Sheetal Jain V.S. Naipaul, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, is considered the leading novelist of the English speaking Caribbean. Naipaul's writing deals with the cultural confusion of the Third World and the problem of an outsider , a feature of his own experience as an Indian in the West Indies , as a West Indian in England , and a nomadic intellectual in a post colonial world . Out of twenty seven fiction and non fiction works, his fame primarily rests on A House for Mr. Biswas. This novel is generally regarded as a Naipaul's most significant work and is credited with launching him into international fame and renown.
In this paper I propose to analyze V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas in the perspective of a sensitive man's rebellion against tyranny and his desperate struggle to achieve dignity in a poverty stricken colonial society.
A House for Mr. Biswas traces the journey of a man, who is ill-treated by not only destiny, but his people as well and in return, he becomes so bitter that he erases all the sweetness of his life by his own thoughts and actions. The novel has been called tragicomic, but Mr. Biswas is no comic buffoon. Despite being buffeted by economic, social and cultural forces beyond his control, and frequently making mistakes, Mr. Biswas is ultimately portrayed as a man of quiet dignity, who meets the challenges of his times with grace. The novel is tragic because life itself is tragic. It is funny, because life is often comical. According to Robert D. Hamner, 'The story of Mohun Biswas captures authentic West Indian life, but beyond that it transcends provincial boundaries and evokes concepts that universal in their human implications .'1
A House for Mr. Biswas has an autobiographical significance for V.S. Naipaul as he has not only set it in his own motherland but also modeled its component characters on his blood relation. His father had provided him with a model for then creation of the
hero of A House for Mr. Biswas who too fails to make the grade as a pundit in training under Jairam but succeeds in doing so as a reporter for the Trinidad Sentinel and a short story writer under Mr. Burnett. In his book, Letters Between Father and Son: Family Letters (1999), Naipaul says that the relationship between him and his father is similar to that of Anand and his father Mr. Biswas. Reading the novel in the light of Naipaul's biography, one can clearly recognize similarities between the real and fictional fathers and sons. For example, both of them changes many houses, living with wealthy relatives working as a sign painters , getting married with the daughters of conservatives wealthy Hindu families; holding a series of jobs are some of the other similarities . In fact Naipaul says that A House for Mr. Biswas is his father's book as it has been written out of his journalism and stories. Naipaul considers A House for Mr. Biswas as one of the closest book to him.
A House for Mr. Biswas, metaphorically, is a miniature world which symbolizes the colonial world. Mr. Biswas's personal battle with the stronghold of the tulsi house hold (the symbol of the colonial world) is a quest for existential freedom and the struggle for personality.
Colonialism refers to the control of one power over a dependent area or people. 'Dictionary defines Colonialism as a practice by which a powerful county controls less powerful countries and uses their resources in order to further its own interest, wealth and power.'2 A House for Mr. Biswas may be considered a symbolic representation of the colonial experience. According to this view, the Tulsi represents the mother country which strictly controlled the colony's daily life and development. Mr. Biswas would represent the colonized people. He is economically and psychologically dependent on Mrs. Tulsi (whom he calls the old queen, perhaps recalling the height of British colonialism under Queen Victoria). He struggles for independence and freedom, but his progress is slow and difficult. Like many former colonists, Mr. Biswas has not had the opportunity to learn the skills needed to manage in an independent society. His attempt to run the store at The Chase is a disaster, and he is ill-suited to oversee the sugarcane workers. Even his self-identity has been jumbled and his traditional roots obscured; he does not know the location of the house he lived in as a boy.
