Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The primary theme of the novel is the search for a stable sense of personal identity, symbolized by the house for which Mr. Biswas is continually searching. Until he attains his own house, a firm structure within which he can seek his own destiny, he is a faceless man, adrift on the tides of life. This theme of self-knowledge, or the lack of it, is brought out early in the novel, when Mr. Biswas tries to discover why his food shop is unsuccessful. He studies his face in a mirror and asks Shama who he is, based on his face. She cannot answer, and he says, “I don’t look like anything at all. Shopkeeper, lawyer, doctor, labourer, overseer—I don’t look like any of them.” Mr. Biswas worries frequently about falling into a void, a place where there is no structure, no basis for living. Throughout the novel, inner and outer reality reflect each other. His stark realization that he is not whole, for example, shortly precedes the destruction of his house at Green Vale. It is because of the symbolic value that a house possesses, as the external embodiment of an internal value, that the houses in which Mr. Biswas lives are described in intricate detail throughout the novel.

The theme of a search for identity reveals the influence of William Shakespeare’s King Lear (c. 1606). The novel’s prologue refers to the “unnecessary and unaccommodated” conditions of Mr. Biswas’s birth, an echo of Lear’s lament for “unaccommodated man”; Mr....

(The entire section is 449 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In A House for Mr. Biswas, Naipaul presents two sharply opposing views of life. For the Tulsi family, life is immersion in a community, which governs behavior and prescribes emotions. There is no need for a separate identity in the Tulsi household. Children squabble, husbands and wives quarrel, people move in and out, but everything remains the same. All the Tulsis eat the same bad food on ordinary days, the same lavish food on holidays. All the Tulsis move to a new area at the same time. All the Tulsis develop a passion for education at the same time. Their insistence on conformity is illustrated by their observation of Christmas; all the children receive the same presents, which they break at about the same time.

Although he has never formulated his view of life, from the moment of his unusual birth Mr. Biswas has thought for himself and made his own decisions. It is unfortunate that so often they have been disastrous. Had he not been so busy contemplating the fish, he might not have caused both the calf which he was supposed to watch and his own father to drown. Later, every time he strikes out for himself, whether in building or buying a house or in managing a store, he seems to make the wrong decision—not one which a fool makes but one which could just as well have been right. If he had never become a sign painter, he would not have become involved with the Tulsis; if it had not rained, he would have inspected the poorly built house more...

(The entire section is 475 words.)

Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

While there is much humor in A House for Mr Biswas, the dominant tone of the novel is melodramatic, even tragic. The novel presents...

(The entire section is 380 words.)