Monday, February 20, 2006


To Speak of Him

A House for Mr. Biswas comes to a close most obviously with the death of Mr. Biswas. Perhaps it is not this death—the inevitable end of man’s journey through life—but rather, the presence of females that is most significant to Naipaul’s ending.

One might be out of bounds in speculating that Naipaul, who frequently contradicts many liberal sentiments, is a feminist, but his female characters do tend to be a source of support for his male protagonist.

Though Bipti is not exactly the model mother, Mr. Biswas still seeks her as a source of comfort. When he returns from Jairam’s house, he desires his mother to “welcome him with joy, to curse Jairam and promise that she would never allow him to be sent away again to strangers” (55).

It is Tara who brings order to the early chapters of Mr. Biswas’ story. She sorts out the funeral arrangements for the family, and treats Bipti’s children as her own responsibility. It is through her direction that Mr. Biswas finds his first jobs—and was responsible for “official notice [being] taken of Mr Biswas’s existence” (43).

Women dominate in the Tulsi household, and it is indeed Shama who gives Mr. Biswas a sense of security when they move out of the Hanuman House for the first time, rather than the decrepit house. His sense of “home” comes of being “glad to be told to do something and enjoying it when she reproved him for doing it badly” (139). Shama also comes to his rescue in managing the store, keeping the books. Perhaps most significantly, she is described as “a martyr” in any sort of stressful situation.

Mr. Biswas himself is often portrayed in a feminine manner, with a swollen belly resembling that of a pregnant woman. Perhaps it is this burden he carries—the unborn, unactualized dreams that leave him behind his female counterparts.

The focus of the novel seems to be Mr. Biswas' search for a house of a respectable and permanent nature. We learn in the Prologue that Mr. Biswas believes it would have been terrible "to have lived without even attempting to lay claim to one's portion of the earth" (11). Also, without a house, he believes that there would be "nothing to speak of him" (125).

Given this information, then, it may come as a bit of a shock that the house on Sikkim Street, with Mr. Biswas gone, is finally described as "empty" (564). Perhaps I put too much weight on these final words, but it seems significant that even though the house is still lived in, it is "empty" without Mr. Biswas. It could be speculated that it was not in fact the house that ends up speaking of him , but the women he left behind.

I think that the book could be showing that Mr. Biswas did indeed find what he was looking for by the end of the novel, but that maybe what he was searching for through his journey wasn't what he needed. Maybe instead of trying to birth his ideals through a house, he should have been trying to make a home. Although he may never have actually realized this, the house that he bought brought him pleasure because of the female characters in it. Shama and Savi give him stability and happiness. With them he develops relationships and it's through those that he finds pleasure, not the decrepit house. I think Naipaul shows us that the female characters are what make the house successful because they make it a home, and that was actually what Mr. Biswas had been searching for throughout his life. Without the feeling of family and a home, the house is empty.
I think Grace addresses an excellent point. I also found the last sentence of the book to be especially interesting and it seems to point to something deeper. The book ends with the women living in the house and Savi as the one successfully employed. Though full of the women of the family, it is still described as empty without Mr. Biswas. This may be because the house represents Mr. Biswas' search for an identity. I also think it shows that the women that were close to Mr. Biswas share in his identity in that they return to inhabit the house. Mr. Biswas' life and identity was best with Shama and Savi present. He has a mental breakdown when he lives without them at Green Vale. It is appropriate, then, that they return to live in the Sikkam Street house in the end.
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