A House for Mr Biswas

A House for Mr Biswas

A House for Mr Biswas Part 2, Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The solicitor’s clerk moved out as soon as he received payment, and in three days Mr Biswas brought his family back to Sikkim Street. In the afternoon sun, the house’s interior was sweltering, and the house no longer felt spacious nor cosy. The Biswases realized that the staircase was “too plain,” supported by rotten pillars and prone to swaying in the breeze. There was no back door or drainage in the yard; the windows could not close, and the front door blew open in the wind; another door would not open at all, and the lattice work was uneven and broken. Mr Biswas cursed the solicitor’s clerk as Shama suggested possible repairs.
Moving in during normal weather conditions, the house’s imperfections are immediately apparent; its cosmetic beauty hides its rotten construction, but as usual Mr Biswas does not allow himself to feel regret until it is already too late. While Mr Biswas casts blame for and despairs over the house’s condition, Shama is astonishingly practical and composed even though she vehemently opposed his purchase from the start.
Themes
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Eventually, the Biswases stopped reporting the numerous new imperfections they discovered; they were still living at the Tulsi house as they fixed up their new one. They had to pay rent on the land and the rediffusion radio set, in addition to the interest and cost of repairs; Mr Biswas “was discovering commitments almost as fast as he discovered the house.” They had to hire painters and sanitary engineers—borrowing money from the widow Basdai to pay for them—but finally the house was ready and they brought in their furniture, which suddenly looked “unfamiliar and shabby and shameful” on the back of the moving lorry. They unpacked and ate in near silence that night; when he went upstairs to bed, Mr Biswas felt the floor shaking and worried that it might start to sink.
Unlike in his fantasies, finally having his own house does not relieve Mr Biswas of all his financial obligations nor even, at first, his dependence on the Tulsis. With all their furniture exposed on the back of a lorry, finally poised to reach its final home, they realize not only that they have accumulated it nearly at random, but also that it is all they have accumulated—the only mark they have made on the world until now. Just as the house was made attractive by context (the lack of sun, the solicitor’s clerk’s furnishings, his mother’s cakes) the furniture is suddenly hideous on its own, without context.
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When Mr Biswas finally approached their “impassive and sleepy” Indian next-door neighbor, the man mentioned Mr Biswas’s repairs, and Mr Biswas in turn complemented the man’s house. The man revealed that the solicitor’s clerk built the whole house himself, and “the man was a joke, man. I don’t know how the City Council pass a house like that.” The man, proud of his “solid, well-made house,” responded to Mr Biswas’s insistence that his own was a “strong little house” by pointing out that the pillars were made of hollow bricks. In fact, the solicitor’s clerk was a hobbyist who had done the same thing elsewhere, all over Port of Spain. But he couldn’t get anyone to buy the St James house for the hefty price of “four five.” He pointed down the street, at “a new neat bungalow” that also sold for “four five.”
The narration implies that the solicitor’s clerk might have been able to get his shoddy construction approved due to his position in the legal system; as with the opportunistic insurance policies and dishonest lawyers that play so grand a role in Mr Biswas’s dealings with the Tulsi businesses, here the law figures more as a tool for people to gain power and wealth than an institution to ensure the just distribution of them. Mr Biswas was swindled because of the law, not in spite of it, and eagerly paid a whole thousand dollars above the house’s actual price.
Themes
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The Tuttles visited soon thereafter, and the Biswases frantically arranged the house’s interior to make it look as it had when they first saw it. With their efforts, “the Tuttles were taken in!” They were clearly jealous of the Biswases’ house and explained that their own house was old but “full of room.” Shama called her family’s new house “small and nice,” and W.C. Tuttle underhandedly replied that it was “nice and small.” Since it was night, the Tuttles did not notice the staircase’s weakness, and the Biswases soon “forgot the inconveniences of the house and saw it with the eyes of the visitors.”
Just like the solicitor’s clerk did for Mr Biswas’s first visit, the Biswases carefully groom the house to prepare for the Tuttles—it again briefly becomes a status symbol rather than an adequate place to live, and despite their ongoing rivalry with the Tuttles, the Biswases remember how well they appear to live when they are forced to view the house from an outsider’s perspective.
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Get the entire A House for Mr Biswas LitChart as a printable PDF.
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The Biswases planted a garden; the children soon learned to forget their previous homes, although occasionally something sensuous reminded them of their past’s now distant pleasures. Mr Biswas dreamed about hurting the solicitor’s clerk, who showed up unannounced on their doorstep one day. The clerk did not respond to Mr Biswas’s insults and instead talked calmly about his mother and new building project in the empty lot next door. Eventually, he told Mr Biswas to “mind your mouth!” and threatened to send him to jail. After he left, Shama brought a ruler and helped Mr Biswas measure the lot; in fact, their deed went twelve feet beyond the fence, and they planted a tree in the extra space.
After all, the family’s old houses did turn out to be more or less temporary, at least in retrospect; it is as though all of those other residences were all leading up to this house on Sikkim Street, like steps along the family’s path to independence and freedom (even if in some of the old houses were certainly more comfortable and sturdy). Mr Biswas cannot retaliate against the dishonest solicitor’s clerk—like when he tried to sue Mungroo, his attempts to demand justice actually have the opposite effect, putting him in danger instead.
Themes
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Colonialism, Oppression, and Escape Theme Icon