A House for Mr Biswas


V. S. Naipaul

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Mr Biswas Character Analysis

The novel’s protagonist, Mohun Biswas (referred to exclusively as Mr Biswas), is a cynical Indo-Trinidadian man who spends his whole life pursuing a house of his own. After being born into unlucky circumstances in a mud hut in rural Trinidad, Mr Biswas spend most of his life moving from one unfulfilling residence and job to another. Conflict and regret pervade his life: he marries Shama Tulsi abruptly and soon moves into Hanuman House, her family’s home in Arwacas. He quickly feels ignored and irrelevant there and becomes an outcast. His attempts to escape the family (and the family’s attempts to escape him) lead him to live in miserable isolation working for the family’s business in The Chase and Green Vale while Shama and their children remain at Hanuman House, but he inevitably returns there after a series of disasters. Over time, he finally finds a job that matches his high-minded romantic disposition: as a reporter for the Trinidad Sentinel, writing sensational and factually dubitable articles about foreign visitors and “Deserving Destitutes.” He alternatingly hates and adores his children—first, he loves his daughter Savi but resents his son Anand, whom he sees as weak and effeminate; later, he takes a liking to Anand and ignores Savi; and throughout, he pays little attention to his two younger daughters, Myna and Kamla. Near the end of his life, he falls victim to yet another confidence trick—one that leads him to buy a ramshackle, overpriced house and get into thousands of dollars of debt. Even then, his outcome isn’t all that bad: he has a house of his own, a wife who somehow remains loyal to him after decades of mistreatment, and children who value him and, most importantly, have opportunities for economic advancement that he lacked throughout his life.

Mr Biswas Quotes in A House for Mr Biswas

The A House for Mr Biswas quotes below are all either spoken by Mr Biswas or refer to Mr Biswas. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Independence vs. Belonging Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of A House for Mr Biswas published in 2001.
Prologue Quotes

How terrible it would have been, at this time, to be without it: to have died among the Tulsis, amid the squalor of that large, disintegrating and indifferent family; to have left Shama and the children among them, in one room; worse, to have lived without even attempting to lay claim to one’s portion of the earth; to have lived and died as one had been born, unnecessary and unaccommodated.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Shama
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

Mr Biswas never went to work on the estates. Events which were to occur presently led him away from that. They did not lead him to riches, but made it possible for him to console himself in later life with the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, while he rested on the Slumberking bed in the one room which contained most of his possessions.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Bipti, Raghu, Pratap, Prasad
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

And so Mr Biswas came to leave the only house to which he had some right. For the next thirty-five years he was to be a wanderer with no place he could call his own, with no family except that which he was to attempt to create out of the engulfing world of the Tulsis. For with his mother’s parents dead, his father dead, his brothers on the estate at Felicity, Dehuti as a servant in Tara’s house, and himself rapidly growing away from Bipti who, broken, became increasingly useless and impenetrable, it seemed to him that he was really quite alone.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Bipti, Raghu, Dehuti
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

In this way official notice was taken of Mr Biswas’s existence, and he entered the new world.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Bipti, Lal , F.Z. Ghany
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

As fatigue overcame him he began to long for the day to end, to relieve him of his freedom. He went back to the dark rooms tired, empty, miserable, yet still excited, still unwilling to sleep.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Ajodha, Bhandat
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

How often did Mr Biswas regret his weakness, his inarticulateness, that evening! How often did he try to make events appear grander, more planned and less absurd than they were!

