A House for Mr Biswas

Themes and Colors
Independence vs. Belonging Theme Icon
Social Status and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Education, Work, and Language Theme Icon
Gender and Family Theme Icon
Colonialism, Oppression, and Escape Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A House for Mr Biswas, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

V.S. Naipaul’s novel A House for Mr Biswas traces the titular protagonist’s life in Trinidad from birth to death, chronicling his journey through temporary homes, unsatisfying jobs, and frustrating family relationships before he finds an eventual, if fleeting, sense of freedom in his own home. This quest to find independence—from family, drudgery, and fate—is the crux of Mr Biswas’s struggles, and his need to find a sense of belonging in a place and…

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Despite—or, perhaps, because of—his birth to illiterate peasants in a mud hut in rural Trinidad, Mr Biswas is obsessed with social hierarchy and constantly worries about how he fits into it. His demands for respect and attention usually fall on deaf ears, especially within the Tulsi family, but his career as a journalist and government welfare agent in Port of Spain finally elevate him the status he has always sought. Despite  achieving success through hard…

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Whether he realizes it or not, Mr Biswas’s ambitions and successes are structured around his pursuit of language: he becomes a sign-painter because he loves the shapes of letters, and a journalist because he loved reading the newspapers that lined the walls in Green Vale. Although Pundit Sitaram declared Mr Biswas unlucky upon his birth, he did encounter one great stroke of luck in life: his literacy, which not only gave his children…

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Mr Biswas’s struggle for freedom is largely a struggle for freedom from the Tulsi family he impulsively marries into. Unlike the fairly modern relatives he grows up with, the Tulsis are orthodox Hindus, which infuriates Mr Biswas to no end—particularly because their home life is orchestrated and controlled by women. Accordingly, Mr Biswas’s quest for a house arises in large part from sense of emasculation amidst the Tulsis. His desire for a house also…

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A House for Mr Biswas was published during the ill-fated West Indies Federation, a year before Trinidad and Tobago became an independent nation, but set in the earlier years of the twentieth century. Naipaul’s portrait of Trinidad thus reflects a post-slavery colonial society in the midst of an economic and social transition toward the postcolonial state. The island is highly stratified, and different groups’ animosity for one another on the basis of race, religion, class…

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