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Leaners and Readers in Naipaul's

Leaners and Readers in Naipaul's

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1 Learners and Readers in Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas Dawa Lhamo V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr.

Biswas chronologically depicts the life of the East Indian community in Trinidad, and simultaneously narrates the story of a man in search of an identity. From the beginning of the novel till the end, we see a sense of determination in Mr. Biswas, an ordinary man, to own a house and to beome independent of his in-laws. Although, the search for the house becomes the crux of the novel, we cannot help but see the pervasive presence of British system of education which preoccupies Naipaul in this and other novels. This system of education is undeniably analogous to another form of British imperialism. We cannot overlook that Mr. Biswas sees in education a sort of ladder, or a bridge by which he hopes to escape from his life. It is not only with Mr. Biswas, but also with all the members of the Tulsi sons-in-law and daughters. They also see in education a route to progress further in life from a socially constricted world. Hence, undisputedly, the imperial value system encroaches on the lives of the characters through the educational system, affirming the imperial hegemony on a different plane. Education in the colonies became another instrument of domination for the imperialist. It is a common knowledge that postcolonialism is based on the historical facts of colonialism and deals with the effects that it has on cultures and societies. Postcolonial theory involves discussions on issues of suppression, race, gender, class, culture, and a range of other issues. This has a specific historical context and a link can be established by exploring the administrative apparatus used to dominate and subjugate the colonies. Thus, education is another administrative activity for colonial supremacy. British Education Policy launched literary Education as a very effective tool to ascertain dominance in the colonies. The universal values of literature were appropriated to justify the civilizing mission in the colonies. Gauri Viswanathan points out that British documents provide evidence “that humanistic functions traditionally associated with the study of literature-- for example the shaping of character or the development of the aesthetic sense or the disciplines of ethical thinking -- are also essential to the process of sociopolitical control” (431). Even in England, Thomas Macaulay, as member of the Supreme Council of India, articulated the rationale for such an education for imperial officers, “…we ought to fill the magistrate of our Eastern Empire with men who may do honour to our country, with men who may represent the best part of the English Nation” (229). Thus, literary studies gained cultural strength not only in territorial expansion and conquest but also as an institutionalized discipline for strengthening the imperial supremacy. Therefore, the British Education Policy was used in the “civilizing mission” as a ruse for territorial control.

2 The study of the English as a language was not new to the natives. extend authority and at the same time dissipated native resistance. Hence the colonials’ willingness to learn. 436). managed to impress the natives . Undoubtedly. people were made to believe that education serves their interest. the imperial tried to maintain control over the colonials through the education system. and scientific texts of the English. tradition and culture. Education is not a blatant and physical conquering of the territory but the control of the intellectual faculty of the society.” (qtd. The native had the chance to achieve the same status if he was prepared to be instructed in the literary. or they must willingly submit from a conviction that we are more wise.first the two gods. Ashrcroft also comments that “Education is perhaps the most insidious and in some ways the most cryptic of colonialist survivals” and becomes “a conquest of another kind of territory” (425). in Viswanathan. Thus education was used as a gentle pursuasion to manipulate the colonized and “the individual willingly learned whatever they believed provided them with the means of advancement in the world” (Viswanathan. which he argues can be achieved by imposing moral and intellectual superiority as the British pronounced: “The Natives must either be kept down by a sense of our power. as it had been introduced in institutions for a long period of time. The colonial masters proceeded to carve out a colonial subjectivity that would ensure compliance with them. philosophical. and the growth of new values injected insidiously through education. whether missionary or . The imperial introduced education into the colonial society and made the colonials feel the importance of education. Education was used as a mechanism to instill in the colonials the value of education to perpetuate the imperial dominion over the colonials. underplay the radical ideas and get the native to comply. 436). In this manner the British interpellated the masses to establish their hegemony. most humane. Gramsci propagates that cultural domination can only be effective with the consent of the governed. needs and purpose. then come numberless sons and daughters of the Tulsi herd. primary or secondary (later tertiary) was a massive canon in the artillery of empire” (425). The British representation of themselves as refined in morals and intellect. . the rush to educate their children with a debilitating impact on the joint family system and values. As such. we see how education takes control over the Tulsis-. balancing the situation in their favor. Ashrcroft in the introduction says that “education . and more anxious to improve their condition than any other rulers they could have.They successfully convinced the subjects that they had gained everything because of superior knowledge. and brought about the willing subjectification of the colonials. besides remaining consistent with the goals of imperialism. and to accept the belief with the hope of advancement in life through education. Under the pretext of moral instruction the British introduced liberal Western thought. This form of willingness in people were evoked by legitimazing the role of education in the society. more just.

