V.S.Naipaul presents the predicament of Ralph Singh, the protagonist of the novel, to be the same as that of any modern man including an ex-colonizer. The novel is told in the form of memoirs by the main character who is implicitly criticized by what he actually reveals about himself. It starts and ends in the present with the narrative shifting back and forth in time between Ralph Singh’s childhood, student life in London, his return to the island, his political career, and exile in London. What we actually see is a series of compressed incidents ordered in a sequence of contrasting events to build a unified plot. And finally, unlike his previous novels, The Mimic Men ends on an optimistic note. After having been through so many failures, set-backs, the narrator-protagonist still has hope enough to say, “I have cleared the decks, as it tore, and prepared myself for fresh action. It will be the action of a free man.”
Ralph Singh, the protagonist-narrator of the novel, is the representative of a generation which gains power at independence and can only mimic the authenticity of selfhood. His various failures at the level of personal life are indicative of a larger, national failure. The novel begins with Ralph Singh, “an exiled, or rather a withdrawn politician, fatigued by disillusion rather than failure, writing his memoirs in an aseptic, placeless London suburb.” He sets out to write down his experiences with the hope of fashioning an order out of the various unrelated adventures and encounters through which he had been. He struggles like an artist to create something, to discover some meaning out of the muddled state of affairs, which his life has been. That is why this act of writing his autobiography turns out to be more than a discovery. It becomes a recovery, retrieval of a blighted individual as a free individual with a clear and purged consciousness. At another level, this political autobiography transcends from the level of a personal, confessional report to an existential allegory of the modern man.
Ralph Singh refers to this particular period of his life as something in parenthesis. The story he records can be described as tracing Ralph Singh’s transition from innocence to experience and his passage from external disorder to personal harmony. “The writing of his story becomes the very means to endure the terror, shipwreck, abandonment, and loneliness of his situation.”By analyzing and interpreting his own experiences he hopes to find some order within the chaos of the present, and the uncertainty of the future in the contemporary colonial society. The social analysis which he attempts in The Mimic Men is not confined to the West Indies but extends to the entire Third World.
The novel is not in the form of a linear chronological memory because the narrator in his attempts to salvage his wrecked life imposes a deliberate order on the events and experiences of his life to reconstruct the meaning of his life. This self-imposed order endows him with freedom from the restrictions a chronological and sequential narration might have imposed. It also enables him to muse upon his childhood experiences dispassionately and analytically with an adult mind which makes the second part of the novel all the more interesting and amusing. It would not be incorrect to say that it is in this novel that Naipaul achieves, for the first time, that rare quality, total detachment or ‘non-attachment’—the mark of this maturity as a writer—the quality which, Arnold felt, was the most essential for a writer, and more so for a writer like Naipaul who happens to be a critic of societies and cultures.