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A House for Mr Biswas Summary
V. S. Naipaul

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A House for Mr Biswas Summary

Plot Summary

A House for Mr. Biswas is the story of a Trinidad native of Indian ancestry. Mohun Biswas is nominally Hindu, although he questions much of traditional Hindu Indian culture. The novel has been called tragicomic, but Mr. Biswas is no comic buffoon. Despite being buffeted by economic, social and cultural forces beyond his control, and frequently making mistakes, Mr. Biswas is ultimately portrayed as a man of quiet dignity, who meets the challenges of his times with grace. The novel is tragic because life itself is tragic. It is funny, because life is often comical. Mohun Biswas is born to a poor but high caste family in an agrarian setting. The family suffers a reversal when Mohun is around seven years old, leaving them to rely on the benevolence of wealthy relatives. Mr. Biswas works a variety of jobs and experiences a series of setbacks. His fondest desire is to provide for his family in the modern way, especially by purchasing a house of his own. Instead, for most of his life Mr. Biswas lives with his relatives, in a huge house with his wife's extended family, the Tulsis, or in shabby quarters provided by relatives. He works a series of unrewarding jobs for low wages. Finally, shortly before his death, through a happy accident, Mr. Biswas is able to provide a home for his family.

As the novel begins, Mohun Biswas's two older brothers are illiterate buffalo herders on a sugar estate. Because Mohun is too young to work when his father dies, he is sent to school. The novels he reads, as a boy and a man, determine his path in life. After a series of unsuccessful jobs, the young man becomes a sign painter. While he is decorating the walls of a general store in a nearby village, a pretty girl attracts his attention. Mr. Biswas tries to speak to her and almost instantly finds himself manipulated into a disadvantageous marriage by her wealthy family, the Tulsis.

For the next decade, Mr. Biswas follows Tulsi family tradition. He works one menial job after another in the family businesses, for wages that are little more than pocket change. He lives with his wife in a single room in various buildings owned by the Tulsis. The extended family is constantly offering commentary on his every action.

Mr. Biswas tries to build a shack for his family on the Tulsi sugar estate where he works as a driver, only to have it destroyed by the unhappy workers. He builds another shoddy house on the Tulsi farm at Shorthills, but he is forced to abandon it to support his family. Working as a journalist in the capital of Port of Spain, Mr. Biswas argues with the family matriarch and angrily gives notice. Finally, a chance encounter in a cafy leads to the purchase of a house on Sikkim Street. It is ridiculously overpriced and poorly constructed, but it is his.

At its heart, A House for Mr. Biswas is the story of one man. V. S. Naipaul's novel lovingly details the exploits of a man of simple grace. His life is laden with pitfalls at every step, and yet it has an ineffable sweetness and dignity. Mr. Biswas is not wealthy or renowned in any way. He never passes important legislation, creates beautiful paintings or builds a business empire. Riches, power and fame elude him. He leaves little behind except a mortgage, a widow and four children. Yet, there is a delicate sweetness about his exploits. This is a story of the heroism involved in getting up and going to work at a menial, unrewarding job each day. Mr. Biswas merely negotiates the shoals of his own distinctive life with strength and grace. In the end, it is more than enough.

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