A House for Mr Biswas - Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

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Summary

Mr. Biswas goes to Hanuman House to paint signs for the Tulsi store, and is enchanted by the smile of the girl at the counter. He works up the courage to write her a note that says, “I love you and I want to talk to you.” When Shama smiles at the note, he interprets her response as mockery and thinks he has made a fool of himself. Ashamed, he tries to get the note back, but Mrs. Tulsi, Shama’s mother, comes into the store to settle a dispute between Shama and a customer. She sees the note and takes it. She scolds Shama for playing a trick on the customer, and Shama bursts into tears, disintegrating Mr. Biswas’s enchanting image of her, and he slinks out of the store.

He decides to go about his business as if nothing has happened, but after he finishes working, Mrs. Tulsi sends a message that she wants to see him before he leaves. When he sees her, she shows him the note, and he denies writing it. He cannot convince her, though, and she and Seth begin talking about marriage. They seem friendly, impressed at Mr. Biswas’s Brahmin bloodline, and concerned that he does not feel forced to marry Shama, putting him on the defensive and compelling him to say that he is not being forced. Nevertheless, their subtle manipulation is very intimidating.

He realizes that, with this marriage, he will be losing any hope of romance, but he cannot devise a plan to get out of the situation. Mr. Biswas and Shama are married at the registrar’s office, and Mr. Biswas’s anticipation of a handsome dowry is crushed when Mrs. Tulsi tells him that they are not the sort of people who show off. He thinks that the lack of a dowry means they will give him something else, such as a job, house, or both, and prepares to receive these rewards.

He feels lost in the Tulsi family, with no one to talk to, but it does not occur to him to escape because he feels he has made a legal and moral commitment. For a while, he does not attempt to establish relations with Shama, and he even avoids talking to her. He realizes that the Tulsis married him to Shama simply because he is of the proper caste, but without money or position, they expect him to become a Tulsi.

He does not like the Tulsis; he rebels, finishes the signs he has been painting for the store and decides to finally escape, with Shama or without her. She cries, making a scene in front of the relatives, saying that Mr. Biswas is breaking her heart and creating trouble in the family. Biswas packs up his brushes and clothes and leaves in a temper, heading back to Pagotes.

Bipti has heard about the marriage and is joyful because he has married into a good family. Ajodha teases him, and Tara shows disappointment. He confides his unhappiness to Tara, hoping that she will tell him that he is free and does not have to go back. Instead, she goes to talk to the Tulsis and returns with news that they plan to set him up in a shop in a village called The Chase. Tara is reproachful toward Mr. Biswas because the Tulsis told her that the marriage is a love match, referring to the note Mr. Biswas has written. Under Tara’s inducement, Mr. Biswas concedes defeat and packs his things to go live with the Tulsis.

As a member of the Tulsi household, Mr. Biswas is uncooperative and troublesome. He works away from Hanuman House, and when he returns, Shama waits on him, serving him his food in his room. They are still not on friendly terms, but their culture expects certain duties from wives, and she is resigned to her Fate. Mr. Biswas takes these opportunities to express his scorn for the Tulsis, mocking them and giving them disparaging names. He takes his disrespectful behavior even further by spitting out the window.

Eventually, he gets tired of having only Shama to talk to, and he makes overtures of friendship to one of his new brothers-in-law, Govind, who is married to the sister they call C, for Chinta. Govind is wary of Mr. Biswas, but he listens to him talk, and occasionally offers advice, suggesting that he give up sign painting and become a driver on the estate. Mr. Biswas responds by saying his motto is to “paddle your own canoe.”

This comes back to him when Seth asks to see him and confronts him with his attitude toward the family, mockingly calling him a paddler. Mr. Biswas realizes that Govind has been repeating their private conversations to Seth. Mrs. Tulsi’s younger son, whom Mr. Biswas has named “the little god”, is especially offended for his mother’s sake and demands an apology, but Mrs. Tulsi indicates that this kind of apology cannot be sincere.

