Representations of Masculinity and Femininity in Miguel Street


It has been said about V.S. Naipaul\'s novel Miguel Street that "One of
the recurrent themes... is the ideal of manliness" (Kelly 19). To help put into
focus what manliness is, it is important to establish a definition for
masculinity as well as its opposite, femininity. Masculinity is defined as
"Having qualities regarded as characteristic of men and boys, as strength, vigor,
boldness, etc" while femininity is defined as "Having qualities regarded as
characteristic of women and girls, as gentleness, weakness, delicacy, modesty,
etc" (Webster). The charcters in Miguel Street have been ingrained with the
pre- conceived notions of the roles that Trinidadian society dictates for men
and women. Naipaul not only uses these notions to show the differences of the
sexes, 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 definitions of masculinity and femininity prove that those
characteristics apply to the opposite sex in which the women often act like men,
and the men often act like women. All of this will be discussed through looking
at both male and female characters in the book as well as the boy narrator of
the book.

Finding examples of manliness are found with great ease considering that
12 of the 17 stories in some way deal with the theme of manliness (Thieme 24).
It doesnt take long 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 wife used 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 attitude immediately makes Popo stand out
from the rest of the men of Miguel Street. Hat (a character 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 of Popo,
the reader quickly learns as to what makes a man manly on Miguel Street. Popo
has no children which questions his virility. It is also important to notice
that Popo\'s wife has 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 of Popo\'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 men look at him. Now "He smelled of rum, and he used to cry and then grow
angry and want to 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). This change makes him closer to the others, merely because
he drinks and desires to beat up people. 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 of what makes a man more
popular and more manly.

Morgan, the pyrotechist, differs from Popo in that he has 10 children.
Morgan also beats his children regularly. But yet he is not well liked on
Miguel Street. He is a tiny man, who tries very hard to be funny, but is only
laughed at not laughed with. He is married to a Mrs. Morgan, a big spanish
woman, who like Popo\'s wife is only identified as being someone\'s wife. One
night, Morgan is caught by his wife sleeping with another woman. 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, let we show
the big hero to the people in the street. Come, let we show them what man really
make like. You is not a anti- man , you is real man. You ain\'t only make ten
children with me, you going to make more with somebody else" (Naipaul 70). As
the narrator says , "For the first time since he came to Miguel Street, Morgan
was really being 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