A House for Mr. Biswas: An Analysis
Naipaul is one of the best known English novelists of the modern times. He is a very prestigious literary member of Indian Diaspora. His popularity reached its zenith when he received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2001. He is regarded a prophet, a soothsayer, a doom-watcher and a teller of unpalatable truths. Critics generally agree that A House for Mr. Biswas is his finest work. It brought him international attention.
THE TIME AND PLACE
The novel takes place over a period of almost fifty years- the lifetime of Mr. Biswas- during the first half of the twentieth century. The setting is the Caribbean island of Trinidad. These years of transition serve as a backdrop for Mr. Biswas’s story. Mr. Biswas and most of the other characters in the novel are East Indian. Like Naipaul’s family, they are descendants of people who emigrated from India during the 1800s.
Naipaul has a special affection for A House for Mr. Biswas. Once he states: ‘Of all my books, this is the one that is closest to me. It is the most personal, created out of what I saw and felt as a child’. It is an account of an individual's life and an allegory of the East Indian's situation in Trinidad. It deals with migration, displacement, alienation, rootlessness and search for identity. Its main character struggles whole of his life for an identity and a home. It displays a unique affection for the homeland.
The plot of this novel is fantastic. Mr Biswas is born in rural Trinidad to parents of Indian origin. His birth is considered inauspicious. His father drowns in a pond. The young Biswas decides to set out to make his own fortune. A friend of school days helps him in getting into the business of sign-writing. While on the job, Mr Biswas attempts to romance a client's daughter. He is drawn into a marriage and he becomes a member of the Tulsi household. With the Tulsis, Mr Biswas becomes very unhappy. He struggles hard for economic independence. He becomes a journalist and attempts to build a house. He becomes obsessed with the notion of owning his own house and it becomes a symbol of his independence and merit.
An underlying theme in A House for Mr. Biswas is anti-colonialism. This novel is a symbolic representation of the colonial experience. The Tulsis represent the Great Britain and Mr. Biswas represents the colonized people. He struggles for independence and freedom. While it may be seen as a representation of colonialism, the novel is many other things as well.
This novel has autobiographical touch. It can be read as an account of Naipaul’s father’s struggles to make a life for his family. It seems an autobiographical account of how Naipaul came to be an author. Critics have noted that A House for Mr Biswas can be read both as the particular story of one individual and as a larger commentary on colonial and postcolonial society.
In 1961 A House for Mr Biswas became Naipaul’s fourth published work. Reviewers admired its sense of humor and its portrayal of people. The prose is often cited as some of the best writing in contemporary English studies. This prose exhibits narrative skill and command of language, especially dialect. In A House for Mr Biswas the characters speak Hindi, as well as Trinidadian English. Naipaul has done an extraordinary job at characterization. His use of symbolism, irony and humour is praiseworthy. His wit is touching and unique.
Naipaul is one of the most controversial of contemporary writers. His scathing commentaries on India and his negative appraisal of life in the third world has met with a great deal of controversy. His views on the Hindutva and on the Islam are also very controversial. In spite of that he remains one of the most widely read and admired literary figures of the contemporary world. His A House for Mr. Biswas is regarded as his most significant work.