A House for Mr Biswas

A House for Mr Biswas Part 2, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
With Owad gone, Mrs Tulsi moved back to Arwacas; Mr Biswas fixed up his garden and wondered how long he would be able to stay at the house. He no longer had an audience to whom he could address his stories, and Shama seldom cared about his work. They heard that Hanuman House was falling into disarray, with Mrs Tulsi losing her authority and no longer interested in the family. Seth’s power was too superficial to fix the family’s conflicts, and particularly the sisters’ distrust of Shekhar. They even heard that Seth was looking to buy property.
With Owad in England and Mrs Tulsi back in Arwacas, Mr Biswas has the house to himself and his family for the first time, but becomes more miserable than before. Despite finding the independence he sought, with Owad’s departure he loses his sense of belonging and comfort. So does Mrs Tulsi, and her authority as the Tulsi matriarch is essential for maintaining order in Hanuman House.
Themes
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Gender and Family Theme Icon
When Shama and the children went to Hanuman House for Christmas, they felt like “complete strangers.” The Tulsi Store and people of Arwacas felt strangely provincial, and there were no gifts or festivities, just Chinta’s “tasteless and rust-rippled” ice cream. The next morning, Shekhar came with sweets, but the sisters felt abandoned by him and blamed his Christian wife, who was educated and modern, calling herself Dorothy and outshining them all in housekeeping and child-rearing. In fact, they all pitied Shekhar for having married her, but Mr Biswas always got along with her. Savi no longer wanted to return to Hanuman House for Christmas.
Although the children used to see Christmas at Hanuman House as a time of abundance and comfort amidst the family, the countryside seems impoverished and bland after living in the cosmopolitan Port of Spain. While the family is furious at Shekhar for marrying outside their Hindu community, Mr Biswas likely sees what he might have been able to achieve himself, had he chosen a partner based on compatibility and love rather than her family’s money and status.
Themes
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Social Status and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Gender and Family Theme Icon
Colonialism, Oppression, and Escape Theme Icon
The Sentinel had gone from Port of Spain’s third most popular newspaper to the second, after only the Guardian, which led its owners to feel embarrassed at its frivolity. Mr Burnett became more and more stressed until he was sacked, which he revealed to Mr Biswas over Chinese food. When Mr Biswas returned to work, he was agitated and worried about his own role in the Sentinel’s frivolity, expecting to be sacked after more than four years. His fears multiplied: if he lost his job, would his children have to return to Hanuman House? Where might he live? But Mr Burnett came and went, and Mr Biswas stayed.
While Mr Biswas’s successful writing probably contributed to the Sentinel’s rise, now its success obstructs his role in the company: after a lifetime of failing to acknowledge others’ contributions to his life and welfare, now Mr Biswas begins to worry that his one contribution to a meaningful broader project will be overlooked and dismissed.
Themes
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Gender and Family Theme Icon
Soon thereafter, “the new régime started at the Sentinel.” Facts and seriousness took precedence, and Mr Biswas was transferred to the Court Shorts page, tasked with writing formulaic reports on what the prosecution, defense, and magistrate said in court. Everyone’s writing style changed, and the department’s new Rules for Reporters, full of banal slogans like “REPORT NOT DISTORT,” instructed them exactly how to behave and what to wear, even at funerals, about which Mr Biswas claimed he could write a much better “bright little feature.” He called it all “just another capitalist rag,” and he was glad that his name was no longer printed.
The paper’s shift in editorial standards poses to eliminate the dimension of journalism that Mr Biswas initially found most exciting, both in his work at the Sentinel and his time reading about so-called “amazing scenes” on the walls in Green Vale: its flair. Under the “new régime” of “REPORT NOT DISTORT,” Mr Biswas’s job becomes entirely about mediating facts, not at all about creative expression.
Themes
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Mr Biswas had to report the scores of a series of cricket matches, which he did not care about and ruined his weekends. He thought about starting his own magazine, rambled at length about people from work, and took as many days off as he could without raising suspicion, although he claimed he wanted to be fired. He harassed the boys who played cricket in the street and read books about political injustices until he found Dickens, which “ridiculed and diminished” all his own problems and gave him the strength to continue plodding along. He told Anand, “I don’t want you to be like me,” and they saw the vulnerability in one another and felt a mutual responsibility.
Like his lawyers at The Chase and Seth’s financial decisions, the Sentinel’s leadership operates mysteriously from a distance, dispensing its judgments and orders with no interest in the desires of the people it controls. Mr Biswas suddenly finds himself powerless over his own work and alienated in the place where he previously felt meaningful. As usual, literature provides him respite and inspiration; as he begins to admit his vulnerability, he translates his own desire for meaningful work onto his children, who are poised to fulfill his dreams even if he ultimately fails.
Themes
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Social Status and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Education, Work, and Language Theme Icon
Colonialism, Oppression, and Escape Theme Icon
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Soon, Mr Biswas was assigned to write weekly features—serious ones, in which he had to “look beyond the facts to the official figures” and ignore suffering to praise the powerful. He lost all sense of feeling and enjoyment in his writing, avoided reading his work on Sundays, continued to expect a sacking, and barely interacted with his aloof bosses.
