A House for Mr. Biswas: Mr. Biswas’ Identity Struggle

Almost all the works of V.S. Naipaul have charaters who are poor and live in rural areas. Always these characters undergo trials and suffer identity crisis.

The main protagonist, Mr. Mohun Biswas in V. S. Naipuls’ A house for Mr. Biswas, is not an exemption. “I am going to get a job of my own. And I am going to get my own house, too.” This vow of Mr. Biswas typifies his longing for freedom, social and family respect and acceptance that constitute his 40 year struggle to gain his own identity.

The moment Mr. Biswas is born, he already has the burden of deformed identity that will make him feel that he does not belong: He is born with six fingers. “Born in the wrong way,” as they say. This alone alienates him from his peers and the society. Adding up to the injury, the attending midwife declares that they should be careful because Mr. Biswas, with his seemingly uncommon figure, will eat up his parents.

As he grows up, Mr. Biswas experiences seemingly endless prejudices and ridicules. The community in which he lives in is bounded by traditional superstitions and caste discrimination; thus his misshapen fingers make him feel a real outsider.

But misfortune is not only brought by his six fingers; they have been living in poverty even before he is born and their financial woe continues. In fact, it worsens that they hardly eat. Mr. Biswas becomes thin with stunted growth and acquires sores and eczema. This appearance of his heightens his insecurity and his alienation from the people around him.

Poverty drives Mr. Biswas to seek employment. He is hired by Dhari to look after his calf. Finally, Mr. Biswas is exulted because someone trusts him. But it is only a short-lived glory as his clumsiness and low self-esteem make him lose Dhari’s calf. He runs away to avoid punishment. Mr.Biswas’ father drowns in the pond when he is looking for him in the forest. This fulfils one half of the midwife’s prophesy when he was born.

Another show of Mr. Biswas’ struggle for self-identity is when, in the classroom, he is forced to write “I am an ass” on the board. Although this is his punishment for disobedience, he will not do this if he has a strong confidence of who he is.

The statement is downright degrading. Perhaps a physical punishment, like cleaning the room or running around the ground, is more fitting. This is more dignified than the self-inflicting defamatory words on the board.

From here on, Mr. Biswas’ luck does not depend entirely on his own effort as destitution and inevitable consequences force him to live momentarily from one home to another, relying on other people’s aid to feed his stomach.

Through this pitiful journey, amidst the manipulation of people around him, he holds on tightly to his principles and ideals; cluthcing to the thin thread of his identity, to his assumption that he, Mr. Biswas descended from noble families and not from common rural nobodies. He considers himself to be in line with the colonial tradition and language instead with the custom and tradition of other races in the island. This arrogance may heighten his feeling of alienation.