structure and organization of the many examples of Nazruddin's behavior which Naipaul uses to build character. Because these wiki readings come from novels, not textbooks, they often use narrative as evidence and example. Tell me what you see, and what you learn about exemplification that you can use in your own essays.


     Nazruddin was an exotic in our community. He was a man of my father's age, but he looked much younger and was altogether more a man of the world. He played tennis, drank wine, spoke French, wore dark glasses and suits (with very wide lapels, the tips of which curled down). He was known among us (and slightly mocked behind his back) for his European manners, which he had picked up not from Europe (he had never been there), but from a town in the centre of Africa where he lived and had his business.

     Many years before, following some fancy of his own, Nazruddin had cut down on his business on the coast and begun to move inland. The colonial boundaries of Africa gave an international flavour to his operations. But Nazruddin was doing no more than following the old Arab trading routes to the interior; and he had fetched up in the centre of the continent, at the bend in the great river.

     Arab power had vanished; at the bend in the river there had grown up a European, and not an Arab, town. And it was from that town that Nazruddin, reappearing among us from time to time, brought back his exotic manners and tastes and his tales of commercial success.

     Nazruddin was an exotic, but he remained bound to our community because he needed husbands and wives for his children. I always knew that in me he saw the prospective husband of one of his daughters; but I had lived with this knowledge for so long that it didn't embarrass me. I liked Nazruddin. I welcomed his visits, his talk, his very alienness as he sat downstairs in our drawing room or verandah and spoke of the excitements of his far-off world.

     He was a man of enthusiasms. He relished everything he did. He liked the houses he bought (always bargains), the restaurants he chose, the dishes he had ordered. Everything worked out well for him, and his tales of unfailing luck would have made him intolerable if he didn't have the gift of describing things so well. He made me long to do what he had done, to be where he had been. In some ways he became my model.

     He was something of a palmist, in addition to everything else, and his readings were valued because he could do them only when the mood took him. When I was ten or twelve he had given me a reading and had seen great things in my hand. So I respected his judgment. He added to that reading from time to time. I remember one occasion especially. He was on the bentwood rocker, rocking unsteadily from the edge of the carpet onto the concrete floor. He broke off what he was saying and asked to see my hand. He felt the tips of my fingers, bent my fingers, looked briefly at my palm, and then let my hand go. He thought for a little while about what he had seen, then said, "You are the most faithful man I know."

     This didn't please me; it seemed to me he was offering me no life at all. I said, "Can you read your own hand? Do you know what's in store for you?" He said, "Don't I know, don't I know." The tone of his voice was different then, and I saw that this man, for whom (according to his talk) everything worked out beautifully, really lived with a vision of things turning out badly. I thought: This is how a man should behave; and I felt close to him after that, closer than I did to members of my own family.

     Then came the crash which some people had been quietly prophesying for this successful and talkative man. Nazruddin's adopted country became independent, quite suddenly, and the news from that place for weeks and months was of wars and killings. From the way some people talked you might have believed that if Nazruddin had been another kind of person, if he had boasted less of his success, drunk less wine and been more seemly in his behaviour, events would have taken another turn. We heard that he had fled with his family to Uganda. There was a report that they had driven through the bush for days on the back of a truck and had turned up panic-stricken and destitute at the border town of Kisoro.

     At least he was safe. In due course he came to the coast. People looking for a broken man were disappointed. Nazruddin was as sprightly as ever, still with his dark glasses and suit. The disaster appeared not to have touched him at all. He had seen the trouble coming; he had pulled out months before it came.

Comments (Show all 42)

Mustapha said

at 11:39 am on Jun 26, 2010

oh my gosh Nourhan Ibrahim have already summarize the entired narrative I am really speechless,but nevertheless I can able to say something a little bit about the narrative.I learned how the European life affect Nazruddin life with out never been to Europe during colonizing.The writer explained how Nazruddin was a man of enthusiasm that travel from one place to another just for him to succeed in life not by hearing but by doing.The write also talked about how Nazruddin didn't care about what people were saying about him,even though people were saying that he is a successful and a talkative man which causes war and killing.I also learned about examplification how the writer used examples from each of his idea he talks about, for them to supportive by his examples.

