This section contains 1,660 words
(approx. 6 pages at 300 words per page)
Mr. Mohun Biswas
Mohun Biswas, perpetually referred to in the novel as Mr. Biswas, is the son of an illiterate laborer. Mr. Biswas is fated to follow in his father's footsteps, working on a sugar estate, until his father dies. The boy, too young to work, is sent to school instead. Learning to read changes his life. Throughout his lifetime, Mr. Biswas continues to read novels, and they inform his worldview. Raised in and married into traditional Hindu families, Mr. Biswas longs for the freedom and self-determination of Western culture. Yet, he realizes that the economic conditions in Trinidad at the time make it very difficult to create a business empire.
Under the influence of his Aunt Tara, Mr. Biswas begins training as a Hindu pundit. When that does not work, he is employed as a conductor on one of his uncle's motorbuses. He turns a gift for lettering into a job as a sign painter, traveling from town to town. After his marriage, he works as an underpaid driver, or assistant overseer, on one of the Tulsi sugar estates. Suffering a severe depression, Mr. Biswas realizes that he must make his own way in the world. He travels to Port of Spain, where he finagles a job as a newspaper reporter. Later, he accepts a position with the government, returning to the paper a few years before his death.
Shama Tulsi Biswas
Shama is an enigma, to Mr. Biswas as well as the reader. She is a central character as Mr. Biswas's wife, and yet nothing is known of her personality or inner thoughts. As a character, Shama is not just two-dimensional; she is a caricature and a placeholder. This lack of detail is intentional, indicating that in Mr. Biswas's world, and that of the narrator, women do not exist as full human beings. Shama is a shy, slender girl of about sixteen when Mr. Biswas first encounters her in the Tulsi store. Mr. Biswas likes her smile but dislikes her voice. There is irony in this revelation, as he is to hear her voice often and see her smile seldom in their life together.
Mr. Biswas is maneuvered into a hasty marriage with the girl, before he has even spoken to her. In the weeks following the marriage, uncertain of his future role in the Tulsi family, he is reluctant to establish any relationship with the girl. No information is given on Shama's history or opinions, and she appears in few scenes that do not involve Mr. Biswas. Trapped in what is essentially an arranged marriage without the usual benefits, Shama is pouty, sullen and argumentative. She disagrees with everything Mr. Biswas says and berates him constantly. Part of this behavior seems to be merely role-playing, as Shama defends Mr. Biswas to her sisters and mother when his actions result in squabbles.
Mr. Biswas's mother, Bipti, is a tragic figure. Widowed, she lives in a mud hut provided by her wealthy sister. She is bitter and depressed, without any hope. When Mr. Biswas builds the house at Shorthills, she lives with him briefly. By the time of her death, Mr. Biswas has ignored his impoverished mother for years.
Raghu Biswas is Mr. Biswas's father. He is an illiterate laborer on a sugar estate. Despite his superstitious precautions, Raghu drowns in an accident precipitated by Mr. Biswas. Raghu is a miser, collecting bags of coins and burying them in the yard. After his death, the neighbors secretly dig holes in the yard during the night, searching for the treasure. It is probably stolen by the next-door neighbor.
Pratap and Prasad Biswas
Pratap and Prasad are Mr. Biswas's older brothers. As a child, he watches enviously as they go swimming in a nearby stream with their father. Both are illiterate and work as buffalo boys on the sugar plantation, despite child labor laws. Pratap stays on the plantation, saves his money and eventually buys land of his own. He is a wealthy homeowner long before Mr. Biswas buys his modest house in Port of Spain.
At their father's death, Dehuti, Mr. Biswas's only sister, is taken to live with their childless Aunt Tara. She is a servant in Tara's household until she runs away with the yard boy. Tara is furious at this "betrayal," which deprives her of two trained servants.
Pundit Tulsi has been deceased for years. He is an infamous figure, immortalized in a popular drinking song as the first man in Trinidad killed by an automobile. In reality, Tulsi was a devout and conservative man.
Mrs. Tulsi is the matriarch of the Tulsi clan. As the widow of the infamous Pundit Tulsi, she has fourteen daughters to marry off and two sons to educate. Mrs. Tulsi rules the lives of her daughters with an iron hand. She presides over Hanuman House, the communal dwelling where most of the daughters live with their husbands and children.
