A House for Mr. Biswas Additional Summary

V. S. Naipaul

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Mr. Biswas has been fired from his job as a reporter for the Trinidad Sentinel at a time when he can ill afford such a misfortune. He has been sick with a protracted illness and is without money. A huge loan that he took out to buy his present home has to be paid back. Two of his children are still in school; two are abroad on scholarship. His wife, Shama, may need to seek help from her family, the Tulsi clan.

The narrative shifts to the birth of Mr. Biswas. Dire predictions follow the inauspicious event. Mr. Biswas—his first name, Mohun, is never used, even in his childhood—is born with six fingers and in the wrong way. The midwife declares that he will devour his parents, meaning utter ruination for the family. In keeping with Hindu tradition, a pundit is invited to compose the baby’s astrological chart: He foretells that the boy will have good teeth but with gaps in between, a sign of lechery, extravagance, and lying.

Bipti, Mr. Biswas’s mother, is warned to keep him away from water in its natural form. Mr. Biswas’s sneezes, the pundit tells her with strange relish, will spell doom. The pundit says that evil surrounds the boy; however, much of it will be assuaged if his father does not see him for twenty-one days. The family observes this injunction; Raghu is turned away when he comes to see the newborn child. Of the ominous possibilities that the pundit and others predict, many are averted. A few, on the other hand, are strangely fulfilled in Mr. Biswas’s childhood. Raghu drowns when he dives into a pond because he fears that Mr. Biswas has drowned in it. Mr. Biswas, meanwhile, has been hiding because he has lost a neighbor’s calf entrusted to his care with a little sum of money. He shows up by the pond and sneezes just when Raghu’s lifeless body is being retrieved.

With no means of support, Bipti sells the little hut and land that Raghu left behind and moves her family of three boys and a daughter from South Trinidad to Pagotes, under the protection of her wealthy sister Tara. Years later, when Mr. Biswas visits the area, he sees no trace of his former dwelling. Oil has been discovered on the land that Bipti sold so cheaply, and the area is bustling with drilling activity.

The family splits up in Pagotes. Mr. Biswas’s two older brothers are sent to live with a distant relation and work in sugar estates. Mr. Biswas lives with Bipti and goes to a local school for six years. His sister Dehuti, whom he rarely sees, works as a servant for Tara. Tara decides to make a pundit out of Mr. Biswas and sends him to Jairam to receive the appropriate training, which Mr. Biswas does not enjoy at all. When he eats two bananas without asking permission, Mr. Biswas is punished by Jairam. The pundit tells him to eat all the bananas in the big bunch, but Mr. Biswas manages to eat only seven...

(The entire section is 1164 words.)

Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A House for Mr. Biswas, the fourth and last of the early novels, is important to the study of Naipaul for several reasons. Although it resembles its predecessors in that it is set in Trinidad, in this work for the first time the comic tone becomes more nearly tragicomic. While Naipaul still treats many of the characters satirically, his protagonist, Mohun Biswas, is likable, even admirable, in his struggle to gain self-respect and the respect of others and to make enough money to buy his own house. A House for Mr. Biswas is also important because it is Naipaul’s most autobiographical work, reflecting closely his father’s life and his own childhood. For this reason, the author comments in his foreword to the 1984 Vintage Books edition of the work that, of all of his books, this is the one that means the most to him. Naipaul’s critics also place a high value on the novel. Many of them consider it to be his masterpiece.

Naipaul’s initial chapters generally indicate the theme and the major motifs of his novels. The prologue to A House for Mr. Biswas is really the end of the story, describing as it does the disastrous ending of Mr. Biswas’s life, when, at forty-six, the father of four children, penniless, debt-ridden, and ill, he is fired from his job and lies waiting to die in the ill-constructed house that was his life’s goal.

In the first chapter of A House for Mr. Biswas, as in the prologue to The Suffrage of Elvira, Naipaul uses what seem like trivial events to set the pattern of the novel. Mohun’s being born backward and having a sixth finger should...

(The entire section is 667 words.)