David Hodges said

at 2:03 pm on Jun 26, 2010

I'd say you found a lot to add to the conversation, Mustapha! I had to go back to the text to understand your reference to Nazruddin being blamed for war. It's there, though I hadn't remembered it the way you described it. Naipaul says that people spoke of Nazruddin as if his behavior and personality were somehow responsible for wars and killing, just as you say. Some of the examples help describe Nazruddin; some help describe how he was perceived; the two can be very different depending on who perceives him! Nice work!

Baby Tanuwidjaja said

at 7:40 am on Jun 28, 2010

Prof Hodges, I still do not understand about exemplification. If you have a chance, could you please explain a little bit about it in the class today? thank you

nafisa.karimova237@... said

at 4:16 pm on Jun 29, 2010

I am agree with Nourhan.The writer discribes Nazruddin behavior as any European men not as if he discribes African men behavior. Writer also tell us that Nazruddin never care about what other people was saying about him. He was kind of selfish person.

David Hodges said

at 5:20 pm on Jun 29, 2010

Baby, exemplification will have to wait a while. We'll be taking about Process again in class because you have formal process essays due next week.

For the time being though, "exemplification" takes its name from "example," and any essay or piece of writing that uses examples as evidence to prove a point or support for an idea uses exemplification. Would you say the excerpt from "A Bend in the River" uses examples of Nazruddin's behavior and personality to describe his character?

David Hodges said

at 5:24 pm on Jun 29, 2010

Naipaul certainly does make the claim that Nazruddin's personality shared more with European men than with African men, Nafisa. What are some examples of his European behavior and characteristics, and where did he get them if he never visited Europe?

clara lee said

at 8:03 pm on Jun 29, 2010

Hello Prof. Hoges,
Could you please go over with the quiz after you give paper back to us ?
I want to know what is the right answer, so that I can learn better.
Thank you,

David Hodges said

at 9:29 pm on Jun 29, 2010

We haven't had a quiz in quite a while, Clara. Which quiz do you mean?

Baby Tanuwidjaja said

at 10:19 pm on Jun 29, 2010

thanks Profesor Hodges.
I will try to describe Nazruddin personality.Behaving as Europeean manner he thought that he was more classy, unfortunately it was unappreciated by his community. He was a man of enthusiasms by the way he picked up everything, from house he bought to the dishes he ordered.
His tricky personality had shown as his attitude was changed when "I" asked Nazrudin to ready his own hand, but "I" adored him since then because "I" thought that it was manly manner.
The war had made Nazrudin's personality changed, he had less boasted, less drunk.

David Hodges said

at 3:50 am on Jun 30, 2010

Those are good examples, Baby. If you reread that sentence about the Nazruddin and the war, you'll see he didn't actually boast less or drink less; instead, the narrator has written a tricky conditional about his countrymen's perceptions. One "might have believed" that "if Nazruddin had" . . . "boasted less" . . . "drunk less" . . . events "would have been" different. In other words, none of those things happened, but peopled talked as if they might have. That one's tricky in several ways.

Baby Tanuwidjaja said

at 12:11 pm on Jun 30, 2010

Yes, you are right, in the last paragraph, Hoping Nazrudin suffered from the war (after he lost his family at the border town of Kisoro), people dissapointed. Nazrudin was still same Nazrudin before and after war.

Baby Tanuwidjaja said

at 12:15 pm on Jun 30, 2010

To all of my classmates and Professor Hodges, enjour your long week end.

Kankamol said

at 5:59 pm on Jun 30, 2010

Naipal explained a lot of Nazruddin's behavior from the first paragraph until the last one. It is how European he is. He learned how to live as European from his area in Africa and he has never changed even somebody talked badly about him. As I can see in the last paragraph.
For an exemplification, I like when the writer wrote this sentence "In some ways he became my model" in the fifth paragraph then he described about it in next two paragraph. He used a little trick to show you how the next story will be. After that, he explained by using an example about the hand palm.

