The unnamed narrator is a young boy who is being raised by his mother in a house on Miguel Street. His father is dead. (This is revealed in ‘‘Love, Love, Love, Alone,’’ one of the other stories in Miguel Street). The boy’s age is not given, but he is no younger than eight and probably no older than nine or ten. He is still young enough to need his mother’s permission to leave the house, and she beats him severely when he displeases her. He is a perceptive, inquisitive boy, and he readily accepts the friendship offered by B. Wordsworth because he learns a lot through the old man, such as the names of the constellations. Growing up fatherless, the boy needs a man in his life. However, as a young boy, he is still naı¨ve enough to believe everything B. Wordsworth tells him, and he does not question that B. Wordsworth will write the greatest poem in the world. He thinks the poem will make the poet rich. The boy gets very attached to B. Wordsworth and is upset when the old man breaks off the relationship and confesses that the stories he told were not true.
The Narrator’s Mother
The narrator’s mother is a widow who is raising her son on her own. She is not described in any detail but she is certainly not short on discipline. She whips her son with a switch for not telling her where he was going, and he is accustomed to receiving beatings from her. She is poor but not as poor as some in the neighborhood, and she is willing to give either food or small amounts of money to beggars who come to the house.
B. Wordsworth is a man of about sixty. He is small and neatly dressed, speaks grammatical English, and lives in a one-room hut with a yard that has mango, coconut, and plum trees in it. The narrator meets him when B. Wordsworth comes into the yard and asks to watch the bees in the palm trees. He does this for an hour. He likes to sit and just observe nature. He calls himself a poet, and his last name is the same as that of William Wordsworth (1770–1850), the great English Romantic poet. It is unstated whether this is B. Wordsworth’s inherited last name or whether he chose it himself because he wanted to identify himself with the great poet, whom he calls his brother. The B in his name stands for Black, suggesting that he is the black Wordsworth. B. Wordsworth, however, lacks a realistic understanding of his own abilities. He is writing what he says will be the greatest poem in the world, a poem that will speak to all humanity, but he only manages to write one line of it. The truth is that such a poem is beyond his very modest powers. Although he has managed to write at least one poem, about mothers, he cannot find anyone who is willing to buy it. The meager living he makes comes not from poetry but from singing calypso songs.
B. Wordsworth also likes to nourish romantic notions of his own past. The story he tells the boy about the young wife and unborn child who died is supposed to be about himself and to explain why he lets his yard grow untended. The wife loved the garden and after she died the man said he would never touch anything in it. Later, B. Wordsworth tells the boy the story is not true. He may have made it up because he does not want to admit that he is too lazy to trim the yard, or it may be that he just likes stories.
B. Wordsworth might be seen as living an unproductive, pointless life, comforted by illusions, but in fact he is a positive influence on the boy. He teaches him how to observe nature and for a while makes his life exciting, full of trips to local places of interest. He teaches him to look with wonder upon the world. But B. Wordsworth’s tragedy is that he never makes the impact on the world that he wants to. In fact, after he dies, it is as if he never existed. No one but the boy remembers him.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, V. S. Naipaul, Published by Gale Group, 2001.