Monday, February 20, 2006

 

special delivery

The ending of “A House for Mr. Biswas” is not really an ending, rather a new beginning, a birth. In fact, it is an odd birth because it is the birth of a spirit, a quest- that is delivered by a man, Mr. Biswas. Throughout the novel, there is a well emphasized consciousness of the large, pregnant-appearing belly of Mr. Biswas. It causes him pain and irritation, and forces him to buy bottle after bottle of stomach powder. His belly, however annoying it may be, is a big part of Mr. Biswas figuratively and literally. He wonders what is inside of it, even wishes he could cut open the belly and see inside. Eventually it becomes clear what his belly really is. It is, for lack of better words, his baby- his precious and delicately handled dreams, the ambitions for a better life that Mr. Biswas holds onto until the day that he passes away. The reason that Naipal includes the belly as such an obvious feature of Mr. Biswas is that compared to those listless, hopeless people around him, Mr. Biswas’ dreams are big, awkward, and noticeable. Mr. Biswas tries to deliver his baby during his own life, makes some commendable efforts, however the oppressiveness of his low economic status as well as the general bad attitude of his acquaintances allows him to realize only the very smallest portion of his dreams.
That is why the ending is a happy one- because in his death, Mr. Biswas delivers his dreams in the shape of Anand. Mr. Biswas realized that he would fall short of his dreams in a gloomy doctor’s office in Port of Spain, “His freedom was over, and it had been false…If there ever was a place for him, it was one that had already been hollowed out by time, by everything he had lived through, however imperfect, makeshift, and cheating. (303)” Anand was created to be everything that Mr. Biswas wanted to be but never was. Anand shares many characteristics of his father, including the general gloominess that Mr. Biswas experienced so often in his young age. This is seen in the letters that he writes home, “They [Anand’s letters] were gloomy, self-pitying; then they were tinged with a hysteria which Mr. Biswas immediately understood. (561)” However, at the end of the novel Anand is the only one who has escaped, who has ventured to another land, who has obtained the education that Mr. Biswas so badly desired for himself in his own life. Anand is Mr. Biswas’ dream and identity, and this may be symbolic for the poor of Trinidad. This novel shows the difficulty of the struggle to the top, and the sacrifice that many people make so that their dreams may be achieved, even if it must be vicariously through future generations. Anand, although handicapped by inherited melancholy, will still arrive to be a successful person, thanks to his father’s dream. In the last line of the novel, Naipal writes, “Afterwards the sisters returned to their respective homes and Shama and the children went back in the prefect to the empty house. (564)” The empty house is Mr. Biswas, and the use of the word “empty” is crucial. All of his life, Mr. Biswas had been living in chaotic house after chaotic house, filled to the brim with screaming children, women, and men. How interesting, then, that this house, his house, is now empty. It is empty because Mr. Biswas has delivered his dream, his quest, from his troubled spirit, and now he is empty. He is able to rest in peace devoid of the pains that are associated with an unrealized dream.
This birth is symbolic of the fact that it is difficult, yet possible, for a person to find their identity in a globalized world. The opportunities for Mr. Biswas were much more diverse and numerous than for his previous generations. He saw so much opportunity and grandeur in the literature that he read, movies that he saw, and people that he met, but was restricted due to his past, his place in the world, and economic standing. A globalized world makes an individual’s dreams much larger- and this can lead to extreme frustration. While this novel does show the difficulty of finding identity in a globalized world, it also offers hope for those from imperfect backgrounds. This hope is offered through the symbol of Anand, who is meant to carry the dream of his family one step further.

Comments:
I definitely see what Carmen is saying and I think that it is interesting, but I felt rather dissatisfied with Anand at the end of the novel. In a way, I agree that he was able to fulfill Mr.Biswas's dreams, by going abroad to get a good education, but then Anand sort of isolates himself at the end. He seems to remove himself from his family and Trinidad. Anand would be the expected fulfillment of Mr. Biswas's hopes, but Mr. Biswas never really seemed to know exactly what he wanted. If anyone, I think that Savi seems like a better candidate because she got an education abroad and was able to return home successfully. She represented a better balance between the empire, foreign education, and the colony, remaining close to her family and Trinidad.
 
I share Lauren's feelings that Anand is a bit troubling, or rather that it seems easier to understand Savi's success. I am still wondering why such "success" seems reserved for female characters who are more or less on the margins of this story (note that I did not say marginalized).
good post & good comment.
 
I like Carmen's idea that Mr. Biswas' death is really the birth of something new, but I also agree with Lauren that this is more likely to be found in Savi than in Anand. At the end of the novel, we don't even know exactly where Anand is, but Savi has returned to her family. In doing so, she takes a job that pays more than Mr. Biswas makes, and is poised to pay off the debt on Mr. Biswas' house. She will follow through to completion the ideas that Mr. Biswas strove his whole life to realize. Dr. Reitz posed the question of why women who are in the margins seem most able to achieve success. Perhaps the success of Savi lies in that she, unlike Mr. Biswas, was able to maintain her identity regardless of her circumstances. When she lived with the Tulsis, she was just as happy as she was living with Mr. Biswas and Shama. She did not draw unnecessary attention to her individuality, but it was there. For example, she never flaunted her intellect by drinking milk and eating prunes, but she still went abroad to study. As a result, she was successful, but avoided the family conflict that Mr. Biswas and Anand always seemed to invite. Perhaps Naipaul is suggesting that a balance between individuality and getting along with the community is the right course.
 
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