Themes and Meanings
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.)