Monday, February 20, 2006

 

Life for a House

"A House for Mr. Biswas" shows one man struggling his whole life to figure out what he wants to achieve in life. Mr. Biswas is a very fickle man and his true goal in life seems to shift slightly but constantly. When attempting to build his first real house at Green Vale, Mr. Biswas "had thought deeply about this house and knew exactly what he wanted." (201) However, once the reality set in that Mr. Biswas would not be able to have exactly what he wanted, the unfinished house eventually drives him to a nervous breakdown. Then while living in Port of Spain, he again begins to sink "the void" once he "had lost the vision of the house." (474)

The Tulsi family, particularly Seth, thinks that Mr. Biswas is very ungrateful for all that they have given him. The Tulsis, including Shama and Mrs. Tulsi, insult Mr. Biswas for his selfishness by saying, "You come to us with no more clothes than you could hang on a nail." (533) The Tulsis seem to be Mr. Biswas' main motivation for getting a home of his own, simply so he will not have to rely on them for shelter, and such insults can no longer be used against him. While we can see the tyranny Mr. Biswas lives under while living with the Tulsis, we can also see how he is, as they say, ungrateful. Even Anand wonders why his father cannot simply be happy with what he has. Clearly, part of the struggle with Mr. Biswas is that his standards seem to be set unreasonably high, and it seems he cannot, as Anand points out, be happy with what he has.

Also, in his rampage to obtain a house of his own, Mr. Biswas takes out his frustrations and disappointments on Shama and his children. During his breakdown at Green Vale, he kicks a pregnant Shama and orders her and Savi out of the house, but demands Anand stays with him. In asking to keep Anand, Mr. Biswas knows he his intentionally hurting Savi, though of course she has done nothing wrong. He even completely misses the birth of Kamla, because he was incapacitated form his breakdown over the house. It is only until much later that Mr. Biswas reflects, "I have missed their childhoods." (510)

M. Biswas grew over time, and shortly before his death, he learned to appreciate the last and only house that was truly his. The house certainly had its flaws; "What could not be hidden by bookcase, glass cabinet or curtains, they accomodated themselves to." (556) However, after his first trip to the hospital, Mr. Biswas returns home and writes to Anand, "that he hadn't realized until then what a nice little house it was." (562) In the end, it took a nervous breakdown, several abandoned houses, many harsh words, bruised relationships, and a lifetime for Mr. Biswas to finally come around and realize he did not need to have all that he wanted, but to want all that he had.

Comments:
First of all, I loved your title. It immedietly made me think of the great movie "Life as a House" (in case you haven't see it, which I assume you have, it's about a man racing against time to build his own dream house). Obviously, many similarities there between the book and the movie. I also like your thought on how the Tulsi family seems to be the driving force of motivation for Mr. Biswas. Although they are cruel to him and vis versa; it is because of the Tulsi family that Biswas longs to find independence and his own seperate identity in a house. I particuarly liked your last paragraph. His life, just like his house, is not perfect and it is with death approaching that he finally realizes that that's ok.
 
You did a great job in outlining Mr. Biswas' journey through life and how he transformed from a disheartened, "trapped" man to a liberated Biswas who accepts his situation in life and laments missing his childrens' childhoods. From the evidence that you presented, it is easy to see that the ending of Mr. Biswas, even with the advent of his death, was a happy one. He was no longer trapped by the Tulsis or destructive tendencies that we see when he burns up the shorthills house. We see that Mr. Biswas is not ready to have his own house early in the novel as he "burns the bitch up before it bite...[him]." This house and the one in Green Vale were opportunities for him to make a home for his family and find his own identity separate from the Tulsis, but he was not ready to be on his own. He had not accepted that he must make connections to his family to create a home that meets his expectations. Mr. Biswas needed to be complete emotionally for his house not to fall and this was evidenced at the end of the novel during his funeral with all the Tulsis present and being allowed into his house, into his life. As everyone else has said, this makes the circular novel that begins and ends with Biswas' death a happy one and proves that life, just like the novel, is about the journey to understanding self and others. That is the story worth telling. A well done, blog!
 
I liked your insights about the ending of the novel as happy. While one may not ordinarily consider a person's death happy in this case it kind of was happy, in that Mr. Biswas died after accomplishing the goal of his life. The entire book was about Mr. Biswas's struggle to find a place for himself and his family to call their own home. The entire story up until the end was depressing, and the ending allowed the reader to feel that Mr. Biswas and his family's lives were somewhat successful, Mr. Biswas got his house away from his inlaws, his son was educated, Savi earned a good job, and Shama connected with both of her families. The house symbolically stood for Mr. Biswas's mark on the world, preventing his fear from coming true.
 
You describe Biswas life goal very well. I feel he spends basically all his life trying for his independance, and I guess, att he very end he gets it, first with his house, then with his death. However, its a limited victory I feel because its not complete. I probably am wrong here, but I thought his family wanted to move back to the Tulsi's house after, or it said they would probably move back. I think this would again drive him nuts if he were alive and cause his dream to fade away as it did before. So I guess its a limited victory. Many people thought it was a happy ending novel, I kind of did not, cause I felt all the negativity about defects in his house prevented me for happyness. So much negativity, I found Mr. Biswas a challenge to deal with. Great post though on a tough book I think.
 
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