A House for Mr. Biswas | Study Guide

V.S. Naipaul

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A House for Mr. Biswas | Plot Summary

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Summary

A House for Mr. Biswas is set in Trinidad and begins some time after the close of World War I. The fictional biography spans the entire life of Mohun Biswas, whose life ends in the early 1950s at the close of World War II. It is a fictional biography that traces the movements of a single man and his immediate family from place to place throughout the island of Trinidad, often alongside the family of his wife, the Tulsis.

Part One

Early Life

In part one, Mohun Biswas is born in very unlucky circumstances. He is born "the wrong way," likely meaning he was a breech birth, and he is born with six fingers. The pundit, or Hindu wise man, predicts that Mr. Biswas will be unlucky and that he should be kept away from "natural water," such as rivers, lakes, and the ocean. He is to be kept away from his father for twenty-one days and then only looked upon through a mirror, which is believed will mitigate some of the bad luck his birth might bring.

Mr. Biswas's mother Bipti and father Raghu follow the advice of the pundit, and things seem to be going well until Mr. Biswas, a young boy, is given the task of caring for a calf belonging to Dhari, the Biswas's next-door neighbor. After Mr. Biswas loses the calf, he fears he will get in trouble, so he hides from everyone. Concerned that his son has ventured into the forbidden stream and drowned, Raghu dives in to search for Mr. Biswas. In his effort to find his son, Raghu himself drowns in the stream.

This causes the impoverished family to break up. Mr. Biswas's two older brothers, Prasad and Pratap, are sent to work on a sugar estate while he and his mother move to a home on the estate owned by his aunt Tara and her husband Ajodha, where his sister is to work as a servant. Because Mr. Biswas is of the Brahmin caste, he is sent by Tara to study to become a Hindu pundit under the tutelage of the pundit Jiaram. He is eventually kicked out by Jiaram for throwing a towel that has excrement on it inadvertently onto a tree, the flowers of which are used for a Hindu ritual. This leads to his placement with Ajodha's brother, Bhandant, who owns a rum shop. Bhandant accuses Mr. Biswas of theft, and although he did not commit this crime, he is once again left without a vocation.

The Tulsis

Mr. Biswas soon discovers a talent for "lettering"—or painting signs—and meets the Tulsis, who live in the large Hanuman House in the town of Arwacas. They hire him for a job. After seeing their daughter Shama working in their store, he expresses an interest in her that Mrs. Tulsi, her mother, and Seth, her brother-in-law, readily accept since he is of the Brahmin caste. Mr. Biswas then marries Shama and moves in to Hanuman house with the large Tulsi family. Mr. Biswas struggles to get along with the extended family and wants to venture out on his own, so Seth and Mrs. Tulsi allow he and Shama to move to a settlement known as the Chase, where they will run a store owned by the Tulsis.

While Mr. Biswas enjoys running the store at first, he eventually fails in this venture as he over-extends store credit and becomes involved in a bad business deal to collect outstanding debts. The Tulsis then move Mr. Biswas and Shama, who now have a daughter named Savi, to live in barracks among plantation workers in the town of Green Vale, where Mr. Biswas is to work as an overseer on the estate owned by Seth. Though he is unhappy in his marriage and resented by the workers, Mr. Biswas hires a man to begin building a house at Green Vale that will be for him and his immediate family, which now includes a son named Anand.

Unfortunately, though he moves into the house, it is nearly destroyed by a storm, and Mr. Biswas becomes increasingly depressed and disenchanted with his life. Fearing that his depression has become extreme and that he might harm himself or others, the Tulsis once again bring Mr. Biswas back to Hanuman House to recover. Now the father of four children, he recovers and becomes determined to make something of his life independent of his in-laws.

Part Two

A New Career

Mr. Biswas leaves his wife and children and goes to the capital city of Port of Spain. He gets a job as a journalist at the Trinidad Sentinel, a paper known for its salacious stories and lack of adherence to the truth. This impresses the Tulsis, and Mr. Biswas eventually reconciles with Shama and returns to Hanuman House where he receives an invitation from Mrs. Tulsi to move with her and her son Owad to a home the family owns in Port of Spain. Mr. Biswas accepts.

After Mrs. Tulsi sends her son Owad to England to study medicine, she leaves the house at Port of Spain, and Mr. Biswas begins to look at it as his own. However, Seth decides to come and assert ownership by cutting down trees and ruining gardens to accommodate a shed for his fleet of trucks. This causes a rift in the family with Seth on one side and most of the Tulsis on the other. This prompts Mrs. Tulsi to once again relocate the extended family—this time to a large country estate known as Shorthills.

Port of Spain

This is a time of great tribulation for the Tulsi household. Mrs. Tulsi falls ill, and both her pundit Hari and her sister Padma (Seth's wife) die. Additionally, World War II breaks out, and a lack of resources (including reliable transportation to shuttle the myriad children to and from school) makes Mr. Biswas desire a further change. He moves back to Mrs. Tulsi's house in Port of Spain with his sister-in-law Chinta and her husband Govind and another sister-in-law and her husband that he mockingly refers to as the Tuttles, since they are vain about having the books of W.C. Tuttle, which they perceive as impressive. Basdai, one of the Tulsi widows, also accompanies the group and runs a boarding house for students from the ground floor of the home.

Mr. Biswas is appointed by the newspaper as an investigator who determines whether individuals are worthy of endowments from The Deserving Destitutes Fund, which is set up to provide monetary relief to Trinidad's neediest citizens. Anand shows a real promise for academics and places third in an island-wide academic contest and secures a college scholarship. Mr. Biswas is offered and accepts a job with the newly formed Community Welfare Department and is given a company car, which the family enjoys immensely.

Later Life

Owad eventually returns from abroad with his medical degree, and Mrs. Tulsi promptly kicks out Mr. Biswas (temporarily) to refurbish the house and make room for Owad's arrival. When Owad returns, everyone is enamored with him, including Anand, who is particularly intrigued by his new interest in communism. After an incident in which Owad humiliates Anand and another in which Mr. Biswas feels disrespected by those with whom he shares a home, Mr. Biswas decides that he must leave the Tulsi household for good. He finds a home for sale and borrows money from Ajodha to purchase it, although he ends up paying more for it than it is worth. He only lives for five more years, and his children turn out well: Anand goes abroad to study, and Savi wins a scholarship. In some ways, Mr. Biswas's efforts, perhaps, did not pay off for himself, but he was able to give his children a good life.

A House for Mr. Biswas Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Mr. Biswas is born.

Rising Action

2 Mr. Biswas's father dies.

3 Mr. Biswas marries Shama.

4 Mr. Biswas moves to the Chase.

5 Mr. Biswas moves to Green Vale.

6 Mr. Biswas becomes depressed and returns to Hanuman House.

7 Mr. Biswas becomes a journalist and moves to Port of Spain.

8 Anand gets a scholarship.

Climax

9 Mr. Biswas buys a house.

Falling Action

10 Mr. Biswas becomes ill.

11 Mr. Biswas dies.

Resolution

12 The Biswas family remains at the new house.

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