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Theme of Immigration & ALIENATION in


V.S. Naipauls A House For Mr. Biswas
Naipauls A House for Mr Biswas is a tragicomic novel set in Trinidad in 1950s, and was
published in 1961. It deals with an ast Indians struggle !or a place to stri"e his deracinated root
a!resh. It also attac"s the Indian societ#s segregated, traditional wa# o! li!e which contents to
live in its shell and preserve its own special religious identit#.
Naipaul based $ %ouse !or &r. 'iswas on his own e(periences in Trinidad. &r. 'iswas is
the protot#pe !or Naipauls !ather, )eepersad. $nd $nand, &r 'iswas s son !or Naipaul. In his
boo", Letters Between Father and Son: Family Letters *1999+, Naipaul sa#s that the relationship
between him and his !ather is similar to that o! $nand and his !ather &r. 'iswas. ,eading the
novel in light o! Naipauls biograph#, one can clearl# recogni-e similarities between the real and
!ictional !athers and sons. .or e(ample, 'oth Naipaul s !ather and &r 'iswas were born in a
village. 'oth o! them change man# houses until the# have one o! their own. /iving with wealth#
relatives, wor"ing as sign painters, getting married with the daughters o! conservative, wealth#
%indu !amilies0 holding a series o! 1obs are some o! the other similarities.
.urthermore, )eepersad Naipaul, too, !inds wor" on a newspaper a!ter moving to 2ort o!
)pain, as &ohun 'iswas does. The events in the li!e o! &r. 'iswass son $nand re!lect those o!
Naipaul s himsel!. $nand, li"e Naipaul, is instilled with the idea o! reading, being incited to be
one o! those students who achieve to win a scholarship at school and to share his !athers
involvement with writing. Naipaul, mentioning A House for Mr. Biswas sa#s that it was 3ver#
much m# !athers boo". It was written out o! his 1ournalism and stories, out o! his "nowledge he
had got !rom the wa# o! loo"ing &ac4owen had trained him in. It was written out o! his
writing5 *.6 19789 :III+. The novel ta"es its sub1ect matter !rom the e(cluded peoples who have
been alienated !rom societies to which the# apparentl# belong, and who are in search o! an
identit#.
Naipaul portra#s the ;est Indians lives, the realit# o! descendants o! indentured servants
b# presenting his !amilial e(periences as a miniature sample o! the larger truths about the general
colonial predicament in Trinidad. In his boo" Reading and Writing, he sa#s that he began to see
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what his material might be9 3the cit# street !rom whose mi(ed li!e the# had held aloo! and the
countr# li!e be!ore that, with the wa#s and manners o! a remembered India< *Naipaul in )chmitt,
19979 1=>+.
The state o! ones !eeling o! having been deracinated and displaced is called
unhomeliness, a term coined b# %omi 'habba and other theorists o! post colonialism. It is the
sense o! being in between o! two or more cultures. $n unhomed person does not have the !eeling
o! belonging since s?he is in a ps#chological limbo which generall# ends in some ps#chological
disorders and cultural displacement. %ere, being 3unhomed5 does not mean being homeless. To
be un homed, as /ois T#son states in Critical heory oday, 3is to !eel not at home even in ones
own home because #ou are not at home in #oursel!0 that is, #our cultural identit# crisis has made
#ou a ps#chological re!ugee5 *>0069 8>1+. In this regard, an#one who scrutini-es Naipauls
wor"s, consisted o! both !iction and non!iction, can reali-e that Naipaul has a strong !eeling o!
un homeliness, although he has a home in ;iltshire, ngland.
'eing a person brought up b# a culture that has been deracinated !rom ast India to
Trinidad in ;est India as indentured labourers who have been coloni-ed long be!ore, and having
had a leap *due to being educated !irst in Trinidad b# a colonial, namel#, 'ritish education
s#stem and later in @(!ord, ngland+ !rom a culture which had no sel!Adetermination to one
which was a world power that initiated reason, science, and logic, *the corner stones o!
modernism+ Naipaul seems to be in a ps#chological limbo, having been alienated !rom the
culture o! his people. $lienation and e(ile are the concepts which the writers o! postcolonial
literature mainl# discuss and treat in their wor"s.
'ecause the writers or intellectuals !rom once coloni-ed countries encountering the
distortments that the coloni-er has le!t on their culture, eventuall# establish discrete responses.
This sense o! not belonging to a signi!icant countr# or culture results either in its re1ection b# the
writer through criticism and satire, or b# his ph#sical or ps#chological withdrawals in the !orm o!
various "inds o! alienation, as it has been the case with Naipaul at the ver# beginning o! his
adolescence and later in his matured li!e. Nevertheless, be!ore the novel in Buestion, it is o! great
importance to deliberate the concept o! alienation on which I will tr# to proo! m# assertion.
