The novel has a full complement of richly developed characters, from the overbearing Seth to the conniving and later self-pitying Mrs. Tulsi and the pompous W. C. Tuttle, and a host of minor ones, each deftly presented and revealed by the habitual gesture or facial expression, the characteristic pattern of thought and speech. On the whole, it is not a flattering portrait of Indian life in Trinidad. The Tulsi family and others reveal more than their fair share of vanity, snobbishness, bullying, callousness, resignation, pettiness, and knavery.
The central character, Mr. Biswas, emerges as a sympathetic figure in spite of his faults. This is partly because of the adverse circumstances of his life, which he does not accept and continually makes efforts to overcome. Mr. Biswas is always the “little man”; physically weak and small, he is dependent on others economically and socially; he is humiliated by them and cannot win any respect even in the family into which he marries. As a result, he hits back by making them the butt of his scathing humor, which lowers his stock even more. Ironically, the most respect Mr. Biswas receives is from the destitutes and villagers with whom he comes into contact as a result of his work as a journalist. He realizes, though, that there is a huge discrepancy between the way they regard him and what he feels to be the depressing truth of his own precarious existence, and this self-awareness produces some of the most hilarious...
(The entire section is 411 words.)
One of V. S. Naipaul’s achievements is his ability to create characters who are irrational and eccentric, yet thoroughly believable and sympathetic. Usually, whether he writes in the first person or in the third person, he presents his narrative through the eyes of a single character, in this case Mr. Biswas. Usually, too, the novel involves gradual development of understanding, even a gradual initiation into life.
In this novel, Naipaul details the growth of Mr. Biswas, first a dreamy child, too young even to feel guilt for his father’s death, then an innocent boy, whose desire for a girlfriend leads him into the Tulsis’ trap, finally a long-suffering husband and father, endeavoring to “claim” his own wife and children. Like many of Naipaul’s protagonists, Mr. Biswas has tragic possibilities. Although life seems determined to destroy him, or at least to submerge him in his wife’s family, he always fights back, whether by insulting them or by defying them. No matter that the defiance is useless, that his children finally keep the names which the Tulsis gave them rather than those Mr. Biswas had chosen, or that his wife inevitably finds an excuse to return to her family whenever he has taken her and the children away from them, it is the little man’s determination which makes him admirable. If he wins only to die, that too is tragic.
One of Mr. Biswas’ problems is the kind of woman he married. So much a part of her family is...
(The entire section is 537 words.)
Mohun Biswas, a journalist. When he is born backward, equipped with a sixth finger, he is marked for bad luck. A small, thin boy, he is dreamy and naïve. After growing up in poverty, he has a succession of jobs. During a stint as a sign painter, he is tricked into marrying a member of the possessive Tulsi family. During the rest of his life, he tries to wean his wife from her family and to live in his own home without the Tulsis. When he is forty-two years old, he realizes both dreams, but four years later, he dies of heart disease.
Shama Tulsi Biswas
Shama Tulsi Biswas, Mohun’s wife. When he meets her, she is sixteen years old, pretty, and slim, with fine features and a nice smile. Unfortunately, after she marries Mohun, she remains a Tulsi and does not fall completely into the role of wife. When he lives with the Tulsis, she treats him with disrespect; when she lives elsewhere with him, she seizes every excuse to return home, often for months. When he takes her and their family to the house he has bought, she finally learns to love and respect him.
Raghu Biswas, Mohun’s father. A man obsessed with saving money, he hides his horde so well that his family can never find it. Thinking that Mohun has fallen into a pond, he dives for him and drowns, leaving his wife penniless, with four children to support.
Bipti Biswas, Mohun’s...
(The entire section is 606 words.)