B. Wordsworth by V. S. Naipaul
The Storyline / Plot Summary
‘B. Wordsworth’ is a short story written by V.S. Naipaul in 1959. The narrator tells the story of his relationship with a poet named B. Wordsworth when he (narrator) was a little boy.
The story starts with the description of beggars visiting houses trying to earn some money or alms in the kind houses of Miguel street. A tidily dressed man knocks on a house where our little narrator lives with his mother. When the narrator asks the reason, the man replies that he wants to see the bees in their compound.
The narrator runs upstairs and tells his mother that a man wants to see the bees. His mother comes and asks the man in an unfriendly manner about what he actually wants. The man again says that he wants to see the bees. The man’s English is so good that the mother suspects him but nevertheless she agrees to let him in the yard.
The boy (narrator) and the man watch the bees together. The man says that he likes watching the bees and asks the kid if he likes it as well. The kid replies that he never has the time to. The man shakes his head sadly and says that’s what he does; he watches. The boy, quizzical about the peculiar man, asks various questions. The man introduces himself as Black Wordsworth. He then says that he can watch a flower like the morning glory and cry.
The kid asks what he cries for. B. Wordsworth replies “when you’re a poet you can cry for everything”. After this Wordsworth asks the child if he likes his mother. The kid says only when she’s not beating him. Wordsworth pulls out a printed paper from his pocket. He tells the kid that on this paper the greatest poem about mothers is written and he’d sell it to him for 4 cents if he likes. The kid rushes up to his mother to ask if she’d buy it but his mother declines. The kid goes back to the man and tells him that his mother doesn’t have four cents.
Wordsworth isn’t bothered by this. The kid asks why he goes around like this and whether he is able to earn enough this way. Wordsworth says that this way he meets new people. He also expects to meet new poets. But not a single copy has been sold till now. After Wordsworth leaves the kid wishes that they meet again.
After one week, while the boy is returning from school, they run into each other. Wordsworth admits that he too was hoping to see him again. He tells the kid that he has the best mango trees in his yard and wants to invite him to eat them. He lives in Alberto Street in a one-room hut. After the kid has had enough mangoes, he returns home. His mother goes berserk upon seeing his shirt stained with yellow juice.
His mother beats him badly that day. In anger the kid leaves home screaming he’ll never come back. He goes to Wordsworth’s place. Seeing the boy’s bleeding nose, Wordsworth consoles him and suggests that if he stops crying, they will go for a walk. They go for a walk down to Savannah and walks to the race-course. They lie on the green grass. Wordsworth asks the kid to look up at the stars and think how far they are from them. The kid does so. Never in his life had he felt so great yet nothing. After this, some light flashes on their faces; a policeman comes up to them, asking what they are doing. Wordsworth replies that he has been asking the same question to himself for 40 years.
Wordsworth makes the kid promise that he’d never tell anyone about him or the mango trees. The boy keeps his promise.
One day the boy goes to meet B. Wordsworth and sees him lying on his sofa, severely ill. Death is written clear on his face. Heartbroken, the boy goes up to him. Wordsworth sits up, placing the boy on his knees, and says that he is going to tell a joke. Then B. Wordsworth says that everything he has ever told the boy about himself was a lie. He also makes the kid promise that he’ll never come back again. Then the kid leaves.
After one year, while the boy was crossing the same street, there was no sign of Wordsworth’s one-room hut or his trees. It was as if Wordsworth had never existed.
B. Wordsworth: A Commentary on the Story
‘B. Wordsworth’ written by N.S Naipaul is all about the beautiful bond between Wordsworth and the kid. It’s written in first person from the young boy’s perspective.
Lots of dialogues are used to make the readers understand Wordsworth’s witty attitude. But, as the dialogues are small, those give us only a glimpse of Wordsworth’s character, making him an unsolved mystery until the end. Wordsworth is a vagabond and the kid is considerate, whereas the mother is the opposite of those two.
The story is set in Trinidad. There isn’t much description of the place though.
The main themes are friendship, love for nature, despair, illusion, identity and escapism. At the end of the story, it’s safe to conclude that Wordsworth had been living inside an illusionary bubble which was created by him in hope to build an image of himself which is drastically different from the real him. But in his last moments he seemed to have accepted the reality by revealing that he wasn’t famous.
The vocabulary and narration are intriguing. From the beginning it raises questions about the main character, Wordsworth; about the stories he tells the kid, his past and his true identity. Slowly the answers become clear.
Wordsworth’s character, though a bit peculiar, is quite relatable. There’s a constant internal struggle in him. He seems to be fighting from his old true self to become something he wishes to be. This identity crisis has become rather common in today’s world.