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$lienation is usuall# considered as a concept associated with minorities, the poor, the
unemplo#ed, and other groups o! peripher# who have limited power to bring about changes in
societ#. $lienation is de!ined 3as a !eeling o! separation or isolation which results problems
stemmed !rom rapid social changes such as industriali-ation and urbani-ation which has bro"en
down traditional relationships among individuals and groups and the goods and services the#
produce5 *alienation.< The $merican %eritage New Cictionar# o! 6ultural /iterac#+. %owever,
this de!inition does not give a comprehensive delineation o! the term. The concept o! alienation
has intrigued and troubled man# sociologists and philosophers and conseBuentl# en1o#ed a
turbulent histor# which stretches to %egel. Cue to its widespread usage through various
disciplines, there hasn t been an agreement on even its most basic aspects #et.
$s Iain ;illiamson and 6edric 6ulling!ord heighlight3There is disagreement about the
de!inition, debate over whether the phenomenon is a sociological process or a ps#chological
state, or both, and con!usion over the inevitabilit# o! the e(perience5 *199D9 >6=+. The concept
has been used widel# in the contemporar# literature, sociolog# and philosoph#. &elvin )eeman
underlines that 3It is a central theme in the classics o! &ar(, ;eber, and Cur"heim0 and in
contemporar# wor", the conseBuences that have been said to !low !rom the !act o! alienation
have been diverse, indeed5*19599 D7=+.
%egel uses two distinct 4erman words entausserung *surrender+ and ent!remdung *a state
o! separation+ !or describing the theme o! alienation. %e, as ;illiamson and 6uling!ord assert,
was much in!luenced b# )chillers theological use o! the term as a state o! separation, and also
b# ,ousseaus discussion o! alienation as a surrender o! personal sel! and control. $ccording to
;illiamson and 6ulling!ord, %egel s discussion o! alienation *or ent!remdung+ can be drawn out
in two ma1or senses9 alienationAasAseparation, and alienationAasAsurrender. The !irst sense echoes
)chillerEs writings and the second those o! the social contract philosophers *;illiamson 199D9
>65+. %egel, as the# claim, argues that 3through sel! anal#sis and contemplation, the human
moves !rom an immature sense o! universalit# to a power!ul sense o! his?her own individualit#,
but as universalit# is essential to all things spiritual, this process leads to an acute sense o! sel!A
alienation !rom oneEs inner nature and the e(tremit# o! discord<*199D9 >65+.
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This is alienationAasAseparation. The# go on sa#ing 3recognition o! this leads the
individual to a second alienation process where this particularit# is #ielded bac" to the
universalit# o! the social substance. This sense o! universalit# is mature and the e(perience is
one o! actualisation, although %egel remains vague on how this occurs5 *199D9 >65+. This is
alienation as surrender. To sum up, the issue that must be underlined in %egel s understanding o!
the theme o! alienation is that !or %egel the theme o! alienation has a positive nature.
Thus0 %egel puts !orward two di!!erent processes, FalienationAasAseperation being
distressing but necessar# !or maturit#, and FalienationAasAsurrender being positivel# peace!ull
and !ree !rom worr# due to the !act that 3it involves a conscious relinBuishment or surrender with
the intention o! securing a desired end9 namel#, unit# with the social substance5 *)chacht, 19D09
=6+. &eanwhile, during those interpretations on the concept o! alienation, as ;illiamson and
6ulling!ord put it9 3)eeman and other $merican sociologists and socialAps#chologists began to
pa# close attention to the concept, and it was this wor" that was to provide a valid paradigm !or
researches around the concept5 *199D9 >69+.
&elvin )eeman, in his paper !n the Meaning of Alienation, tries to put this comple(
structure o! alienation into an order b# a !iveA!old classi!ication9 2owerlessness,
&eaninglessness, Normlessness, )ocial Isolation and )el!A strangement *19599 D7=+. )eeman
de!ines normlessness, the third variant o! the alienation theme, as having been derived !rom
Cur"heimEs description o! Fanomie . %e asserts that 3in the traditional usage, anomie denotes a
situation in which the social norms regulating individual conduct have bro"en down or are no
longer e!!ective as rules !or behavior5 *19599 D7D+. In other words, normlessness re!ers to a
situation lac"ing e!!ective norms or in which individuals assume that unacceptable behaviors are
reBuired !or success.
A House for Mr Biswas, metaphoricall#, is a miniature world which s#mboli-es the
colonial world. &r. 'iswasEs personal battle with the stronghold o! the Tulsi household *the
s#mbol o! the colonial world+ is a Buest !or e(istential !reedom and the struggle !or personalit#.
$s )ingh underlines0 3&r. 'iswas is the un accommodated man representing the outcastEs
s#mbolic Buest !or a place in the hostile universe5 *19979 1>6+.