And the most absurd feature of that evening was to come. When he had left Hanuman House and was cycling back to Pagotes, he actually felt elated! In the large, musty hall with the sooty kitchen at one end, the furniture-choked landing on one side, and the dark, cobwebbed loft on the other, he had been overpowered and frightened by Seth and Mrs Tulsi and all the Tulsi women and children; they were strange and had appeared too strong; he wanted nothing so much then as to be free of that house. But now the elation he felt was not that of relief. He felt he had been involved in large events. He felt he had achieved status.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Shama, Mrs Tulsi, Seth
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

When her feet began to swell, Mr Biswas wanted to say, “Well, you are complete and normal now. Everything is going as it should. You are just like your sisters.” For there was no doubt that this was what Shama expected from life: to be taken through every stage, to fulfill every function, to have her share of the established emotions: joy at birth or marriage, distress during illness and hardship, grief at a death. Life, to be full, had to be this established pattern of sensation. Grief and joy, both equally awaited, were one. For Shama and her sisters and women like them, ambition, if the word could be used, was a series of negatives: not to be unmarried, not to be childless, not to be an undutiful daughter, sister, wife, mother, widow.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Shama
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

Real calling name: Lakshmi. Signed by Mohun Biswas, father.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Shama, Savi, Seth, Hari
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes


Related Characters: Mr Biswas
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:

There was no need to ask where Jagdat was going. He was going to his family. He too, then, lived a divided life.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Tara, Ajodha, Jagdat, Rabidat
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:

The darkness filled his head. All his life had been good until now. And he had never known. He had spoiled it all by worry and fear. About a rotting house, the threats of illiterate labourers.

Now he would never more be able to go among people.

He surrendered to the darkness.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

He was going out into the world, to test for its power to frighten. The past was counterfeit, a series of cheating accidents. Real life, and its especial sweetness, awaited; he was still beginning.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

He comprehended the city whole; he did not isolate the individual, see the man behind the desk or counter, behind the pushcart or the steering-wheel of the bus; he saw only the activity, felt the call to the senses, and knew that below it all there was an excitement, which was hidden, but waiting to be grasped.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

“This education is a helluva thing,” Ramchand said. “Any little child could pick up. And yet the blasted thing does turn out to be so damn important later on.”

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Dehuti
Page Number: 298
Explanation and Analysis:

U.S. Explorer’s Last Journey
by M. Biswas

Somewhere in America in a neat little red-roofed cottage four children ask their mother every day, “Mummy, when is Daddy coming home?”

Less than a year ago Daddy—George Elmer Edman, the celebrated traveller and explorer—left home to explore the Amazon.

Well, I have news for you, kiddies.

Daddy is on his way home.

Yesterday he passed through Trinidad. In a coffin.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Mr Burnett
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

“I raised my hand but I did not know if it got to the top. I opened my mouth to cry for help. Water filled it. I thought I was going to die and I closed my eyes because I did not want to look at the water.”

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Raghu
Page Number: 342
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

“I don’t want you to be like me.”

Related Characters: Mr Biswas (speaker), Anand
Page Number: 359
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr Biswas had never thought of Tulsi property as belonging to any particular person. Everything, the land at Green Vale, the shop at The Chase, belonged simply to the House. But the lorries were Seth’s.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Mrs Tulsi, Seth
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 374
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

He had found a site such as he always wanted, isolated, unused, and full of possibilities. It was some way from the estate house, on a low hill buried in bush and well back from the road. The house was begun and, unblessed, completed in less than a month.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 406-7
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

It was now that he began to speak to his children of his childhood. He told them of the hut, the men digging in the garden at night; he told them of the oil that was later found on the land. What fortune might have been theirs, if only his father had not died, if only he had stuck to the land like his brothers, if he had not gone to Pagotes, not become a sign-writer, not gone to Hanuman House, not married! If only so many things had not happened!

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Savi, Anand, Raghu, Myna, Kamla
Page Number: 421
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr Biswas went past Dehuti to look at the body. Then he did not wish to see it again. But always, as he wandered about the yard among the mourners, he was aware of the body. He was oppressed by a sense of loss: not of present loss, but of something missed in the past. He would have liked to be alone, to commune with this feeling. But time was short, and always there was the sight of Shama and the children, alien growths, alien affections, which fed on him and called him away from that part of him which yet remained purely himself, that part which had for long been submerged and was now to disappear.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Shama, Savi, Anand, Bipti, Dehuti
Page Number: 461
Explanation and Analysis:

