The Change of an Immigrant's Identity in "One Out of Many"

Term Paper, 2013

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Reflection of Santosh‘s situation in the narrator‘s perspective

3. Santosh's life as an illegal immigrant
3.1 Santosh's development in America
3.2 Santosh‘s place in society

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

In One out of Many, written by V.S. Naipaul, Santosh emigrates from India to America and has to cope with the situation of being an illegal immigrant and finding a new identity. One out of Many is one of three short stories of the novel In a free state, first published in 1971.

The leading question that will be answered in the course of this paper is: How does Santosh‘s identity change when he emigrates from India to America? Concerning the definition of the term identity, various interpretations are possible. In this context, the term identity focuses on one specific aspect: national identity. “Identität [...] ist gebunden an die Ausbildung gruppenspezifischer Kulturformen” (Nünning, 2008, p.306). “Identität impliziert, dass sich das Bezeichnete innerhalb eines Beziehungsgeflechtes situiert” (Nünning, p.307). In order to answer the question about stability or instability, social as well as cultural influences must be taken into consideration (cf. Nünning, p.307).

In this paper, I will attempt to show that, isolated from American society, Santosh remains a marginalized outsider who is torn between two cultures and has lost his roots.

Briefly summing up the most relevant secondary literature, Paula Morgan's essay Consorting with Kali: Migration and Identity in Naipaul's “One Out of Many”, as well as the chapter In a Free State from Bruce King's V.S.Naipaul are the sources that revealed the most detailed information on this topic.

In order to examine the question of Santosh‘s identity, I will look at the narrator‘s perspective and its reflection of Santosh‘s situation in the first step.

Secondly, Santosh‘s process of change will be described and analyzed thoroughly by looking at key scenes. The goal of describing a process brings the necessity of comparing his new life in America to his former life in India. This way, the focus will be on the changes Santosh makes. Describing his development in America, I will consider the way Santosh sees himself in India and I will find out how he assimilates to American culture.

After Santosh‘s personal development, I will continue with Santosh‘s place in society, because the relations to other people are crucial when it comes to identity. At this point, the relation to different sub-cultures will be taken into consideration.

2. Reflection of Santosh‘s situation in the narrator‘s perspective

The narrative mode in One Out of Many reveals a lot about Santosh‘s situation. The story is told by a first person narrator: “I am now an American citizen“ (Naipaul, 1971, p.2730). It is a personal and subjective point of view: “I pointed at random at a bottle. It was a kind of soda drink, nice and sharp at first but then not so nice“ (Naipaul, p.2732). In contrast to Santosh, the reader knows what he ordered. The reader‘s perception differs from Santosh‘s perspective: “[p]art of the comedy is the discrepancy between what he says, which is naive, and what we understand“ (King, 2003, p.92). Thus, “the reader will see beyond the limitations of the narrator‘s view“ (Hayward, 2002, p.197).

Furthermore, the narrator is looking back in the past (“as I know now“ (Naipaul, p.2739)), which creates an „interplay between the innocent experiencing self and the wiser, ,westernized‘ narrator“ (Morgan, 2007, par.7). “The tale told in retrospect is an act of memory, which reconstructs the process of (un)becoming“ (Morgan, par.5).

The story is told from an external perspective, through the eyes of an emigrant. ”Here the outsider‘s perspective functions as a defamiliarizing device. We see Washington afresh through Santosh‘s eyes [...] Santosh‘s wise naivety engenders, for example, the notion that the Americans are not quite real“ (Hayward, p.189). Naipaul himself describes the perspective from which the story is told as “the immigrant‘s view of the capital of the world, the view of a man from another, enclosed culture“ (cited in Hamner, 1979, p.45). Moreover, he says that “different cultures have different ways of seeing“ (cited in Hamner, p.45). Cultural differences are important for the perspective in the story. For example, Santosh does not understand the way Americans dress (“people are never allowed to dress normally but must forever wear their very best“ (Naipaul, p.2735)). “The view clears up but only in a limited way“ (Hamner, p.45), which can be understood as a hint of Santosh being able to see more clearly and beginning to understand American culture at the end of the story, but, nevertheless, the limitations do not disappear.

As a result, this limited, restricted view directly reflects Santosh‘s position as an outsider in American society, who is not able to adjust to another culture.

3. Santosh's life as an illegal immigrant

3.1 Santosh's development in America

When Santosh emigrates from India to America, he is thrown into a whole new world with both different people and also different cultures. In the following, I will analyze how Santosh copes with the situation of being an immigrant and how his personality develops.

