East Indians in Trinidad were transplanted from India primarily during the nineteenth century to work on sugar plantations. Few of them had any education or wealth when they came to the island as indentured laborers. They formed a close-knit group, had little interest in anything other than their own affairs, and aggressively competed with the other dominant ethnic group, the Africans, for perks and prospects.
One of V. S. Naipaul’s early fictions dealing with the Hindu community in Trinidad, A House for Mr. Biswas is an autobiographical fiction. It tells the story of Naipaul’s father, Seepersad Naipaul, an unsuccessful writer and reformer, in the guise of Mr. Biswas. Mr. Biswas’s son, Anand, represents the author himself.
Insofar as A House for Mr. Biswas recounts a man’s growth to maturity, it is a bildungsroman; insofar as it describes a writer’s quest to find his true voice, as depicted in the experience of both Mr. Biswas and Anand, the novel is a künstlerroman. It also resembles a family romance, though not in the strict Freudian sense: The rebel is not the son, Anand—though he, too, has his rebellious moments—but the son-in-law, Mr. Biswas, who continually threatens the power hierarchy of the Tulsi family.
Naipaul would use the autobiographical elements he incorporated into A House for Mr. Biswas again and again in his later books, creating a unique genre in the process. This new mode of writing richly culminated in The Enigma of Arrival (1987), which was cited by the Nobel Committee when it awarded the author the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001. Fiction forms a component in Naipaul’s distinctive genre, which is largely a combination of autobiography, history, and travel writing and borders on nonfiction.
Although the Trinidad Indians seem to be an enduring source for Naipaul, his own attitude toward the island nation is ambivalent at best. In a biography of the author, Patrick French recounts Naipaul’s long ordeal to rid himself of all Trinidadian “taint.” French recalls Naipaul’s comment upon receiving the Nobel Prize, acknowledging the...
(The entire section is 881 words.)