While Mr Biswas’s new column is more important, this is only because it promises to ingratiate the Sentinel with Trinidad’s most powerful people; despite his obsession with proving his social status, his new assignment seems to reveal his utter lack of power.
Themes
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Education, Work, and Language Theme Icon
Colonialism, Oppression, and Escape Theme Icon
The garden began to deteriorate and prices began to rise because of the war; Mr Biswas’s wages increases barely covered the difference, and food, in short supply, got worse. He and Shama started arguing, as much as they had at The Chase, and the city began to feel monotonous on the midnight walks he took to avoid her.
Even though World War II is being fought oceans away, it still severely impacts daily life in Trinidad, which remains subject to British rule. As Mr Biswas’s sense of fulfillment at work erodes, so does his motivation in every aspect of his life.
Themes
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Colonialism, Oppression, and Escape Theme Icon
One day, Anand came into Mr Biswas’s room and stuttered his way through a story: “Once upon a time there was a man who […] Who, whatever you do for him, wasn’t satisfied.” Mr Biswas laughed and Anand, humiliated, refused to speak to him for days. He would not eat or leave his room and complained that other boys made fun of him—and his father—at school. Mr Biswas promised that they could return to Hanuman House whenever they wanted.
After at least a decade of vicious arguments with his family, Mr Biswas finally gets a direct explanation of his faults from Anand—but, of course, refuses to take his son seriously. It is telling that Anand chooses to express his feelings toward his father in a story: this is exactly what Naipaul has done in writing this book.
Themes
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Mr Biswas started taking the kids to Tara and Ajodha’s beautiful new house, but they returned weekend after weekend to their dull and gloomy lives in Port of Spain. Shama only went once, and she was morose there, feeling that Mr Biswas’s family did not like or care about her. The children never wanted to visit her family, and she started going less and less. But she was too shy to make new friends, so she became close with the woman who now occupied Owad’s old room and soon “the house became Shama’s.”
While Hanuman House reflects everything backwards and uncomfortable about communal rural life, Ajodha and Tara’s house in Pagotes represents the comfort and beauty the family has ceased to find in Port of Spain. Throughout her entire life, Shama has only ever interacted with family, so her shyness is understandable; but she still manages to take control over the domestic space of the Port of Spain house.
Themes
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Colonialism, Oppression, and Escape Theme Icon
Anand was miserable during the week, occupied with tedious memorization for the “exhibition class, where no learning mattered except that which led to good examination results.” He and his fellow exhibition pupils lived more through compositions than their daily lives. He started avoiding school and giving up on his private lessons, while his cousins were taking their brahmin initiations, and he adamantly but subtly fought to join them. He began performing prayers and got himself initiated during the holidays, then quickly shed his devotion.
Anand’s colonial schooling is less about education than rote memorization; it has no interest in teaching him to think independently or creatively. Like Mr Biswas, Anand initially found an interest in literature, science, and school because he connected it to his life. Now, his “exhibition” education is about achieving status by showing off knowledge, and he turns to the religious education that promises to reconnect knowledge to his everyday life.
Themes
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Education, Work, and Language Theme Icon
Colonialism, Oppression, and Escape Theme Icon
Near the end of the year, Mr Biswas received a letter from Mr Burnett, in Chicago, trying to convince him to “give America a try.” He dismissed it as a joke but felt honored that Mr Burnett had written him, began drafting a lengthy reply, tore it up when he realized “how bitter he appeared” in it, and never did end up writing or hearing again from Mr Burnett.
It is hard not to wonder what might have come of Mr Biswas’s life had he agreed to visit America; when he finally had the chance to pursue his fantasies of escaping Trinidad, like the old Tulsi men who were afraid to go back to India, he turned it down out of fear and impulsivity.
Themes
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After the school term, the children were suddenly excited to go to Hanuman House. Shama sewed everyone new clothes, which never made it to a visit. Mr Biswas came home from work one day to see his roses destroyed. Seth was standing outside with two black workers, and Mr Biswas nearly threw a rock at them until “large hot gritty fingers” grabbed his wrist and stopped him. Seth accused him of scaring the children and said he did not even realize that these were rose trees.
Mr Biswas is yet again displaced abruptly, through no fault of his own, due to power dynamics that exceed him and see him as collateral damage. While Seth’s power struggle with the Tulsis happens in the background of the novel, it clearly represents the family’s struggle between tradition and modernity, as well as the corresponding masculine and feminine forms of authority.
Themes
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In fact, Seth owned the house, and after he and Mr Biswas exchanged some more insults, Mr Biswas went inside and started breaking things. Seth’s workers started building a shed for his lorries in the yard; Anand refused his father’s offer of a walk and went upstairs to find much of the furniture slightly damaged. Soon thereafter, the furniture company came and replaced it all—it fell under the warranty—and Seth’s lorries began occupying the shed.
As after his fight with Govind, Mr Biswas lashes out against inanimate objects instead of the people who have wronged him. Like when Seth and Mr Biswas “insuranburned” the shop at The Chase, here the family again manipulates legal agreements to benefit from Mr Biswas’s own self-destructive tendencies.
Themes
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