but it also raises an ethical question. It is a very debatable question. but orients the colonials toward accepting education as a powerful tool of technology. By introducing institutionalized education it prepares the colonials into various well defined social roles. obliterate from the colonials’ mind that they are subjugating themselves by subjecting themselves to eurocentric form of education. Philip G. but are they all geared towards making a positive contribution towards the society. This is done through the introduction of the English texts and by “teaching him those foreign languages in which greatest mass of information had been laid up. There is no territorial exploitation. education not only brings about a willing subject. The form of education is made to look inviting and interpellate the colonials. but the deployment of education as an apparatus to bring about a willing collective social control.all in all a good economic life. We see these instances in A House for Mr. What is looked at as something of a utility may no longer or may not be viewed as altogether making a positive contribution towards the framework of tradition and tradition. and thus putting all those information within his reach” (Macaulay 430). Through the implicit devise of education it brings about subjectification of the colonials. it does bring about a form of development. They. The façade of education is that it will uplift the subjects from their socially constricted lives.a good education will ultimately lead to a good job. Because with education comes other values and system that erode a nation’s culture and tradition. thereby orchestrating the development .3 Presumably. Education transfers culture and values of a different order and they channelise the role of the children into various imperialist social mode. hence bringing about a willingly participation in perpetuating another form of imperialism. a good salary. and to improve their worth in the job market. it is a way to freedom. and cars. Altbach also affirms that imperialism is maintained through the “distribution of foreign textbooks” and use of “foreign technical advisors on matters of curricular patterns for school” (452). Not only is education not looked at as a liberating force. And there is the over all assumption that encourages people that education is good. thereby. thereby maintaining hierarchical social and economic structure. Gramsci calls this as “hegemony by consent” (425). a good house. It is also another form of eurocentric ideology that if the people have education then that country is on its way to development. Education is projected as a way to salvation. Biswas. and the colonials subjectify themselves as the subject. particularly in the scramble for education within the Tulsis. it cannot be denied that education has an inherent duality. Evidently. Education is also used as an apparatus to measure development in socio-economic and political structure. The ideology behind education is to bring about a willing social control. Hence this insidious nature of education infiltrates into every household and takes control over the lives of the colonial subject. a force that will liberate the people from the suppressed and lower strata of the society.