The confrontation with Seth, Mrs. Tulsi, and the little god is frustrating and unsettling as Mr. Biswas is once again put on the defensive. His shame at his ingratitude turns into anger at his own weakness, and he loses his temper and tells everyone to go to hell. He starts packing to leave again, but he feels foolish. As Seth’s wife and Govind’s wife come to beg him not to do anything in a temper, he realizes that he is being viewed by everyone else as defeated; the Tulsis have declared themselves enemies of Mr. Biswas, so he resolves to stay and fight.

Another family confrontation occurs over Mr. Biswas’s interest in the Aryan ideas that are being advocated by missionaries from India. These ideas are in opposition to all the orthodox principles observed by the Tulsis. The problem intensifies when Misir, a friend who works for the newspaper, writes an inflammatory article that mentions Mr. Biswas’s name and address. Seth says that Mr. Biswas is trying to disgrace the family, and in response, Mr. Biswas starts ridiculing the family ideals.

When Mr. Biswas leaves Christian booklets lying around, Seth confronts him again, and Mr. Biswas counter-attacks again, implying that the family’s Hindu beliefs are being compromised by the sons’ attendance at a Roman Catholic College. The argument escalates, with Seth threatening to hit Mr. Biswas, but Shama drags him away before any physical action can take place.

In the midst of all the commotion, Mrs. Tulsi faints, and all her daughters tend to her, following a complex ritual. Mr. Biswas and Shama continue their own argument, and Mr. Biswas stays away from the family until the next morning, when he acts as if nothing happened. When Mrs. Tulsi comes in, he asks her if she feels better, and she says she does. It seems as if everything is going to get back to normal when the younger god, Owad, comes in to perform the morning puja. Mrs. Tulsi tells Owad to take the camphor flame to his brother Mohun, but Mr. Biswas declines to participate, insulting Mrs. Tulsi once again.

After the conflict, Biswas initially feels elated, but his spirits fall when he leaves Hanuman House. He feels as if the campaign he is conducting against the Tulsis has gotten to a point where it seems pointless and degrading. He realizes that, in his present situation, he amounts to no more than a visitor or someone who upsets the established routine does.

Shama brings his dinner to him in the room again, and he reacts angrily to bad food served on a brass plate. When he shows his contempt by spitting out the window, he hits Owad, who is infuriated. Mr. Biswas spits out the window again, but this time he misses Owad. He continues to quarrel loudly with Shama about the food, and she tells him that he should not criticize the food that other people give him. He then takes the plate of food over to the window and spills it out; again, it lands on Owad.

This causes great outrage throughout the family, and Govind comes in and starts beating Mr. Biswas. The family gathers round, some of them begging for Govind to stop, and Owad urging him to kill Mr. Biswas, who is not fighting back. Finally Mr. Biswas is afraid that he really will be killed and cries out, which makes Govind stop the beating. The next day Seth tells Mr. Biswas to leave the house. He takes Shama, who is now pregnant, and they move to the shop in The Chase.

Analysis

The irony in Mr. Biswas’s life continues as his first note to a girl results in a marriage that he does not want. His infatuation does not last very long as he sees Mrs. Tulsi, and then sees Shama crying. Just as he is pretending as if the note was never written, he is put in a circumstance where he does not have the strength of character nor the social experience to extricate himself, and he suddenly finds he is a married man living in another house of strangers. He becomes rebellious, trying to keep himself separate from the Tulsi family in an effort to hold on to his own identity.

As he continues to find himself in confrontational situations with Seth, Mrs. Tulsi, and other members of the family, he feels that he is being constantly manipulated, and he lashes out by saying and doing outrageous things. The effect is most often clownish, and the family considers him a buffoon. However, dumping his food on Owad is the final insult, and Mr. Biswas is at last expelled from the house but not the family, nor the family business. For better or worse, he is a Tulsi son-in-law.

Vocabulary

impregnable, façade, amplitude, circumspectly, prognathous, complicity, bluchers, disparaging, maudlin, lucid, suppliant, elucidated, placate, ruminant, fastidiousness, acrimonious, supercilious, disputation, piqued, precipitating, contrition, decrepit, derelict, flambeau, feckless

This section contains 1,668 words
(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)
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