Mr.Biswas has six fingers, a symbol of bad luck for his father and family, and this plays a decisive role in Mohun's life. Mohun is an alien even in his own family as from the very beginning he is declared unlucky in his horoscope. Pundit Sitaram who made his horoscope also predicted that he would be responsible for the death of his parents' .Later in his life; he was often reminded of this prediction made by pundit, and it always increased the bitterness that already pervaded his heart and made him feel more miserable. It further aggravated his sense of loneliness. While he was a boy, his brothers, Pratap and Prasad used to enjoy themselves by roaming around in the village, swimming into the ponds, he was compelled to stay at home. The only option for him was to play with his sister Dehuti. Thus, he was alienated even from his family. After the death of his father he was admitted to a school but here he was regularly flagged by his teacher Mr.Lal. Thus, the constant humiliation and physical and mental abuse casted negative impact on his personality and gradually he developed a kind of animosity towards people and become more isolated and lonely. After studying here for six years, Biswas was sent to pundit Jairam where his sense of self respect got hurt again when he was flogged and ill treated by pundit Jairam.
Mohun biswas's chance marriage to Shama made him a son in law of Tulsi. It was a large, very large joint family. His marriage made him realize that life, even after a love marriage, is not romance but an act of responsibility. Without money and without a
dowry from Tulsi, Mr. Biswas had no choice but to move in at hanuman House. Though marriage into the Tulsi family provided Biswas greater security than he had known before, in return the family demanded strict conformity to its Hindu code and unquestionable obedience to its head. He accepted the security but rejected the orthodox and authoritarian arrangement of the Tulsi household. He calls Hanuman House a zoo managed by 'the old queen' Mrs. Tulsi, and 'the big boss', Seth; he nicknames the Tulsi sons, Shekhar and Owad, as 'gods and spits' at one of them to the disgust of the entire house hold. He refused to work as a laborer for the Tulsi and preferred to paddle his own canoe.
Throughout his life he tried to escape the Tulsi embrace as a shopkeeper at The Chase or as a supervisor of laborers at Green Vale or as a journalist and a community welfare officer in Port of Spain. But, although he managed to establish areas of independence for himself, he and his family remain tied to the Tulsi household for shelter, a condition which he can only view as a form of betrayal.
In this struggle the idea of having a house of his own becomes an obsession with him and he begins to look upon a house not only as a place to live in but as a symbol of his identity and independence in a poor colonial society.
At the end he is able to build a house of his own by taking a loan. He is happy to move into a house of his own with his family at long lost. The house is jerry 'built and mortgage, but it is his own house .He was not at the mercy of anybody, rather he was his own master. He dies of a heart attack soon after occupying it, but it is better than death in the house of the Tulsi.
Naipaul in this novel, very beautifully presents the importance of house in one's life. House is not only a matter of shelter in life but a great need of one's life. It becomes a symbol of personal identity in the world of alienation. Kumar Parag also underlines, ' A house is not just a matter getting shelter from heat, cold or rain. In fact it is both an imposition of order and a carving 'out of authentic selfhood within the heterogeneous and fragmented society of Trinidad.'3
His struggle to achieve identity and independence in a colonial set up seems to have failed but despite the death in debt and the last days, clouded with worry over the future of his son, Anand, Mr. Biswas has in fact triumphed. In however insignificant a way, his attainment of the house ideal is an assertion of his will to be different, to control his environment rather than to be manipulated or controlled by it. 'Dubious as his victory seems, it is still better than death in the house of the Tulsi.'4
Naipaul, in my opinion, wants to convey this message that the identity of a person in a society is defined by society itself and that's why sometime to achieve this identity one person has to rebel against the society itself.
No doubt, A House for Mr. Biswas evokes a man's search for independence against an symbolic colonial image. To conclude, I can say that in this unfriendly world a house of own is the only symbol of self identity, consolation, self ' esteem, and freedom.
1. Hamner, Robert D.,ed. 'introduction', Critical Perspective on V.S. Naipaul .London:Heinmein,1979.
2. Krishnaswamy N., John Varghese and Sunita Mishra, eds. Contemporary literary theory: A student's Companion .New Delhi: Macmillan India Limited, 2001.
3. Parag , Kumar . 'Identity Crisis in V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas'.
Source: ChinaStones - http://china-stones.info/free-essays/english-language/house-symbol-self-identiity.php