Understanding Freedom in A House for Mr. Biswas

A House for Mr. Biswas, written by V.S. Naipaul, is an epic that tells the story of Mohun Biswas, a poor boy believed to be a bad omen from birth, and his life in Trinidad. The life of Mr. Biswas is presented in the form of an epic, narrating his life, decisions, the interactions that he has with others, and the relationships that he formulates along the way. A House for Mr. Biswas is not the typical epic told. Initially, Mr. Biswas has no true sense of identity, nor is his journey laid out clearly for him in any way. The life of Mr. Biswas is riddled with a desire to have a sense of freedom, an identity to call his own. In his journey to find his true self, Mr. Biswas yearns to find a sense of belonging that will allow him to procure the freedom that he so desperately longs for.

From the beginning of his life, Mr. Biswas was never granted the luxury of freedom that most individuals would take for granted. The novel explores his lack of freedom from the very beginning of the story. Having been born “six fingered and in the wrong way”(15), Mr. Biswas was considered inauspicious from the start. Being from an impoverished family, Mr. Biswas already did not have the conveniences that others may have had and his bad luck made it even more difficult for him to participate in society. By exploring his supposed bad luck, the novel treats the theme of freedom with an interesting connection to his inability to participate in society without there being some sort of consequences. Some of his very first interactions with the outside world began when he was given the responsibility to care for his neighbor’s calf. Because this was one of the first times he had actually gotten a taste of freedom, his curiosity became his downfall. “Then one day Mr. Biswas lost the calf. He had forgotten it, watching the fish. And when, after dropping the stick and scattering the fish, he remembered the calf, it had gone”(25). When Mr. Biswas realized the extent of his actions and hid to avoid trouble, his father dove in the pond under the presumption that he had drowned. Mr. Biswas’s actions became the reason why his father dove in the pond and drowned to death.

Having been given the freedom to roam with the calf, Mr. Biswas inexplicably became responsible for the loss of both the calf and his father. The way in which the novel stages the theme is significant in that it develops the idea of a constriction of freedom for the character. After the death of his father, the little freedom Mr. Biswas possessed was even more confined than it had been before. Forced to go live at his aunt’s home with his mother, Mr. Biswas had even less say in the events and actions that occurred in his life than before. In the second chapter of the novel, those around him make many of the decisions regarding Mr. Biswas and his future. “And just when Mr. Biswas was beginning to do stocks and shares, transactions as unreal to Lal as they were to him, and was learning ‘Binges and Rhine’ from Bell’s Standard Elocutionist for the visit of the school inspector, he was taken out of school by Tara and told that he was going to be made a pundit”(48). The way the novel presents this scene articulates the idea that freedom truly was something that Mr. Biswas could only dream of. The fact that Tara presumed she had the right to decide what it would be that Mr. Biswas would do with his life allows readers to see the extent to which freedom was a luxury for Mr. Biswas.

Mr. Biswas was never given the opportunity to make decisions of his own accord, he was compelled to live under the rules of first the pundit and now his aunt, and this seemed to play a continuous loop throughout the rest of his life. The novel interrelated the idea of a lack of identity and a sense of belonging with the absence of freedom that plagues the life of Mr. Biswas. Having been taken from one temporary living arrangement and placed into another, Mr. Biswas would have to live with this vicious cycle of dominance for the majority of his life. From the home of Pundit Jairam to the rum shop and back again to Tara’s home, Mr. Biswas was never able to truly have a say in what he did or where he ended up. All of the decisions that impacted his life were made by powers of higher authority. These instances influenced his views of the world of the power hungry, those of higher authority that surrounded him and their lust for money and dominance. It was the absence and almost forced lack of freedom that opened Mr. Biswas to a desire for rebellion and affected the way in which he responded to the world around him. His sense of belonging was impacted due to the lack of freedom that he was compelled to deal with. Because almost all his decisions were made for him, from his jobs to his education and even his marriage, Mr. Biswas was never really able to experience what true freedom really was. The novel reveals how Mr. Biswas’s inability to feel like he belonged only increased after his marriage.

After marrying into the Tulsi family, Mr. Biswas believed that he would finally be able to make a name for himself with the support and comfort of a familial structure in his life. His belief that the Tulsis would prove to be the beginning of a new chapter in his life was met with disappointment. A lack a freedom becomes even more prominent after Mr. Biswas marries Shama Tulsi. He is compelled to live with his in-laws and in doing so he sees the true nature of the Tulsi family life. His desire for a place to call his own stemmed from his longing for freedom and a true sense of self. Mr. Biswas has spent the vast majority of his life living under the rules of those who hold higher authority; from his parents to his aunt Tara, Pundit Jairam, Bhandat in the rum shop, and Mrs. Tulsi, Mr. Biswas lived under the rules of others and never was able to feel what true freedom was like. His desire for freedom only becomes stronger was he is married and becomes a father. Now responsible for six lives, Mr. Biswas’s desire for freedom and a sense of self becomes an even stronger necessity. The theme of freedom plays a predominantly strong role in his life and continues to do so to a greater extent once his responsibilities grow. His life decisions now not only impact him, but also his wife and four children. By having Mr. Biswas be a husband and father, the novel shows that even after he has broken out of his supposed inauspicious beginnings, he is still tied down by those in higher authority when it comes to his freedom and identity. He lives his life as the bad omen, Tara’s nephew, Jairam’s helper, Bhandat’s employee, and a Tulsi son-in-law, but he is never really able to live as who he really is, Mohun Biswas.

Freedom or a lack thereof is one of the most impactful themes presented within the novel A House for Mr. Biswas. The life of the main character is riddled with hardships and ordeals that he is compelled to face, with no true destination visible. Mr. Biswas consistently rebels against those in a higher sense of authority in an attempt to gain the freedom to live his life the way he yearns to. By offering a lack of identity and sense of self, the novel allows readers to see the ordeals that Mr. Biswas must deal with in a way that makes his desire for freedom understandable. His eagerness for a sense of belonging is presented through the whole of the novel in a way that gives light to his thirst for freedom. This lack of freedom and sense of self are alluding to continuously the hardships that Mr. Biswas must face if he desires to break free from the chained life he has been living.