A House for Mr Biswas - Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

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The shop in The Chase is dirty and rundown, and Mr. Biswas is distressed to see his savings dissolving as they buy necessary household items and stock for the small food shop. Mr. Biswas tries to be optimistic, saying that the place could be built up. Shama is unhappy and shows some hostility toward Mr. Biswas during the move, but determines to make the best of things.

Away from the Tulsis, Shama’s attitude improves and they start getting along better. Both feel the situation is temporary, and Mr. Biswas does pretty well as a shopkeeper. When Shama wants to have the house blessed by her brother-in-law, the pundit Hari, Mr. Biswas resists at first, but eventually gives in to Shama’s sighing, gloomy silences, and nagging.

The ceremony is conducted in a tent in the yard, and the Tulsis leave Hanuman House to attend the festivities. Among her family, Shama again becomes a stranger to her husband. Mr. Biswas complains to Mrs. Tulsi about the shortcomings of the property, telling her that he needs more room. Instead of offering to help him, she suggests dividing the room with sugar sacks, and Mr. Biswas responds with his usual sarcasm by saying that everyone should just live in coal barrels instead of building houses. Again he feels useless and small, and he thinks about leaving Shama and the Tulsis but does not know what he would do.

After the house blessing, Mr. Biswas begins to have money problems. He spent a great deal on the food for the festivities, and now a new shop is beginning to attract his old customers. Additionally, he has sold to too many customers on credit and they have not settled their accounts.

In anticipation of her baby’s birth, Shama goes back to Hanuman House to wait. Anticipating a boy, Mr. Biswas compiles a list of boys ‘names, but the baby is a girl, and he is given no part in naming his own daughter. Seth and Hari have given her the name of Basso, but Shama intends to call her Savi, rejecting Mr. Biswas’s suggestion that they call her Lakshmi.

When Shama returns to The Chase after three weeks, Mr. Biswas feels happy to have his family with him. One day a man named Moti comes into the shop and paints a terrifying picture of Mr. Biswas’s financial future if the people who owe him money do not settle their accounts. Moti offers to connect Mr. Biswas with Seebaran, a lawyer who can provide assistance, and asks for five dollars to show he is serious, with no mention of further cost. Shama is angry at this tactic, they quarrel, and Shama takes Savi and goes back to Hanuman House. Once Seebaran has sent out letters, Mr. Biswas receives payment from some of his customers, but Mungroo, the most troublesome nonpayer, counteracts by bringing Mr. Biswas up for damaging his credit. It costs him one hundred dollars to call off the action, and another one hundred dollars in lawyer fees. He has to go into debt to cover the expense, and it takes him several years to pay it off completely.

Three years after Savi was born, Shama has a son. Mr. Biswas hasn’t prepared names for this baby, so he agrees to Seth’s suggestion of Anand. Savi is sent to stay at Hanuman House and Mr. Biswas worries that someone might be mistreating her. When they put a brace on her legs, he worries that it may be some form of torture, but he finds that it is intended to straighten out her bowlegs. Mr. Biswas has never investigated the possibility that anything could be done, so his attitude to Hanuman House changes.

He visits more often, holding his tongue and trying to win favor. He gradually becomes accepted, and even enjoys a certain license, being invited to contribute to discussions with his comical commentary. He enjoys a new status in the house and begins to feel more comfortable and self-assured at Hanuman House while feeling more of a nonentity at the shop. He still privately abuses the Tulsis to Shama, and she says he is a hypocrite for not saying those things to their faces.

Pregnant again, Shama tires of life at The Chase and wants Mr. Biswas to close the shop and move back to Hanuman House. They argue for days on end, and a pronounced hostility develops between them. At one point, he hits her, and they are both astonished. She leaves, and he waits for her to make the first move toward reconciliation, but he does not hear anything from her.

When he calculates that his third baby is almost due, he closes the shop and goes to Hanuman House. He gets a cool reception from Shama, and she introduces him to his baby daughter Myna. When Shama asks if he is going back that night, he knows he hasn’t intended to go back. Seth asks what they will do with the shop, teasing him for being taken in by Seebaran. He suggests “insuranburn,” which would effectively get rid of the shop and get him seventy five to a hundred dollars for the goods. Seth offers to employ Mr. Biswas at Green Vale, where the Tulsis have a sugar estate that needs a driver to manage the laborers. Shama begs him to take the position, and Seth says he will arrange the insuranburn.


Away from the Tulsis, Mr. Biswas and Shama enjoy a better relationship. Although she does not have any power of her own in the marriage, she is able to get Mr. Biswas to agree with her ideas through passive aggressive behavior and persistence, so she gets her way and the house is officially blessed. Ironically, the blessing seems to have the opposite of the desired effect when Mr. Biswas and the shop immediately begin to suffer financial problems.

When Mrs. Tulsi makes overtures of reconciliation during the house blessing festivities, Mr. Biswas uses the opportunity to complain about the poor conditions in which he and Shama are living. He has not forgotten that, deprived of a dowry, he is still entitled to some sort of recompense for marrying into the family. Mrs. Tulsi offers no real help for his complaints, and her manner as she talks to him, as always, makes him feel powerless, as though he is under a spell. Once the spell is broken, as always, he reacts in anger and makes outrageously absurd comments that offend her.

As he struggles to get back to financial health, he makes another bad decision by agreeing to use the services of Seebaran to help him collect his debts. This is a decision that backfires, like so many of his decisions, and it puts him into even more debt. Seth’s idea to solve the problem by burning the store and collecting the insurance suggests that there is a strain of corruption in the righteous Tulsi family.


lorries, rhomboid, timorous, lymphatic, pendulous, declaimed, repository, assiduously, , evanescent, obliquely, lugubriousness, assize, facetious, sated, iconoclasm, waggishness, deputed, hypochondria, invective, magnanimous, ineptitude, jalousie, febrifuges, effacing

This section contains 1,194 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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