David Hodges said

at 6:48 pm on Jun 30, 2010

Kankamol! Goodness, are you commenting from Belgium? I didn't expect to hear from you! You missed a very exciting Grammar and Style Test today!

What you say about Nazruddin's immunity to criticism is just right and a good example of a complex conditional: he never changed even if (or even though) others talked badly about him!

You're a clever reader to recognize that the author uses the palm-reading prophecy to tell his readers what to expect in the story ahead. Very impressive of you.

Check your student email tomorrow for feedback on your process essay homework, along with instructions on how to write your formal Process Essay (the 100-point version) due July 07. Or let me know here if you have trouble accessing email for any reason.

Enjoy your trip!
--David Hodges

David Hodges said

at 6:49 pm on Jun 30, 2010

Thank you, Baby!
(One day of independence, that is; then it's back to my dictatorship Wednesday!)
--David Hodges

Beth.Luseni129@students.camdencc.edu said

at 6:52 pm on Jun 30, 2010

According to Nafisa and Nourhan's description about Nazruddins' behavour as an European rather than being an African is a true exemplification the writer gave. For instance the writer descripbed the way he dressed in suits and dark glasses, his aliener way of takiing and European manners was perfect.Past tense and short sentences were futher used to bring out his character that is,"He was a man of enthusiam.He relished everything he had." many more was said about his character.Nazruddin , clever and was able to excape the disaster of war and killing in his country because he knew the smoke behind being a rebel.

Beth.Luseni129@students.camdencc.edu said

at 6:56 pm on Jun 30, 2010

Hi Professor Davide Hodges,HAPPY INDEPENDENT to you and your dear ones. Are you going to send asssignment on this BIG HOLIDAY?

clara lee said

at 9:11 pm on Jun 30, 2010

Thank you Professor Hodges for your time to help me in this mornining.
I wish, I could have more time , but tiem is always limited.
By the way, I did not have a chance to read the reading homework, but I will get it sooner.
Have a wonderful July 4 holiday!
If you have a too much food, you can share with us on 7/7 at the class.

Kankamol said

at 4:23 am on Jul 1, 2010

Thank you very much for a comment prof. I am now in Netherlands. What a beautiful country!!!!!
I know that I missed a very exciting class and a big test (this chapter is something new for me ). I hope the test is not to hard for me.
I try to check an email again but I think when I am back in USA because the internet here is so expensive. It's 22 Euro for a day.
See you again on next Wednesday prof.

Have a nice holiday.


at 2:40 pm on Jul 1, 2010

Dear professor Hodges,
I think it's very interesting how people affect one another without even realizing it! Nazruddin was such a big influance on Naipaul. Naipul wanted to go to he places Nazruddin went to and see the things he saw. As stated in the excerpt "In some ways he became my model."
Something else i find interesting is the fact that in this excerpt it says that Nazruddin liked to brag about what he did. Then it all came crashing down. Which is ironic in itself!
Lastly, I find it interesting that Nazruddin seemed to see the glass half full, but in reality he saw it half empty. We realize this when he was reading Naipauls hand. But in the end he was not even touched by the whole situation!!

David Hodges said

at 4:01 pm on Jul 1, 2010

I see I need to catch up on comments!

ELIZABETH: Happy Independence Day to you too! I'm intrigued by your final remark, Elizabeth, that Nazruddin "excaped the disaster of war and killing in his country because he knew the smoke behind being a rebel." The phrase is new to me and I hope you'll explain the "smoke behind being a rebel." I wonder if it is related to a common English metaphor of the smoke screen, a distraction behind which people hide their real intentions. If so, I also wonder if those dark glasses Nazruddin wears are something else to hide behind, making it hard for his countrymen to guess his reactions, adding to the suspicions they have of him.

