A House for Mr Biswas - Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

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Summary

Not long after a quarrel between his mother Bipti and his father Raghu has sent Bipti to her own mother’s house, Mr. Biswas is born around midnight, “in the wrong way,” and with an extra finger. His grandmother, lamenting the fact that she is doomed to have bad luck, immediately takes steps to prevent evil spirits from entering the house, but the midwife says that no matter what they do, the boy will “eat up” his own parents. The next morning a pundit comes to name the child and cast his horoscope; he predicts that the boy will grow up having some undesirable qualities as well as an unlucky sneeze. The pundit prescribes some rituals that the family must perform to help ward off the bad luck, including keeping the father away for twenty-one days. He also advises them to keep the child away from trees and water. The naming is almost an afterthought, and the pundit combines a prefix he thinks safe with Bipti’s idea and the baby is named Mohun, which means “the beloved.”

Although he loses the sixth finger before he is nine days old, Mr. Biswas’s family never forgets that he is an unlucky child; Raghu does not go to work if he hears Mr. Biswas sneeze, and begins to feel that they will become paupers. He begins to hoard money, and spends very little on anything, including the well-being of his family. Mr. Biswas suffers from malnutrition, stunted growth, a shallow chest, eczema, and sores on his skin. His brothers Pratap and Prasad go to work at the ages of nine and eleven.

When Mr. Biswas becomes a little older, his neighbor Dhari hires him to take water to his calf. Mr. Biswas decides on his own to take the calf for walks, and one day discovers a stream. He is fascinated with it, since he has never been allowed near water, and returns to the stream when he is walking with the calf. One day he is so absorbed with watching the fish in the stream that he loses the calf. He searches for hours and never finds it, so he thinks the best thing for him to do is hide.

When Dhari comes to the house to find out what he has done with the calf, Mr. Biswas is nowhere to be found, and his father fears that harm has come to him. When Bipti reassures Dhari that Mr. Biswas would never go near water, the neighbor immediately decides that his calf has been drowned. A crowd of neighbors has gathered, and they all go to the pond to investigate. Raghu, an expert diver, repeatedly dives into the pond and eventually comes up with the drowned calf. Exhausted, he insists on continuing to dive, looking for his son, but he has lost the strength for it, and he drowns. Before he is brought out of the water, a sneeze is heard.

Bipti’s sister Tara comes to help with the funeral; afterward, she takes Dehuti, Bipti’s daughter, to live with her in Pagotes and work for her. She asks Bipti how much money Raghu left her and Bipti admits she has nothing. Knowing that he hoarded his money, they look for hidden treasure and find nothing. Bipti discovers that Dhari and other neighbors are digging in the garden; they are also trying to find the hidden money. They tell her to close the window and go to sleep; they are there to look after her.

Dhari continues coming into her garden at night and making disguised threats, and Bipti is intimidated into selling the hut and the land to Dhari and moving with Mr. Biswas to Pagotes. Prasad and Pratap are sent to live and work on a sugar estate with a distant relation.

Living in a back trace on Tara’s property, supported by Tara and her husband Ajodha, Bipti and Mr. Biswas share the space with some of Ajodha’s dependent relations, but they basically remain strangers to the other. Under the new circumstances, mother and son develop a distance from each other; Bipti has been broken and is unresponsive to her son, and Mr. Biswas feels as if he is alone.

Analysis

The first look at the family of Mr. Biswas reveals that they have a tendency to quarrel and take a superstitious view of the world under the pretext of religion. Although there were no clocks to indicate the time that Mr. Biswas was actually born, both the midwife and the grandmother assert that it was midnight, adding potency to the idea that the child was born under negative signs. Even though the child is given the name of Mohun by the pundit, he continues to be referred to as Mr. Biswas throughout the narrative, regardless in what stage of life he is.

The difficulty of life for the family is emphasized by the fact that the children begin working at such an early age, forcing them to grow up too early. When Mr. Biswas takes the calf on walks to the stream, he shows a certain spirit of adventure, and some rebelliousness, as he has been forbidden to go near water. When he makes a mistake and is not able to correct it, his instinct is to hide. For this reason, his father suspected that he may have been in the pond, and his drowning seems to confirm the prophecy of the midwife. As the family is forced to break up, Mr. Biswas embarks on a series of living arrangements that require him to live with strangers under disagreeable circumstances without maternal guidance and support.

Vocabulary

aperture, pundit, inauspicious, ochre, mitigated, sabots, Wellingtons, austerities, eddy, calabash, valance, harangued, passé partout, heliotrope, ferrules, engulfing, dhoti

This section contains 964 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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