Representations of Masculinity and Femininity in Miguel

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