At the beginning of the story, the reader learns about Santosh‘s life in India.

“I was so happy in Bombay. I was respected. I had a certain position. I worked for an important man. [...] I also had my friends. We met in the evenings on the pavement below the gallery of our chambers“ (Naipaul, p.2730).

The use of anaphoras puts emphasis on the description of Santosh‘s personality. His happy memories of his work and his social life contrast with his situation in Washington. He reminisces: “I liked walking beside the Arabian Sea, waiting for the sun to come up. Then the city and the ocean gleamed like gold“ (Naipaul, p.2730). The color gold indicates that he felt warm and safe at home in Bombay. Considering the narrator‘s perspective from retrospect, the memories are possibly more than just nostalgia for his home, but they reflect his loneliness and unhappiness in America.

In order to describe his personal development, it is crucial to look at how he regards himself. “I preferred to sleep on the pavement with my friends, although in our chambers a whole cupboard below the staircase was reserved for my personal use.“ (Naipaul, p.2730). Thus, he sees himself as content and modest. Furthermore, he considers himself to be social, because he spends a lot of time with his friends on the streets.

Santosh‘s reaction to the possible transfer of his employer shows that he is afraid of the future and feels insecure. He doesn‘t want his life to change. “For many years I had considered my life as settled. I had served my apprenticeship, known my hard times. I didn‘t feel I could start again. I despaired“ (Naipaul, p.2731). His insecurity is also shown when he searches stability in his closet, before he leaves India. “I stopped sleeping on the pavement and spent as much of my free time as possible in my cupboard among my possessions, as among things which were soon to be taken away from me“ (Naipaul, p.2731).

His employer tells him several times: “Washington is not Bombay“ (Naipaul, p.2731). These repetitions underline the contrast between America and India, which can be referred to as a “split between the memory of past joy and present discomfort“ (Morgan, par.7).

During his trip to America Santosh says: “I wanted the journey to end but I couldn‘t say I wanted to arrive at Washington“ (Naipaul, p.2733). His statement is quite contradictory and shows that he feels miserable during the flight and he is anxious to arrive, because he does not know what awaits him. According to Naipaul‘s philosophy, “people who come to the city lose much of their identity“ (Hamner, p.234). Santosh might unconsciously be scared of what happens to his identity.

Santosh spends his first night in Washington outside in a corridor. He states: “I felt like a prisoner“ (Naipaul, p.2734), which shows that he does not feel at ease at all. But already on the second night, he begins to feel more comfortable. “It was nice to crawl in that evening, spread my bedding and feel protected and hidden. I slept very well.“ (Naipaul, p.2734). The small cupboard he sleeps in reminds him of his home in India, which is a contributing factor for his change of feelings. A cupboard is a familiar environment where he had once searched for stability. The similarity of his bedrooms in India and America is crucial for his well-being. He commits that his initial fear of Washington is unfounded by saying: “The city wasn‘t a quarter as frightening as I had thought“ (Naipaul, p.2735).

However, Santosh does not settle in, and he feels like a foreigner in his own apartment: “But the view remained foreign and I never felt that the apartment was real [...] or that it had anything to do with me.“ (Naipaul, p.2737). Not only does he not get used to his new home, but he also feels extremely uncomfortable in his new environment and hates being outside of the apartment (cf. Naipaul p.2737). Whereas Santosh feels safe in his cupboard, it also seems as if he is captured in his own apartment. “If the journey is a form of imprisonment, so, too, is the life of the emigrant, as symbolized by Santosh‘s cupboard. The threat to his new environment results in a kind of agoraphobia“ (Hayward, p.189).

An important aspect, which shows that he is not able to adjust to the new conditions, is his dealing with money . “I had been thinking in rupees and paying in dollars. In less than an hour I had spent nine day‘s pay.“ (Naipaul, p.2736). The fact that he is not capable of distinguishing between the two currencies shows his inner conflict.