CLARA: Thank you. Enjoy your holiday too! No, I don't expect I'll be bringing leftovers to class on Wednesday. What we don't eat, the dogs enjoy. Nothing goes to waste! Of course, you're most welcome for the time I spend with you; it's freely given and makes me feel I'm doing all I can to help.

KANKAMOL: I wouldn't worry about the participials part of the test. Most of your classmates did very well on it. Let me know if you plan to come to class early or stay late for your makeup test.

SEVGI: Whether you planned it or not, you've written the body paragraphs for a short Exemplification Essay in your comment. Your first sentence provides a brief introduction to the topic of how one person affects another without even knowing it. A longer version would be: "In his novel, A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul demonstrates startling insight into human behavior; in less than a page he gives three examples of the unintentional effect one man can have on another." Then you offer three examples, with appropriate transition language: "something else," and "lastly"! If you had written a conclusion, your comment would be a model exemplification essay. Nice work!

Bruna Dietrich said

at 9:05 am on Jul 2, 2010

Something that is the first thing I realized it was that I don’t know when use ( ) or not, I know that is something to enrich the story, but in my opinion if you use many times and too long can tire the reader. I think Naipaul used correctly, but I don’t know exactly when to use that.
The narrator describe Nazruddin through many facts, it is a good way to know Nazruddin because when you know how the person act you can imagine how the person is.
In the second paragraph the author give us the explanation of the title and that make the reader feel more interested. In my opinion, the narrator starts to describe Nazruddin as a good person, but always using a little bit of irony like when he says “…which he had picked up not from Europe (he had never been there)…” and I could pick with that from the beginning what he says in the last paragraph.
I think the rest of the novel will tell us more and more characteristics about Nazruddin and through characteristics we will know a very good story.

David Hodges said

at 10:27 am on Jul 2, 2010

OK, Bruna, let's talk about parentheses (these things)! They're used for several reasons, which explains why it's not easy to discover a pattern by looking for them in your reading. One thing parentheses always indicate is an interruption in the flow of a sentence.

A novelist (any writer, really) might use them to give the impression that his narrator (or any other character) is composing what he writes just as we read it. In other words, parentheses imitate the mind of a speaker, which often comes up with alternatives even as we speak.

Naipaul uses parentheses to create a special relationship between the narrator and the readers. (You say so yourself in your comment about irony.) Read the sentences aloud and you'll hear your voice change. The parenthetical statements are little secrets the narrator would be uncomfortable sharing with Nazruddin, but doesn't mind telling us. They all mildly mock Nazruddin, just as his countrymen mocked him quietly to one another. Hold one hand up to your mouth as if you're going to tell only me that Nazruddin pretended to be European though he had never been there. That shape your hand makes looks very much like a parenthesis (the singular of parentheses).

Thank you for saying that "when you know how a person acts, you can imagine how the person is." That's exactly the lesson I've been trying to convey about description through behavior. Nice work, Bruna!

Chunhui Hao said

at 11:27 am on Jul 2, 2010

hello, professor. After reading this short essay, I knew it was a part of the novel, so I could not understand the the purpose of the description. However, I knew a lot of information about the character, such as his experience, his chracterize, and his recent situation.
I flet the author used his vision to see the character and fellow his grow time from he was a kid to he grow up. We saw the character as if we were author and life with him, so this essay very attracted me.

Chunhui Hao said

at 11:32 am on Jul 2, 2010

And so on, the author put a lot of his attention to the detail description,such as language, action, and expression , I like it, and I will try it also.

philip said

at 12:19 pm on Jul 2, 2010

The first paragraph is a narration or explanation about how he know Nazruddin. Then he describe the behavior of Nazruddin with examples. I think another way to describe a person instead a very detail description is to give examples about his or her behavior like Naipul did.
Naipul describe every behavior with a very good examples, so we can image Nazruddin how he acts, how he wears, and how he was in his business.
I have a question professor, is there any difference between narrative-descriptive and exemplification?
Thanks, and have a wonderful Independence Day!