Married to Mrs. Tulsi's sister Padma, Seth is the de facto manager of the Tulsi estates and oversees their many business interests. He is an astute businessman. When he first hires Mr. Biswas to paint the store's signs, Seth bargains for a lower price, telling Mr. Biswas that signs are not really needed, and the Tulsis are only hiring him because he is a Brahmin. Before the signs are finished, Mr. Biswas is married to Shama Tulsi, and he is never paid for the work.
Govind is a tall, strong man married to Chinta Tulsi, one of Shama's thirteen sisters. He is illiterate and works as a laborer on one of the Tulsi estates. Initially, Mr. Biswas tries to befriend Govind, but the man betrays him. The two have a fistfight, which Govind easily wins. In later years, Govind becomes an ally. When Mr. Biswas collapses in illness, Govind carries him home. At Shorthills, Govind initially cares for a herd of cattle but eventually buys a taxi and earns a high salary chauffeuring Americans around.
A pundit, or Hindu holy man, married to one of the Tulsi sisters, Hari is frequently constipated and often monopolizes the family's one outhouse. He is thin and yellow, obsessed with illness, his food and religion. He blesses the ill-fated store at The Chase, as well as Mr. Biswas's first two houses.
Mr. Biswas's first-born child, Savi is the only daughter who is a significant character in the novel. In later years, when he thinks of his children, he thinks of Savi and Anand. Mr. Biswas has to remind himself that he has two additional daughters. Savi is gifted in mathematics, a subject that Mr. Biswas disdains. He regards it as only useful for greedy merchants. Although Savi receives none of the special treatment or private tutoring that Anand does, she manages to secure a scholarship to study in America.
Mr. Biswas's son Anand is one of the most complex characters in the novel. As a boy he is small, shy and fearful. He is intelligent but hates school. Anand tries various ruses to avoid school, such as burying his shoes and losing his textbooks. Eventually, Anand is treated like a scholar and given milk from a special dairy, fish and prunes. These are all foods that are supposed to support learning. Anand also has private tutoring for the national exams every morning and evening. When he finally places third in the exams, winning a scholarship to university, Mr. Biswas is ecstatic.
Like Mr. Biswas, Anand's gifts are literary. Anand nearly drowns on an outing with Mr. Biswas and Owad. Instead of being grateful to be rescued, he is furious with embarrassment. He is deeply hurt when an adult Owad insults him, but he is too proud to make amends. When Anand goes to England to study, he writes gloomy letters to Mr. Biswas, who answers them cheerfully.
Mr. Biswas's third child, a daughter named Myna, is mentioned fewer than half a dozen times.
Mr. Biswas's youngest child, Kamla is mentioned only three or four times in the entire novel. The most significant event occurs before her birth, when Mr. Biswas angrily kicks the pregnant Shama in the stomach. Fortunately, both mother and child are uninjured.
Owad, the youngest Tulsi son, is educated at an exclusive prep school in Port of Spain and attends university, presumably Cambridge, in England. As a spoiled child in the Hanuman House, Owad bursts into tears anytime he is upset, running to his mother to be petted. He becomes a physician and returns to Trinidad, where he assumes his rightful role as head of the extended family. Owad is spoiled, jealous and vindictive. For a time upon returning from Europe, he professes communist beliefs, although they do not interfere with his own comfort.
The Tulsi brothers-in-law are so numerous that apparently even Mr. Biswas cannot remember all their names. The only name given to this man is the nickname inspired by the author of the pulp westerns he reads. Tuttle and his wife, one of Shama's sisters, occupy the same house as Mr. Biswas for more than five years.
The Tulsi Sisters, Children and Grandchildren
The extended Tulsi clan is too numerous to be named individually. The group includes fourteen sisters, all of whom were unmarried at the time of their father's death, their children and their grandchildren.
Tara and Ajodha
When Mr. Biswas's father drowns, his wealthy Aunt Tara and Uncle Ajodha provide a dismal shack for Mohun and his mother. She takes Mohun's sister, Dehuti, into her home as a servant, promising to provide the girl with a dowry.
Mr. Biswas's sister Dehuti betrays her Aunt Tara by running away to marry the yard boy. Ramchand is intelligent, educated and cheerful, but of the lowest caste. After the marriage, he works as a warden at the Lunatic Asylum in Port of Spain.
This section contains 1,660 words
(approx. 6 pages at 300 words per page)