At first, Santosh holds on to his old values, for example in relation to the hubshi [1] : “But in our country we frankly do not care for the hubshi“ (Naipaul, p.2738). Eventually, Santosh gives up his old principles and finds new ones. Caused by the hubshi finding him attractive, Santosh discovers his looks and studies his face in the mirror, which he rarely did in India (cf. Naipaul, p.2738). “Slowely, I made a discovery. My face was handsome. I had never thought of myself in this way. [...] I became obsessed with my appearance. [...] It was like an illness“ (Naipaul, p.2738). As a consequence, Santosh‘s values change: He adapts American values and looses Indian ones. In India, he did not care for his outward appearance, while, in America, his desire for consumption emerges. The choice of the words “obsessed“ and “illness“ show that Santosh can not deal with the new American values, it is simply too much for him. Furthermore, the discovery of his face in the mirror can also be seen as “Santosh‘s first halting steps towards the sense of individuality“ (Morgan, par.12). After the look in the mirror, he is aware of himself as an individual human being. “Santosh realizes his selfhood through the process of displacement, associated in the tale with self-recognition in the mirror“ (Hayward p.190). Later in the story, he loses his good looks: “My face had become pudgy and swallow and full of spots; it was becoming ugly. I could have cried for that, discovering my good looks only to lose them“ (Naipaul, p.2746).

At first, Santosh has no understanding for the way Americans dress. “But what a country I thought, [...] where people are never allowed to dress normally but must forever wear their very best! [...] What occasion are they honoring?“ (Naipaul, p.2735). His definition of normal is different to the opinions of Americans. Cultural differences play an important role and contribute to Santosh‘s restricted view. The gap between him and Americans remains huge. Consequently, Santosh remains an outsider, who is not able to understand the American point of view. After his discovery in the mirror, however, his view on himself, but also on Americans changes to a certain degree: “I saw, too, how good people in Washington had been, to have seen me in rags and yet to have taken me for a man“ (Naipaul, p.2739). This reference to his former appearance is more distanced and proves that he has changed, indeed.

Santosh is in the middle of a transitional phase, where he slowly changes his view. “And one day I found I no longer knew whether I wanted to go back to Bombay. Up there, in the apartment, I no longer knew what I wanted“ (Naipaul, p.2739). At this time, Santosh is confused and has doubts about what he actually wants. He is torn between two contradictory options: He does not want to go back, but he does not really want to stay either. “Santosh represents a man in a liminal transitional state with all the ambiguity and potentiality which that implies“ (Morgan, par.4).

As we have seen before, Santosh adapts American values. He exchanges his Indian weed for clothes: “Then, as anxiously as I had got rid of my weed, I went out and bought some clothes“ (Naipaul, p.2739). This decision marks his transition from his Indian identity to an America one. In the next scene, Santosh purchases a green suit: “When I got back to the apartment I felt quite weak and had to lie down for a while in my cupboard“ (Naipaul, p.2739). He withdraws into his cupboard, where he always searches stability when he feels insecure.

One possible interpretation is that “the hastily purchased green suit is physically and psychically too big because his emerging sense of self and self worth has not yet grown sufficiently“ (Morgan, par.12). Another possibility is that the green suit symbolizes the American culture and its values, and wearing the suit means being American. Santosh tries to obtain an American identity by purchasing the suit, but in fact, fails to maintain it, since the suit does not fit. He leans that he can not simply put on a suit and pretend to be an American.

“I had known it was a mistake. I kept the suit folded in the box [...]. Three or four times I put it on and walked about the apartment and sat down on chairs and lit cigarettes and crossed my legs, practicing. But I couldn‘t bring myself to wear the suit out of doors. Later I wore the pants, but never the jacket.“ (Naipaul, p.2739).

Santosh tries to accustom himself to wear the suit in order to become American. The fact that he succeeds in wearing the pants shows that he partly adapted to American culture, but remains torn between the two cultures and never wholly assimilates.

The green suit could also be connected to the green card, which he desires to obtain. After running away from his employer, he realizes that he will not get one: “I understood that because I had escaped from my employer I had made myself illegal in America.“ (Naipaul, p.2745). The recognition of his illegal presence results in accepting responsibility for his own actions. Santosh realizes: “now the responsibility was mine and mine alone. I had decided to be free, to act for myself“ (Naipaul, p.2745). Santosh has no one who tells him what to do or what is good or bad for him. He is on his own now, which leads to anxieties: “I was more afraid than ever of going out. [...] I saw the future as a hole into which I was dropping“ (Naipaul, p.2745). Santosh is unhappy and fears to be caught as an illegal immigrant.


[1] Indian term for African Americans

Excerpt out of 16 pages


The Change of an Immigrant's Identity in "One Out of Many"
University of Kassel  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik Literaturwissenschaften)
Introduction to Caribbean Literature
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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One out of many, immigration, identity, Naipaul, short story, India, marginalization, illegal immigrant
Quote paper
Julia Knoth (Author), 2013, The Change of an Immigrant's Identity in "One Out of Many", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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