WeiWeiZheng said

at 1:07 pm on Jul 2, 2010

What I saw in this stoy was that the writer used naratve as he favor in Narzuddin, who influence him alot, and exemplificated the main character Narzuddin. The story often used noun he as Narzuddin, I as the writer, showed the closed relation. In the story, the wirter listed many example to show what he knew about Narzuddin, where we can see the exemplification, by using Narzuddin history background and life.

David Hodges said

at 1:58 pm on Jul 2, 2010

You're right, Charlotte; when we read an excerpt from a novel, we can only judge it provisionally. The excerpt does not contain the whole story, so the purpose of establishing Nazruddin's character can only be guessed. We cannot tell whether the excerpt has the unity I require in your short essays, which deliver all their material on a page or two. Will Nazruddin's European manners pay off in the whole story? We can only hope so. Will the predictions he makes in reading the narrator's hand come true? If they do, his power as a prophet will be confirmed. If they don't, we will conclude that his palm-reading is just another affectation, like his dark glasses and wide lapels: something to make himself seem exotic to his countrymen.

David Hodges said

at 2:25 pm on Jul 2, 2010

Your question is the most important question of all, Philip! What are the differences between the rhetorical modes? And, of course, like all the best questions, the answer is: it depends.
Specifically, it depends on what sort of writing I’m doing. If I want to convince you to vote, I will write an argument/persuasion essay. My thesis sentence will propose an action I want you to take, and perhaps a reason I want you to consider. I might say, "The very least a citizen can do to be worthy of his nation's faith in his intelligence is to vote." I have made a small argument in my thesis: 1) The country trusts its citizens to make choices; 2) The right to vote is an privilege for those worthy of it; 3) The voting process is like a contract that obligates both sides.

If I proceed in that manner to use nothing but reason to make my argument, I won't be using description, narration, or exemplification. I won't even be describing the process of voting, only the concept of voting.

(comment to be continued)

David Hodges said

at 2:25 pm on Jul 2, 2010

(comment to Philip continued)

More likely, I will persuade you by telling you a bit of narrative about a country in which fewer and fewer citizens voted each year until eventually leaders could get elected by appealing to a tiny minority of eligible voters and their policies no longer reflected the will of the people.

Or I will give you three examples of what occurs when people stay away from the polls on election day, using actual election results from different places and times.

Or I will describe one voter, who no longer believes that the government represents his values and aspirations, then describe the candidate who realizes he does not need to appeal to this voter, then describe the governing body that discovers it really makes decisions to please the few big donors that help them get re-elected.

Narration, Exemplification, and Description are very different in an essay of this type. What we've been reading at the wiki are all excerpts from novels. Novelists are less obvious about what they want to persuade readers to believe, so their techniques are harder to distinguish. They use narration as example; they use examples to describe; they use description to persuade us about character without us even noticing that they're making an argument.

David Hodges said

at 2:41 pm on Jul 2, 2010

That's an intriguing comment, WeiWei. Nobody has mentioned how often the pronouns are used, but a high percentage begin with "He," don't they? In answer to Philip's question, every new sentence beginning with Nazruddin or "he" seems to offer another example of his character, appearance, or behavior.

Just for fun, I deleted everything except the pronouns referring to Nazruddin and the narrator from the excerpt: This is what's left (in order): our He my he He He us his his he he he his his his his he his his he our he his I me he his I me I I his his his he our his He He he He he he he him his him he He he he he my He his he him I he me my I his He I He He he my He my my my my He he You I me me he me no I you your you you He I I his I whom his I I I my he his his We he his they he he his him He he

WeiWeiZheng said

at 10:11 pm on Jul 2, 2010

I don't mean that used noun for everytime, it's showed relation between the writer and Nazruddin, where he described Nazruddin, and effected to him. Instead, the wirter was known very much about Nazruddin, he can tell many story from Nazruddin.

