A House for Mr Biswas - Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

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Summary

At Green Vale, Mr. Biswas is once again sharing living space with strangers, this time in a barracks with eleven other families. He is more determined than ever to get a house of his own. He is ineffective in his job overseeing laborers on the estate, and they mock him. He is unhappy and has more quarrels with Shama about the situations he keeps getting into because of her family. Shama goes back to Hanuman House and continues to live there much of the time.

He buys an elaborate dollhouse as a Christmas present for Savi, but the extravagance of the gift causes conflict among the other families and Shama feels compelled to destroy the dollhouse in order to keep peace. Mr. Biswas is enraged when he finds out and calls her a bitch. Indignantly, he takes Savi back to Green Vale with him, but her life is lonely, as he has to leave her by herself when he is working. After a week, Savi goes back to begin school, and Shama tries to reconcile, explaining why she had to break the dollhouse. Mr. Biswas shares his plans of having their own house and tells her that he will buy her a gold brooch when it is finished. After Shama and the children go back to Hanuman House, he is comforted by the feeling that he has claimed Savi.

When Mr. Biswas is alone at the barracks at Green Vale, he begins to have feelings of terror at night. The fear is reinforced when Seth reclaims the land that some of the laborers have been renting and warns Mr. Biswas to watch out for trouble. Mr. Biswas notices the laborers’ attitudes toward him have degenerated to hostility, and he begins to imagine all the ways he can be hurt.

Hanuman House is undergoing many changes: the older god, Shekhar, has married and moved away.

Mrs. Tulsi lives in Port of Spain with Owad during the week so that he will not be alone in the city. She buys one house to live in and two other houses to rent. When she is away from Hanuman House, there is a great deal of squabbling and disharmony among the sisters. Anand is growing to be a very shy boy, and his shyness to use the bathroom at school causes him to humiliate himself. Mr. Biswas asks him if he wants to come live with him at Green Vale, but Anand is too shy to say anything, so Mr. Biswas goes back to the barracks alone and locks his door.

Seth tells Mr. Biswas that he can build a house on the Tulsi land. He has saved up a hundred dollars, and decides to try and borrow more money from Tara and Ajodha. Once he is in their house, their warmth toward him and their criticism of Bhandat’s sons, who are always asking for money, discourage him from making his request. He decides to build the house in increments, adding to it as he saves more money.

With the help of the builder, Mr. Mclean, he designs a simple house, and construction begins. Because of lack of money, he has to make some compromises on his original ideas. Shama comes to see the house under construction, criticizing Mr. Biswas for trying to compete with people who have more money. She says she will not live in the house unless Hari comes to bless it. Mr. Biswas remembers the bad times he went through at the shop in The Chase after Hari’s blessing, but agrees to have the house blessed to avoid more quarreling.

The construction of the house is stalled when the materials run out; then Seth offers some old galvanized roofing from the old brick factory for five dollars. Savi and Anand both object to this roofing because it will make their house look like a shack, but Mr. Biswas agrees to take it for three dollars. Mr. Mclean says that he can work with the material, and optimistically provides more ideas for finding cheap materials. More of the house is built, making adjustments because of the inferior quality of the materials, and then construction stalls again until more money is available for materials.

With the dispossessed laborers becoming more and more unpleasant toward him, Mr. Biswas starts sleeping with a cutlass and a poui stick at the side of his bed, and after hearing footsteps outside his room, he starts keeping the oil lamp burning all night. He gets a puppy for protection, but the puppy, Tarzan, turns out to be a friendly dog that is only a threat to the neighbors’ chickens.

His imagination makes him progressively more anxious, and his efforts to calm himself and enjoy the promise of every moment are ineffectual. He is constantly questioning himself, wondering why he is so afraid. He is afraid to go see his family because he will have to deceive them and make them believe he is a whole person. When there is a fire on someone’s land; he leads the fire-fighting efforts, and later realizes that he never questioned himself during the commotion.

He begins to be apathetic about the house, feeling that the Tulsis now have too much of a hand in it, considering the galvanized iron and Hari’s blessing. He starts having bad dreams.

Close to Christmas time, Shama sends word that she is bringing the children to Greenvale to visit their father, and Mr. Biswas is filled with dread. He thinks he will kill Savi, Anand, and himself, but he does not plan to harm Shama and Myna because he does not care about them. Once they arrive, he acknowledges the absurdity of the plan, but he experiences extreme fatigue, and stays in bed, not wanting anyone to touch him.