The poem written, his selfconsciousness violated, he was whole again.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Bipti
Page Number: 465
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

It sickened him that he had fallen into Mrs Tulsi’s trap and shown himself grateful to her. She was keeping him, like her daughters, within her reach. And he was in her power, as he had been ever since he had gone to the Tulsi Store and seen Shama behind the counter.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Shama, Mrs Tulsi
Page Number: 506
Explanation and Analysis:

[Mr Biswas] turned the long room into an office. In this room, where the lotuses still bloomed on the wall, he had lived with Shama. Through the Demerara window he had tried to spit on Owad and flung the plateful of food on him. In this room he had been beaten by Govind, had kicked Bell’s Standard Elocutionist and given it the dent on the cover. Here, claimed by no one, he had reflected on the unreality of his life, and had wished to make a mark on the wall as proof of his existence. Now he needed no such proof. Relationships had been created where none existed; he stood at their centre. In that very unreality had lain freedom. Now he was encumbered, and it was at Hanuman House that he tried to forget the encumbrance: the children, the scattered furniture, the dark tenement room, and Shama, as helpless as he was and now, what he had longed for, dependent on him.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Shama, Mrs Tulsi, Owad, Govind
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 509
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

“You are not really a bureaucrat. You are a journalist, a writer, a man of letters.”

Related Characters: Owad (speaker), Mr Biswas
Page Number: 521
Explanation and Analysis:

“Communism, like charity, should begin at home.”

Related Characters: Mr Biswas (speaker), Anand, Mrs Tulsi, Owad
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 533
Explanation and Analysis:

The goats were an invention of Mr Biswas which never failed to irritate Suniti. “Goats,” she said to the yard, sucking her teeth. “Well, some people at least have goats. That is more than I could say for some other people.”

Related Characters: Mr Biswas
Page Number: 544
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

And it was astonishing how the furniture, to which they had grown accustomed, suddenly, exposed on the tray of the lorry in the street, became unfamiliar and shabby and shameful. About to be moved for the last time: the gatherings of a life-time: the kitchen safe (encrusted with varnish, layer after layer of it, and paint of various colours, the wire-netting broken and clogged), the yellow kitchen table, the hatrack with the futile glass and broken hooks, the rockingchair, the fourposter (dismantled and unnoticeable), Shama’s dressingtable (standing against the cab, without its mirror, with all the drawers taken out, showing the unstained, unpolished wood inside, still, after all these years, so raw, so new), the bookcase and desk, Théophile’s bookcase, the Slumberking (a pink, intimate rose on the headrest), the glass cabinet (rescued from Mrs Tulsi’s drawingroom), the destitute’s diningtable (on its back, its legs roped around, loaded with drawers and boxes), the typewriter (still a brilliant yellow, on which Mr Biswas was going to write articles for the English and American Press, on which he had written his articles for the Ideal School, the letter to the doctor): the gatherings of a lifetime for so long scattered and even unnoticed, now all together on the tray of the lorry.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas, Shama, Mrs Tulsi
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 551-2
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

One of the first stories Mr. Biswas had written for the Sentinel had been about a dead explorer. The Sentinel was then a boisterous paper and he had written a grotesque story, which he had often later regretted. He had tried to lessen his guilt by thinking that the explorer’s relations were unlikely to read the Sentinel. He had also said that when his own death was reported he would like the headline to be ROVING REPORTER PASSES ON. But the Sentinel had changed, and the headline he got was JOURNALIST DIES SUDDENLY. No other paper carried the news. An announcement came over twice on re-diffusion sets all over the island. But that was paid for.

Related Characters: Mr Biswas
Page Number: 564
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mr Biswas Character Timeline in A House for Mr Biswas

The timeline below shows where the character Mr Biswas appears in A House for Mr Biswas. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Independence vs. Belonging Theme Icon
Education, Work, and Language Theme Icon
The novel begins: “Ten weeks before he died, Mr Mohun Biswas , a journalist of Sikkim Street, St James, Port of Spain, was sacked.” He was... (full context)