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The Tulsis are running a sort o! mimic world o! colonialism and the important thing is
that the %anuman %ouse too is run on the traditional %indu !amilial lines and protocols. @n the
sur!ace, the Tulsis have made an admirable reconstruction o! the clan in strange and hostile
conditions. It has its own schemes, leaders, duties, law and order, religious rituals and provides
1obs and help to men o! their communit# on merits. &r. 'iswas is repeatedl# accused o! not
being grate!ul to the Tulsis despite the !act, as &rs. Tulsi sa#s, <6oming to us with no more
clothes #ou could hang up on a nail5.*55D+ $t !irst glance, &r. 'iswasEs rebellion ma# appear
meaningless and un!air. 'ecause one is li"el# to thin" that the Tulsi !amil# provides shelter and
1ob !or &r 'iswas whenever he needs, but nevertheless, he ungrate!ull# re1ect their help
propounding the idea that the %anuman %ouse is li"e a prison.
'ut beneath the sur!ace, one can see that the %anuman %ouse is not a coherent or
benevolent entit# o! the traditional %indu 1oint !amil#. It is more a slave societ# where &rs Tulsi
and )eth need wor"ers to boost their sin"ing in!luence and econom#. The# e(ploit the
homelessness and povert# o! men li"e 'iswas and others. The acceptance o! %anuman %ouse
and its dubious claims is the submission o! slaver#. '# such a picture, Naipaul tries to portra#
that sub1ugation is not something peculiar to the ;est, or to the whites.
%e satirises the Indians insistence on carr#ing out their older caste s#stem within
themselves while the# resent white colonialism. Naipauls protagonist is alienated !rom the
%indu communit# in Trinidad, and is !ighting out a personal battle !or !reedom and recognition.
.or him, to built a house o! his own means !reedom and recognition. $nd b# the end o! the
novel, in spite o! all its de!iciencies, he manages to bu# this house which eventuall# brings him
his wi!es respect, and saves him !rom his sense o! being rootless and alienated. %e does not
regard the Tulsi s wa# o! li!e which was consisted o! the old traditions o! the ast India. The
!eeling o! deracination and displacement and lac" o! a national communit# in Trinidad are the
!undamental themes in A House for Mr. Biswas, as the# were !or Naipaul personall#. 'oth &r.
'iswas and Naipaul are in search o! a home b# which the# will be able to !ind their identities.
$ sense o! place and sel! which, at the time, was di!!icult !or ast Indians in Trinidad to
have. 'eing an ast Indian descendent in ;est Indies, a colon# o! ngland, &r. 'iswas is
ph#sicall# in one place *;est Indies+ and culturall# in another *ast India+, and searches to !ind a
genuine identit#. $nal#-ing the sense o! alienation and the agon# o! e(ile e(perienced b# the
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characters, A House for Mr. Biswas delineates the problems o! a distorted and troubled past and
tries to !ind a purpose in li!e. $lienated !rom his !ol", !amil# and !rom the Tulsi s %anuman
%ouse, !or &r. 'iswas, a house o! his own s#mboli-es !reedom and a place to stri"e a root.
&r 'iswas is an alien even in his own !amil# since he was born with si( !ingers and !eet
!irst, signs !or bad luc". 'eing considered as an unluc"# bab#, he sta#s as an outsider, a lonel#
individual in his own !amil#. ;hen one reads A House for Mr Biswas, one can easil# observe
that the sense o! alienation that the protagonists &ohun 'iswas e(periences in his !ictional li!e is
the ver# sense that Naipaul has e(perienced in his real li!e.
Thus, both Naipaul and &r 'iswas, the protagonist o! A House for Mr Biswas"
e(perience a sense o! alienation !irst in the !orm o! normlessness which eventuall# leads them to
an e(istential sense o! alienation which also is li"el# to be considered as having common
Bualities with %egel s concept o! Falienation as separation. &elvin )eeman, in his paper !n the
Meaning of Alienation" classi!ied the theme o! alienation in !ive categories one o! which is
normlessness.
Normlessness, as )eeman states, is said to have been derived !rom Cur"heimEs
description o! Fanomie *19599 D7D+ *brea"down o! social structure+ which is considered as 3a
condition o! instabilit# resulting !rom a brea"down o! standards and values or !rom a lac" o!
purpose or ideals51. $s !or normlessness, as )eeman de!ines, it re!ers to a situation lac"ing
e!!ective norms or in which individuals assume that unacceptable behaviors are reBuired !or
success. *D7D+
Naipauls protagonist &ohun 'iswass, as well as Naipaul himsel!, struggles !or their
individualit# through a reali-ation that the entanglements the# are in stem !rom the immature
*uncivili-ed+ structure o! their communit#. .or &ohun 'iswas, the %indu !ol" o! the %anuman
%ouse represent this structure, as !or Naipaul it is all communities that !orm the ;est Indies and
the Third world. %aving been alienated in the !orm o! normlessness, both &r 'iswas and
Naipaul improve a reaction rel#ing on their creativit#. The# do not remain inactive in the !ace o!
their encounter with !amilial or societal norms. Thus0 Naipaul became a writer and &r 'iswas
built a house struggling with the drawbac"s o! their societ#.