The heroes had rigid ambitions and lived in countries where ambitions could be pursued and have meaning. From the beginning of the novel we see Mr. Therefore. education also impinges on the society in the form of European culture in A House for Mr. Yet. Biswas. Education was revered as it entailed socio-economic betterment.4 policy and indoctrinating the people to inculcate imperial values and system. Biswas is taught history and geography not of the local area but of some far off distant land that he has little or no relevance at all in life. as we see in the case of Mr. And all the more he clings onto Samuel Smiles and Marcus Aurelius. makes him think differently and exposes him to a different life. fills him with a desire to escape from his dreary life and to go to a land that he has learnt in his lessons. and these further drive a rift between him and the Tulsis. and in this hot land. incomplete. He rebels against the age old tradition and culture. apart from opening a shop or buying a motorbus. Biswas’s knowledge of arithmetic and reading do not go beyond oughts. Biswas because of education he becomes a mistfit at Hanuman House. he just studied them as one of the subjects where one had to study in school. He dabbles in philosophy and Christianity. People imbibe and take on a different culture and their own values die out. Biswas a practical dreamer. Perhaps he achieves a certain perverse pleasure out of reading them. Colonial powers often set up education system that was far from being useful to local needs and tradition. But there always came a point when resemblances ceased. he was poor. and the real and the local. Biswas. Education not only actuates the thread of imperialism. Biswas’ education. Mr. it makes him morose and depressed. since he sees a fair bit of himself in almost all the characters in the book: Mr. Mr. Biswas saw in himself several of the Samuel Smiles heroes. It cannot be denied about the role of education because it brings about an unbridgeable gulf between the foreign inspired ideal. The role of education plays an important part in the decay of culture and tradition. When the reality has no direct relation to his dreams. how ironic it is to see Mr. However. and obsolete but its shortcomings reflect not upon the character himself but on the narrow system of education or (mis-education) available to him. We see this case in A House for Mr. The Tulsis feel that he is a threat to the age old values and tradition. despite the lack of any practical relation to his life. oughts and Bell’s standard elocutionist. Even Altbach says that . and he fancied he was struggling. it cannot be denied that this little education has a negative impact on his life. what could he do?” (78). Michael Fabre says that “Mr Biswas’s literary culture is shallow. It makes Mr. and to the group he belonged to” (62). He had no ambition. Maureen Warner comments that “one of the reasons for the disintegrating influence of formal education on tradition is that the topics treated in its system are European” (98). he was young. Biswas being sent to school by his aunt Tara.

She thinks that it is another form of Mr. While the Tulsis are at Arwacas. On another level. attitudes. Another case of educational influence is when Mr. and norms of the European ideals. The family is no longer a joint family. the English in general had doubts about the moral standings of the natives. yes I know” and that infuriates Mrs. It looks impenetrable.”Anand replies. and even Mr. the economic boom brought about by the American presence in Trinidad brings another cultural upheaval. Although the sons partake in the dayto-day rituals like praying and lighting lamps. How gross it is to see the slow disintegration and trickling away of the family values? Evidently.” “’cause the bible tells me so. Yet. Biswas enrolls his children Savi and Anand into a Sunday school.C. Govind plundering fruits and other agricultural products. how ironic it is to see the Tulsi sons go to a Roman Catholic school and wear a crucifix. Schooling as a form of imperial institution trains to shape children to fit the mold and to maintain a different scheme of things. nonetheless. laying a foundation to promote imperial hegemony. everybody starts having selfish motives. This is another encroachment of a different kind. Savi and Anand start singing hymns at home. imperial in design. The decadence of the values symbolized by Hanuman House is because of exposure to a different set of environment. we see the slow transformation and the disintegration of the society from traditionalism to capitalism and decadence. Even Martin Carnoy seems to agree that “schools transfer culture and values and they channel children into various social roles. The English felt that their morality was superior and needs to be taught to the natives in order to improve their morality and intellect. “how do you know that Jesus loves you?. Besides. W. but somehow the European cultural infiltration has already taken place in the Tulsi household. but when they move to Port of Spain. Tulsi or perhaps a feeble show of preserving their sense of Indianess. maybe to please Mrs. Biswas’s campaign against . We all know that in a Sunday school the children are taught the values.5 “indigenous educational patterns were destroyed either by design or as the inadvertent results of policies which ignored local needs and traditions” (453). there is a rush for material possession. “Jesus loves me. we glimpse a feeble attempt in preserving their culture. jealousy. Tulsi.Tuttle selling off cedar trees. it furthermore concretises a different ideal in the mind of the children. They help to maintain social order” (8). everything just takes a different turn. and it shows the complete disintegration of the value system. Thus. Besides. This wearing of the crucifix is considered as a form of social prestige. yet we are made aware that these are all superficial act. Biswas stoops so low as to pluck a paltry number of oranges and sells off in the market. the first picture that we see of Hanuman House is that of a white imposing fortress guarded by the monkey god. All these happen because they are in the midst of a world dominated by European values and ideas. And children are the right target to set in motion the moral standing of eurocentric norms. rivalry and greed.

