A House for Mr. Biswas: Naipul’s Narrative Technique
A House for Mr. Biswas, written immediately after his Caribbean visit, is, from the point of view of technique, Naipaul’s significant achievement. This novel is voluminous, episodic, and picaresque in form. It also presents a comedy, but a dark one where the protagonist presents in existentialist terms the struggle and survival of an individual in a world of drift.
The beauty of the novel lies in Naipaul’s success in dealing with psychological analysis and close personal relations at the same time. The two contradictory ideas always obsess Mr. Biswas. He has to conquer the fatalistic attitude handed down to him by his ancestors and at the same time, he has to break away from the oppressive traditional Hindu society. The close communal life of the traditional Hindu family is presented with authenticity in the novel and every incident and experience becomes. symbolic here. The protagonist becomes an archetypal symbol of exile. Life and landscape are beautifully blended in the novel and descriptions are organically employed to reinforce the theme. The setting becomes an integral aspect of the mental state of the leading character.
The novel comprises the Prologue, the Swelling Act, and The Epilogue. The Prologue opens with the following sentence: “Ten weeks before he died, Mr. Mohun Biswas, a Journalist of Sikkim Street, St. James, Port of Spain, was sacked.” Thus the dismissal and death of the protagonist are reported in the prologue and as such it anticipates the inevitable despair of the protagonist. Readers then gradually informed of the protagonist’s credentials and the outcome of his struggle to have his own house.
Several critics are of the view that the introduction of the prologue prevents the novelist from holding the curiosity of readers throughout the novel. Since readers know beforehand in the prologue the consequence of the protagonist’s action and the crux of the plot of the novel, there remains no suspense. But the epilogue of the novel serves the purpose of the novelist rightly in so far as it deals with the end of the protagonist elaborately, it is not free from flaws.
The novel contains a number of autobiographical references and facts. Seepersad Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1906 and departed from the world in 1953. The following lines of the prologue of the novel reveal that Mr. Biswas, who has been modeled on Seepersad Naipaul, was forty-six at the time of his death: “Mr. Biswas forty
Six, and had four children. He had no money”. So there is a resemblance between the lifespan of the novelist’s father and that of the protagonist of the novel. It is known to us that the novelist’s father belonged to a poor Brahmin family and the Brahmin identity of the protagonist of the novel is pointed out again and again. The following lines reveal the fact mentioned above: “In Tara’s house he was respected as a Brahmin and pampered yet as soon as the ceremony was over and he had taken his gift of money and cloth and left, he became once more only a laborer’s child”.
Seepersad Naipaul worked as a reporter of the Trinidad Guardian, a local paper, all through his life. In the novel, readers are informed that Mr. Biswas was the reporter of the sentinel. The novelist’s father began writing articles on the Indian community for the Trinidad Guardian. The following lines of the novel present a description of the protagonist’s interview with the Indian farmers for his professional purpose:” “In daylight, in a Sentinel motorcar and with a Sentinel photographer, he drove through the open plain to call on Indian farmers to get material for his feature on Prospectus for This Year’s Rice Crop”. The similarity is quite evident.
Like Mr. Biswas, Seepersad moved his family from house to house as he dreamed of a better and more stable life. He also longed to have his own fiction published. His desire was fulfilled posthumously when V.S. Naipaul got The adventures of Gurudeva, a collection of short stories of Srepersad, published after his father’s death. The strong urge of Mr. Biswas to become a writer is manifested in his purchase of the typewriter and his several attempts to write short stories.
In the light of the discussion made above it can be safely concluded that the novel, A House for Mr. Biswas, has an autobiographical ring. However, the novelist’s success lies in the fact that he is able to employ his personal matters in creating a character of universal appeal and producing one of the popular and best of his novels. The novel is a confirmation of the truth expressed by V.S. Naipaul himself in the following manner: “An autobiography can distort facts can be realigned. But fiction never lies; it reveals the writer totally”.