Ana Morano said

at 10:19 pm on Jul 2, 2010

First of all, I wish I had written my first essay (the one about the person who influenced me on my youth), just like V.S. Naipaul did. Now, I really now (and completely understand), all that I can improve about my own. Thanks Professor for show us this text; I’m really glad and thankful. It is such as a good example.
The text A Bend in the River sounds interesting on my first reading but also is weird. Interesting because is about other culture and the writer did a great work blending descriptive elements about the character and the culture. But is weird when I think how hard is tell stories about other cultures, other civilizations without a good historic context about that. Because, even when is just a pretend, when the writer choose write about some civilization and give the reader some details about it, the reader expect to know, to learn something else and in this way, the reader can be a mistaken, and also confuse.
What I mean is, the writer sounds like a pretend when he tell us about the set: "in a country somewhere in the interior that has recently suffered revolution and civil war and is now under the authority of a new President.", but also, he give us elements that looks like real: “The colonial boundaries of Africa gave an international flavour to his operations.” and “Arab power had vanished”, for example.
Anyway, is a good text and I appreciate the reading.

clara lee said

at 12:08 am on Jul 3, 2010

Every one has a good thought and various comments that makes me speech less. I agree with every one's opinion. However, this story is very interesting that drives me to the next happening.
The writer use a all different techniques which are starting with narrative to descriptive and to the exemplification styles. It makes the reader to think about the story and brings interesting. First the writer, Naipaul, explained the main character, Nazruddin's character which was very sprightly relaxed and humorous person. Then he described how does he looks with descriptive technique,
and then he used exemplification technique to explained the revolution in the colony. The main character, Nazruddin, had percept, thus, he could able to escaped from the disaster situation without problem. Overall, it is very interesting story. I would like to hear for the next happening.
I am sorry, sending the last minute home work and thank you for the all the example essays, Professor Hodges.
I wish you and your family have a nice July 4th and all the class mates too!

David Hodges said

at 6:40 am on Jul 3, 2010

Ana, I'm glad I finally found a way to demonstrate how to describe a person (using a combination of narration, physical description, and examples of behavior)!

What you say about historical fiction is very perceptive. The sentence you highlight about the setting: "in a country somewhere in the interior...." sounds exactly like the opening to a sophisticated fairy tale or adventure cartoon; balanced, as you rightly point out, by sober observations about colonial boundaries. I couldn't agree with you more. The author gives himself a difficult job telling make-believe stories about places he hopes we will take seriously. Great work!

David Hodges said

at 6:43 am on Jul 3, 2010

Thank you, Clara! Enjoy your holiday too. I'm glad you found the other material I have posted since Wednesday. I like to think every day is a class day, and try to keep you busy when you're not in my presence.

I love your description of Nazruddin as "sprightly, relaxed and humorous." He is every bit of that and more. I'll read a little further in the story and see if there's another section I can quote that you'd enjoy.

David Hodges said

at 6:45 am on Jul 3, 2010

I'm disappointed we didn't hear from Moshe, but otherwise we had perfect participation in this reading exercise.

If there's a particular style of writing, storytelling, or author you'd like to read next, please let me know. I'm always open to suggestions.

clara lee said

at 10:34 pm on Jul 7, 2010

Dear Professor Hodes,
I 'd like to read more story, even though, I don't participate soon enough to make commont and not much have a time to read or you make us work hard, but I don't mind to read with interesting and short story. If you have a any excerpt in your mind. please share with us. Since, I took this writing 4 class, my reading desire is blooming. By this way,I should appreciate for you harsh on us?? Regardless, I really appreciate your effort to teach us. You brought me on to the right pace. It's a sizzling hot! Feel like a hot hit is going to melt down everything. Standing under the sun for a minute, feel like, I am inside of oven that will make me a crunch, tasty french fries. Please have a safe summer!

David Hodges said

at 11:40 am on Jul 8, 2010

I'll be posting another reading very soon, Clara! Now that I have your desire blooming, it would be criminal not to provide you with something new! :)

And yes, you should appreciate my harshness. (What choice do you have?)

clara lee said

at 11:23 am on Jul 9, 2010

Thank you Professor!
I think, I should take your harshness. As long as I survive, I'd like to challenge.

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