The rest of the sons-in-law either work on the farm as labourers or as pundit like Hari. they do act like gods. Despite their age they were admitted into councils of seth and Mrs. Thus. instead they have merged together with the Hanuman House. education is not only a form of imperialism but it also creates familial social/economic hierarchy within the Tulsis household. When the brothers made public appearances they were always grave. it is Owad’s educational superiority that automatically secures him the position as the head of the family. they have advantages over everyone else around them creating a familial hierarchy. but perhaps the most frightening embodiment of its injurious effect is the eldest son of W. Therefore. The children can no longer converse in Hindi. as none of them are educated and cannot earn a decent living. John Thieme comments that “virtually everyone in the novel is a casualty of some form of cultural imperialism. They worked in the drawing room and slept in one of the bedrooms off it. and sometimes stern” (104) It is obvious from the way they carry themselves and the privileges given them. They (Shekhar and Owad) are the privileged ones in the family besides Mrs.[…]. It is education that brings the gods in contact with the ideas and religion of the outside world. All these look trivial. Mr. and on the other hand the numerous sons-in-law. the gods: At Hanuman House they were kept separate from the turbulence of the old upstairs.” but shift to daddy and mummy. Due to their education.feeding meals. there is Shekhar and Owad.6 her and that further drives a wedge in the relation between Mrs. However.. we see Mr. Biswas’s position in the house better than the rest of the sons-in-law? or does he belong on the lowest rung of the ladder? It is a question that is difficult to answer. […]. On the one hand. Biswas swinging in between. the best of the food was automatically set aside for them and they were given special brain. Tulsi and their views were quoted with respect by sisters and brothers-in-law. .Tuttle who ‘writes’ a book . Tulsi and Seth. Furthermore. over Shekhar. And on Owad’s return from Europe. but at certain times he is made to squirm like a worm. nevertheless it contributes towards the slow disappearance of the cultural values. over his sisters and his brothers-in-law. The children find themselves surrounded by European values and ideas abandon calling their parents as “pa” and “ma. […] a verbatim copy of Nelson’s West Indian Geography – by Captain Cutteridge!” (81). they have no entity at all. of fish in particular. We see a strong division between the educated sons and the uneducated sons-in-law.C. Tulsi and Mr. Is Mr. Biswas. Biswas is disconcertingly correct in calling the sons. Hanuman House is unable to withstand the force of cultural domination and finally crumbles. At times he seems to have a little advantage over the rest of the Tulsi herds.

