nedys support, in mid-1963- The fearnof the Russians’ “putting a red spot onnthe moon” was gone. A few monthsnlater, so was Kennedy. There werenPolitical LiterarinessnV. S. Naipaul: A Bend in the River;nAlfred A. Knopf; New York.nKurt Vonneguf: Jailbird; SeymournLawrence/Delacorte Press; NewnYork.nby Dain A. TraftonnA good political novelist, like anynnovelist, must keep his art and his ideasnin proper relationship. Above all, hisnideas must not submerge his art. Politicalnphilosophers and propagandists putnideas first and support them by argumentsnor appeals to interest and passion.nThe main task of novelists is to imitatenlife; ideas emerge secondarily. Only byncreating coherent and convincing plots,ncharacters, and settings, can novelistsnhope to impose their judgments of thenworld. V. S. Naipaul’s A Bend in thenRiver and Kurt Vonnegut’s Jailbird illustratenthe truth of these principles.nBoth are political novels; both definenthe world in essentially political termsnand convey a distinct political message.nA Bend in the River demonstrates whatna political novel should be: ideas grownout of artistic imitation. Vonnegut, onnthe other hand, appears to have beennunwilling or unable to perform thennovelist’s primary task. Instead of carefullynworking out a plot, characters,nand settings, he depends upon opinionsnby themselves to carry the book. Thisnhas long been his technique. Posing asna satirist and fantasist, he has grownnaccustomed to violating the ordinarynconstraints of imaginative fiction for thensake of his opinions. The result in Jail-nDr. Trafton is Professor of English atnRockford College.nunChronicles of Culturenmany more astronauts bursting with thenRight Stuff to come, to soar into spacenfor America. But we know the rest ofnthe story. Dnbirdls a political tract—a not very consistentnone—masquerading as a novel.nThe bend in the river to which Naipaul’sntitle refers lies in the heart ofncontemporary Africa. Just upstream,nrapids mark the end of the great river’snnavigable channel; five days downstreamnby steamboat, and to the west, is thencapital; the cities of the east coast arenmore than a week away by car; allnaround stands the vast forest where mennlive in villages that have hardly changednfor centuries. Along the bend itselfnstretches a ramshackle city, partnovergrown village and part modern metropolis,nits air-conditioned suburbs,n”polytechnic,” and Bigburger standsnsurrounded by huts and bare earth.n(Although the great river can be identifiednalmost certainly as the Congo, thencity on it as Kisangani [formerly Stanleyville],nand the modern nation asnZaire, Naipaul refrains from namingnthem.) He speaks generally of Africanand Africans, never limiting the picturenhe creates to a particular nation ornpeople. As in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness—dSiotherngreat work in which thenCongo remains nameless—the settingnis meant to be symbolic. A Bend in thenRiver portrays what Naipaul apparentlynconsiders the characteristic political dilemmanof the “new” Africa: thendeterioration of a nation that achievesnindependence without being preparednfor it, and the poison that flows fromnthat process into every individual life.nFrom the opening pages, Naipaulncarefully shapes the plot, the characters,nand every scene to express his politicalnvision. The narrator, Salim, reared in anprosperous community of Muslim Indiansnon the east coast, has come tonthe city at the bend in the river to seeknnnhis fortune. He does not fear the newnAfrica that he sees coming. On the contrary,nit offers opportunities: he hasnbeen able to buy a shop at a bargain pricenduring the period of disorder attendantnupon independence. The early part ofnthe novel introduces us to the city asnit seems to be regaining the prosperitynof colonial days. Through a series ofnvignettes, Naipaul presents a rich imagenof the city’s life: its population—black,nAsian, European, and half-caste—itsnarchitecture, its topography, its climate.nIn spite of the prosperity, there are signsnof trouble ahead. In the face of Ferdinand,nan ambitious young man at thenlycee, Salim perceives “the starting pointnof certain kinds of African masks, innwhich features were simplified andnstrengthened.” Wedded to the new powernof Western education is the old powernof savagery. Before long, indeed, “the oldnwar, the one we were still recoveringnfrom, the semitribal war that had brokennout at independence and shattered andnemptied the town,” erupts again. Onenof the victims this time is Father Huismans,nthe Belgian priest in charge ofnthe lycee, who loves traditional Africannculture and wishes to preserve it evennas he seeks to instill European valuesninto the country’s future leaders. On antrip into the forest in search of primitivenart, he is murdered; his decapitatednand mutilated body is placed in a dugoutnand sent down the river as a sign.nFrom the second war emerges a newnpresident—the Big Man. Much morenprecisely than Father Huismans and hisnkind, the Big Man understands the blendnof Europe and primitive Africa that thennew Africa requires. He employs whitenmercenaries to destroy his enemies,nbuilds lavishly in concrete and glass,nwears African clothes, affects the stylenof a chieftain, and begins to make himselfnthe center of a cult. To express thenpower of the Big Man, Naipaul inventsna brilliant structural device. As the BignMan extends his influence over the nation,nhis presence gradually pervadesnthe novel; yet Salim never meets him orneven sees him. In the novel as in then