Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Dream Independence

Dream Independence

In A House for Mr. Biswas, Mr. Mohun Biswas is struggling to find true happiness in his life. Born as a six-fingered baby with an unlucky sneeze, the young Mr. Biswas has lost his father and must live with an impoverished mother in his aunt’s house. Mr. Biswas develops the desire to find a job which can afford him the financial independence from his derisive relatives, and fulfill his dream of building his own house where he can live comfortably for the rest of his life.

Many readers may contend that the ending of the novel is a sad one because Mr. Biswas’s dream house is far from being a perfect house. The house’s staircase is rotten, and the “landing pillars had rotted because they stood next to a tap which emerged from the back wall of the house” (549). Furthermore, the decaying house has a front door with an elegant appearance that “flew open in a strong wind even when locked and bolted” (549). Readers may concur that it is a tragedy for Mr. Biswas to finally die in a dilapidated house that may fall down any minute.

Although the house is unsuitable for living, it nevertheless stands as a monument to Mr. Biswas’s legacy. He has worked tirelessly for most of his life with nothing that he can call his own, except his wife and children. Instead of identifying with the Tulsis, the ambitious Mr. Biswas wants to find his own identity as a “labourer” who has overcome the obstacles that life has given to him. As a man with limited resources, Mr. Biswas has certainly succeeded in fulfilling his dream of getting his own house, the ultimate symbol of his independence. He succeeds in laying “claim to one’s portion of the earth” (11).

One of the obstacles in Mr. Biswas’s life is the Tulsis. Mr. Biswas confesses that he feels trapped in the Tulsi family. He finds it very difficult to come to terms with the Tulsis who disapprove of his ambition to build his own house. But the frustrated Mr. Biswas cannot leave the Tulsi family, which has given him several opportunities to earn money to maintain himself and his wife. Expressing his desire to “paddle his own canoe,” (134) Mr. Biswas receives permission from Seth to work in a shop located in an isolated muddy village. After the shop has proven unprofitable, Mr. Biswas finds employment as a driver working in the Tulsi sugar cane plantation. Without the Tulsis’ help, Mr. Biswas cannot earn enough money to maintain his own family. Hence, he feels trapped in the Tulsi family, as he often finds himself returning to Hanuman House whenever he encounters a problem. “He didn’t know what his rights were, didn’t believe in the shop at The Chase, and his plans were vague...As he cycled past the unfinished, open house on the County Road, he wondered how many nights he would spend behind the closed façade of Hanuman House” (97). Mr. Biswas believes that his life is intertwined with that of the Tulsis since he can never completely leave them.

However, in the end, after Owad has returned from England and Mrs. Tulsi has expressed disapproval of Mr. Biswas occupying Owad’s room, Mr. Biswas resolves to move out of Hanuman House for good. No longer oppressed by the capricious Mrs. Tulsi and her obnoxious Eurocentric son, Mr. Biswas purchases a house on Sikkim Street where he lives for the remainder of his life. He finally does what he has always wanted to do. No longer are the Tulsis an obstacle to him. Hence, his dream house represent his ultimate independence. And the house, though dilapidated, “did not fall” (564), showing that Mr. Biswas’s life-long work and resolution have not failed him.

I agree with Louis that the ending of A House for Mr. Biswas was a happy ending. Mr. Biswas achieves his goal of being a house owner and successfully disconnects from the Tulsi trap he has spent most of his life fighting. While Mr. Biswas’ lives by the motto “only disconnect”, I do not think that idea in pure form delivers his final happiness. Mr. Biswas’ happiness was dependent on disconnecting from the Tulsi house, but his immediate family connectivity seems to increase by the novel’s end. Mr. Biswas seems to connect with Shama and Savi more than ever by the end. The husband-wife relationship between Shama and Mr. Biswas was never perfect, especially when Shama had to pick sides, Tulsis or husband, in the Hanuman House. Proof of the dramatic change in Shama and Mr. Biswas’ connection manifests itself during Mr. Biswas’ time of sickness. In the hospital when “His face held a pain she could scarcely bare to watch” (562), Shama reveals distress in seeing her husband so hurt. A loving relationship between Savi and Mr. Biswas also adds to the level of ‘good feeling’ this book leaves in its readers. Proud of Savi’s educational and career achievements, Mr. Biswas shares a connection with Savi more than ever.
The mixture of disconnection and connection allows for the happy ending in A House for Mr. Biswas. Certainly, the reader is thrilled to see Mr. Biswas leave the Tulsis for his own house, once and for all, but his improved family life also adds to the warm and happy ending.
I also agree that the novel has a happy ending. Although Mr. Biswas's house on Sikkam Street is far from perfect, it is still a house of his own, and that is really all that matters. It does not matter what the house is like because it is owned solely by Mr. Biswas. Unlike his other houses, this one is completely independent of the Tulsi family; the Tulsis were really the only obstacle in Mr. Biswas's search for a house (by the way, I really like your description of Owad as "obnoxious" and "Eurocentric"- very fitting adjectives to describe the "little god"). In no way is this ending a tragic one- there is no other way it could happily end. Isn't it better that Mr. Biswas die in a less-than-prefect house of his own than live to see his house fall apart and then die in a Tulsi house? At the very least, Mr. Biswas died knowing that he had finally reached his life's goal of having a house of his own.
I agree with all three of you that the ending is a happy one. The house that Mr. Biswas finally gets may not be ideal, but what is important is that he does get his house. To dwell on the condition of the house that Mr. Biswas ends up with misses the larger point of what owning his own home represents: independence. Additionally, it would be unrealistic for him to end up with lots of money and a mansion. If this book were a hollywood movie, Mr. Biswas would probably have ended up winning the lottery or something. But it wouldn't make sense if Mr. Biswas spends the whole book struggling and failing then suddenly ended up in a nice house. As readers we are conditioned to want that to happen, for Mr. Biswas to be rewarded for his struggle, but that kind of ending is not relateable, and would undermine Naipaul's point.
I do agree with many of the blog posts that A House for Mr. Biswas does have a happy ending since he gets his house, independence from the Tulsis, and, as Betsy comments, new connections with his family. Yet at the same time, this ending is bittersweet. For one, Mr. Biswas is in many ways the same ornery character he has been throughout the entire novel; in the epilogue Naipaul observes that "he grew dull and querulous and ugly" (561). Despite his successes, even at the end it's hard to sympathize with Mr. Biswas completely. Also, the house as Mr. Biswas's legacy is a double-edged sword. Throughout the novel, female characters gained their sense of identity and purpose from their relationships with male characters; the women in Mr. Biswas's family, Shama included, depended on him up until his death. Though Savi has a specific role in the end—she has a job and will pay off Mr. Biswas's debt—Shama, Kamla, and Myna's future roles are unclear and uncertain. The women returning to an "empty house" (564) suggests that the death of Mr. Biswas has left them with a significant loss and possibly an empty future.
Good close readings here all around. You all have seized on the quotes that fuel a range of readings of this ending.
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