education ignites a certain desire in the minds of the people to integrate into the Eurocentric notion of the society. where Savi waited for him with sandwiched and lukewarm ovaltine. at five minutes past three. the people in the Dairies saw two Indian boys sitting at opposite ends of the milk bar. as one of them. but becomes a reality for Owad. a rush for material possession. Even as a young man. Private lessons were given in the morning for half an hour before school. an escape from. private lessons were given in the afternoon for an hour after school. and he is entrapped in the role of the little man. People have come to believe that to be accepted as civilized. The main crux is that education is a prerequisite to participate and to be able to integrate well into the mainstream urban life.7 Moreover. private lessons were given for the whole of Saturday morning. and as he grows older he comes to realise that the contact with the real world is not possible for him. Biswas takes a distance journalism course . accordingly. In the urban environment they come in close contact with European values and norms. Beside Anand and Vidhiadhar. Furthermore. then Savi. For example. Even Mr. and for social upliftment that the children are thoroughly grilled into studying. Then he did his school homework. Biswas reads political books and books of sociology but drops them as he finds them unable to comprehend the situation that has little or no relevance to his situation. and rivalry. then he prepared for all his private lessons” (463). then he went to the headmaster’s. when Mr. Biswas is made to think that unless he writes something similar to a London paper. trying their best to get education that will finally release them from the constricting lives. Mr. Alongside Anand. Anand goes through a rigorous training: Anand lived a life of pure work. there are the readers and the learners with Basdai. Thus. so that he could turn out presentable imitations. Mr. Burnett of the Sentinel gives him copies of London papers. Mr. Biswas undergoes various other form of education that stifles an individual’s creativity. It is because of the colonial notion of education as a way of fulfilling dreams. And “every afternoon. Therefore. he strongly wants his children to succeed in life. there is the rush for education. drinking half-pints of milk through straw…” (462). to become part of them. Hence the Tulsis’ move to Port of Spain. […]. and Anand. Mr Biswas yearns for metropolitan romance as he reads Samuel Smiles and Marcus Aurelius. etc. Biswas goes to look for a job as a journalist. Biswas has ill-defined aspirations towards a better life. Mr. Apart from Bell’s elocution. he is not good enough to get a job. Thieme says that “mimicry is an index of the society’s entrapment in the colonial/determinist predicament” (82). greed. they must be educated. […]. He went from school to the Dairies to school again. Vidhiadhar also does not escape from this training. There is this underlying notion that a native man’s writing and style is not good enough unless he produces something similar to what is being produced and written in London. Mr.

’ ‘… the trademen’s blinds. Shekhar marries into a Presbyterian family. playing squash. In “Minute on Indian Education. He continues reading Samuel Smiles and books on philosophy.one from one’s own disappearing culture. the first assignment he gets is to write up a piece on the four seasons of England: ‘Summer. and comes another lesson to write up on Guy Fawkes Night. Education introduces the colonials into eurocentric ideology of socio-economic society. Tulsis feebly tries to cling onto. all these are evidential revelation of the final erosion and collapse of the Indian tradition and culture Besides. 26). and movies. and with the help of the hints. the form of education is basically constructed along the lines of “alien and alienating colonial system” (Tsomondo. Perhaps. Biswas can do is “read descriptions of bad weather in foreign countries. which not only teaches but markets the work. yet we as readers witness the denigrating and debilitating effect on the values and customs that Mrs. Biswas said. although they are irrelevant to his situation.” Macaulay propagates in his own way the Filtration Theory of educating the masses. he also marries Dorothy’s Canadian educated cousin and moves away from home. In the end. Later in the novel. Ironically. it provides Mr. Biswas wrote the article on summer.’ Mr. the slap of fish on the fishmonger’s slab …’ ‘Slap of fish on the fishmonger’s slab. slowly the erosion of tradition and culture takes place. the crack of bat on ball on the village green. Have they been wholly swallowed up by European norms and attitudes? Ostensibly. the chink of ice in a glass. Instead. education also virtually helps to maintain imperial/colonial relations. He . given to bouts of temper and communism. Biswas know of England and her four seasons? Or of Guy Fawkes Night? Where is the relevancy of the piece to his situation? The only thing that Mr. Mr. we see him pursuing other European leisures like swimming. ‘The only fish that I see is the fish that does come around every morning in a basket on the old fishwoman head. they made him forget the heat and the sudden rain which was all he knew” (182). Owad goes away to England and comes back as a pompous and an egotistical man. after Owad’s return from Europe. And what does Mr. wrote other articles on spring. and another from the metropolitan culture. The colonials experience a form of alienation. Although. winter and autumn” (343). Biswas some intellectual comfort. and takes him away from the everyday worries and dreariness. Where are the former Shekhar and Owad gone? The ones who used to go through morning rituals of lighting lamp and prayers. All he gets in the end is a congratulatory letter. The crowded trains to the seaside.8 from the Ideal School of Journalism. the lengthening shadow…’ Mr. Nonetheless. Biswas is awed by the mere presence of Owad.