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%ence, it is li"el# to assert that their alienation !rom their societ# leads them to a
condition o! e(istential standpoint. (istentialist, as )ingh asserts, propound that alienation
occurs when someone is constrained to become other than what he is. 'eing a constant !eature o!
the human situation which cannot be eliminated, the# regard alienation as an unavoidable state in
the course o! creativit# *)ingh, 19979 >5+. 'ecause, as the# propound, i! one wants to have new
ideas and visions, s?he has to cancel her?his previous ones.
In this process o! ta"ing one role and giving up another, s?he constantl# !aces this sense
o! alienation. In this respect, an e(istentialists understanding o! the theme o! alienation
resembles to %egels concept o! Falienation as separation which reads 3through sel! anal#sis
and contemplation, the human moves !rom an immature sense o! universalit# to a power!ul sense
o! his?her own individualit#< *>65+. 'ut it di!!ers !rom %egels concept o! Falienation as
surrenderE being positivel# peace!ul and !ree !rom worr# due to the !act that 3it involves a
conscious relinBuishment or surrender with the intention o! securing a desired end9 namel#, unit#
with the social substance5 *)chacht, 19D09 =6+ or an# other entities li"e the state or religion.
'ecause e(istentialists, re1ecting all !orms o! authorit#, believe in the sel!Aauthorit#. The#
abstain !rom all !orms o! power because authoritarianism or power con!licts with their basic
views o! li!e. The# believe in one s own sel!Aactuali-ation and sel!Adetermination. $ sel!A
determined one, according to the e(istentialists, is capable o! comprehending his?her problems
without rel#ing on an# religious or political dogmas and ideolog#, and s?he can overcome these
problems b# bringing about realistic solutions that serve to him.
In this respect, one can assert that, since the# do not submit the authoritative and
e(ploitive rules o! the Tulsis and the Third ;orld, Naipaul and his protagonist &ohun 'iswas
have e(perienced the sense o! alienation !irst in the !orm o! normlessness, then in an e(istential
!orm which also can be considered to denote the same points as %egel s concept o! Falienation
as separation does. The# never give up struggling !or their e(istence and identit# rel#ing on
their own capabilities which eventuall# lead them to be an eminent writer in the case o! Naipaul,
and to create or own the house that he longed !or in the case o! &r 'iswass which the# consider
essential !or their authenticit# and !reedom.
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To conclude, !or alienated and displaced people o! the coloni-ed countries, Naipaul
seems to suggest that searching !or creativit# *as &r 'iswas does and never gives up+ rel#ing on
their own originalit# is one o! the basic means to !ind their lost and alienated identit#. $s Gumar
2arag also underlines 3a house is not 1ust a matter getting a shelter !rom heat, cold or rain. In
!act, it is both an imposition o! order and a carvingAout o! authentic sel!hood within the
heterogeneous and !ragmented societ# o! Trinidad5 *>0079 1=9+. Naipaul, through satire and
iron#, tries to instill in the ps#ches o! the once coloni-ed people a sense o! alienation in the !orm
o! normlessness and Falienation as seperation . Thus, he thin"s, the# will be able to leap into a
phase o! creativit# which will conseBuentl# suppl# them with original and authentic identities o!
their own.
WORKS ITE!
vans, $drian ,owe. #.S. $ai%aul *Interview+, Transition, 7, No. 80 *Cecember 19D1+, pp. 56A61.
Naipaul, H.). A House for Mr Biswas. /ondon, New Ior", etc.9 2enguin 'oo"s, 197>. *.irst published
1961+ Naipaul, H). Finding he Centre: wo $arrati&es. /ondon9 Ceutsch, 1978.
Naipaul, H). he 'nigma of Arri&al. %armondsworth9 2enguin, 197D.
2arag, Gumar. 3Identit# 6risis in H.). Naipaul s $ %ouse !or &r. 'iswas5. In )hands, Gerstin
;., ditor.Neither ast Nor ;est9 2ostcolonial ssa#s on /iterature, 6ulture, and ,eligion.
)weden9 )JdertJrns hogs "ola, >007. 2p. 1=5A18>.
)eaman, &elvin. !n he Meaning of Alienation. $merican )ociological ,eview, Hol. >8, No. 6 *Cec.,
1959+, pp. D7=AD91. 2ublished b#9 $merican )ociological $ssociation. )table K,/9
http9??www.1stor.org?stable?>077565$ccessed9 11?11?>01=,