A House for Mr. Biswas

by V. S. Naipaul

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What actions does Mr. Biswas take for self-empowerment?

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Mr. Biswas’s quest for self-empowerment involves both his family and his career. After marrying a woman of a higher social status, he then makes numerous efforts to break away from his mother-in-law’s control. He uses his writing skills to become a journalist and support his wife and children. His quest is powerfully symbolized by his relentless efforts to have his own house.

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V. S. Naipaul portrays Mohun Biswas as a man who perennially strives for self-improvement. The irony of his situation is that the decisive vehicle for bettering his situation is his marriage to Shama Tulsi, whose family is of a much higher social status than his own. This decision empowers him by placing additional resources at his disposal but at the same time degrades him by creating a dependency on the powerful Tulsi clan, epitomized by his wife’s mother.

Mr. Biswas is determined to make a career for himself. His earlier efforts at making a living showed his persistence but were ultimately unsatisfactory, either to him or his supervisors. As he is both literate and a perceptive observer, he combines these qualities in the career of journalist. Although he finally must abandon his writing position, he has found a powerful voice.

Naipaul makes the physical house for which Mr. Biswas strives a central symbol of his broader efforts to achieve self-sufficiency and self-empowerment. At times his obsession even takes him away from the family loves, as he struggles to break away from the Tulsis. Although he never fully succeeds in overcoming the social and economic disadvantages into which he was born, he keeps his eyes on the elusive prize of homeownership.

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