We see the final disintegration when the Tulsi sons marry and go away. Although it cannot be denied that there is duality in education. as were evident in A House for Mr.9 states. Gauri Viswanathan states that “the English literary texts functioned as a surrogate Englishman in his highest and most perfect state” (437). The imperialist attempted and instilled in the minds of the colonials the premise that education is of utmost importance if the people want to progress forward in life. Burnet is socially and economically on a higher plane than Mr. in opinions. This proved to be very effective as it distanced the Englishman from his ongoing colonial onslaught of territorial exploitation and racial oppression. We see Mr. Biswas works. Indian in blood and colour. the editor of the Sentinel. but English in taste. instead this theory defined the colonials in terms of their intellectual capabilities. the whole joint Tulsi household breaks up into nuclear families. It is because the whole societal set up is based on the eurocentric norm of the white man being superior economically and intellectually. Ngugi’Wa Thiong puts it. This structure of education still prevails. Biswas at the mercy of this imperial figure. People are oblivious of the fact that education is an implement used by the imperialist to maintain their control over the colonials. as pronounced by Macaulay. “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern. Therefore. a class of persons. the abandoning of the Hanuman House could be read as a symbol of final disintegration and decadence of the Indian . she remains his superior. and Seth. Biswas. Eventually. in one way it can be seen as having a positive contribution towards a nation. no matter how hard Mr. Even Viswanathan says that “His material reality as a subjugator and alien ruler was dissolved in his mental output” (437). there is a perceived notion that education is altogether a liberating force and a way to advancement in life. Mr. Biswas and Mr. in morals. Biswas. Biswas. Postcolonial countries have yet to emerge from these education system. Hence. Then. who has spent the entire years with the Tulsis. the “decolonization of the mind” has yet to take place and when that will happen is the biggest dilemma of the post-colonial subjectivity. Seemingly. comes Miss Logie of the Welfare department. a means of colonials’ subjugation. So in this case also it is constructed in such a way that the hierarchy is subtly maintained. and the customs and tradition cannot help but become past history in the whole scheme of things.Burnett. is no longer on speaking terms with them. in A House for Mr. The appropriation of education is essentially a subversive strategy. we see some traces in the hierachical setup in the relation between Mr. Biswas. the sisters and their eccentric husbands rush for material possessions and break away from the family. and no native can ever rise to a position higher in rank than a white man. however it also has the power of eroding the cultural values and customs. and in intellect” (430). Even while working for her. she will always remain in a higher position than Mr.

Michel. (1988): 18-29. “Education and neo-colonialism. 1987.S. eds. New York: David Mckay Company.10 culture and tradition under the influence of the imperial values and system. Martin.Naipaul.C. V. Philip G. “Cultural Confrontation. 1974. Biswas. which has been injected insidiously through the education system.(1986): 59-71.” Kunapipi.D. 1995 ( 431-37). ed. Naipaul’s Fiction. John.: Three Continents Press. 9. Naipaul. 3.” Hamner. 1. Disintegration and Syncretism in A House for Mr. Dangaroo Press & Hansib Publication. Ashcroft et al. Education as Cultural Imperialism. “By Words Possessed: The Education of Mr.” Ashcroft et al. Maureen. 1995. Thorell. R. The Web of Tradition: Uses of Allusion in V. Thieme. Biswas as a Writer. The Postcolonial Studies Reader. (452-6).. *************************************** . INC. 10.S. Tsomondo. Gauri. D.” Commonwealth Essays and Studies. Works cited: Altbach. Biswas. London and New York: Routledge. London: Penguin Books. London and New York: Routledge.S. Washington. Biswas. 1969. Carnoy. 1977: (94-103). Warner-Lewis. “Speech and Writing: A Matter of Presence and Absence in A House for Mr. “English Literary Study in British India. The Postcolonial Studies Reader. Viswanathan. Fabre. Critical Perspectives on V.” eds. A House for Mr.

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