His irrationality deepens as his family continues to stay with him, and he becomes afraid to leave the room. He pretends he has malaria and avoids talking directly to Shama. Finally, she confronts him, and he says he has “lots of little black clouds” on his mind. An argument begins and escalates, and he yells at Shama to get out, opening the window as if he plans to jump. As she approaches him in alarm, he kicks at her, hitting her in the belly.

Shama prepares to take the children away from him and back to Hanuman House, but Anand decides to stay with his father so that he will not be left alone. Once Shama is gone, Mr. Biswas no longer feels fatigued, and the old restlessness returns. He makes toys for Anand, and teaches him about science and God. He tells Anand that God is his father and Mr. Biswas is just a man he knows. With Anand as his companion, Mr. Biswas finds the confidence to move away from the continuing unease of the barracks and into the only finished room of his house. He hopes that the change of living conditions coinciding with the change of a new year will bring about a change in his state of mind.

Living in the unfinished house is problematic and full of inconveniences. Asphalt dripping from the patched holes in the roof reminds Mr. Biswas of snakes, and he starts to have dreams about snakes. He feels the trees around the house can conceal things, and his fears multiply. He develops a new fear that Anand will want to leave him and he will be alone. After an unpleasant encounter with two men who supposedly have come from Seth looking for jobs, Anand wakes up and finds that Tarzan has been killed and left on the doorstep. He insists on going back to Hanuman House, but a storm blows in and he’s forced to stay.

At first, the storm makes everything intimate and cozy. During the storm, the house starts leaking more and more, and Mr. Biswas gets more and more agitated. As the storm grows violent, Mr. Biswas becomes more and more terrified, believing that people are coming to get him. The storm tears off part of the roof, a window is thrown open, and they are left in darkness. Anand is screaming, terrified, but Mr. Biswas is not able to reassure him. Just when everything seems to be at its most hopeless, Anand sees someone from the barracks coming through the storm with a light, and they are saved.

Analysis

Living in shared quarters with laborers makes Mr. Biswas even more dissatisfied with his situation in life. In his new position as driver, he earns more money, but he does not receive any respect from the laborers under his supervision, which irritates him even more. Along with his status, his relationship with his family continues to have its ups and downs, but he and Shama actually seem to be beginning to enjoy brief moments of affection.

He feels vulnerable in the barracks, first when the laborers show disrespect by mocking him, then when they show real hostility after Seth dispossesses them from their land. He takes precautions to protect himself from harm. With Mrs. Tulsi away from Hanuman House during the week, the house falls into chaos, with sisters squabbling to have the power of the house.

Concerned about Anand’s shyness, Mr. Biswas thinks that getting him away from the house to stay with him at Green Vale could be a solution to both their problems, but he will not press the issue when Anand will not say what he would like to do.

The beginning of construction on his house inspires positive feelings of excitement in Mr. Biswas, but after Hari performs another house blessing at Shama’s insistence, and as more and more concessions are made because of finances and Tulsi “assistance,” his enthusiasm fades and he begins to feel disinterested in how the house will turn out. His fears continue to grow, but during the period when he is directing the firefighting, the brief moments when he does not feel self-doubt makes him believe that he will get better.

Mr. Biswas’s nervous condition turns critical when Shama and the children come to visit before Christmas. Their presence puts a strain on him as he attempts to hide his mental instability. The effort wears him out to the point that he has almost no strength to even get out of bed. He fears for anyone to touch him, in case he should give himself away by physical contact.

Of course, his behavior only arouses Shama’s suspicions, and when she attempts to discover what is wrong, a confrontation results, and the argument becomes bitter and dangerous. Anand’s decision to stay with his father so that he will not be left alone shows that he seems to have a precocious insight into his father’s situation. His stay with Mr. Biswas forges a bond between them, but everything is jeopardized when they move into the unfinished house and Mr. Biswas’s worries and anxieties continue to grow. During the storm, as Mr. Biswas sees his house assaulted by nature, he reaches his breaking point and is unable to act to save himself or his son.

Vocabulary

austere, providential, taciturn, solicitously, duplicity, cambered, pyromaniacal, torpid, castors, ostentatiously, soldered, petulance, abatement, elegiac, euphemism, scantlings, distended, recalcitrant, obsequious, subsidence, palpitated, crepitation, tortuous

This section contains 1,888 words
(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)
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