This is the main course website for Early Twentieth-Century Fiction (358:358, fall 2019), taught by Prof. Andrew Goldstone. It holds the collective commonplace book as well as an up-to-date schedule of classes.
December 2: Anand (1).
” the shopkeeper pointed to a spot on the board near him. Bakha put his anna there. the betel-leaf-seller dashed some water over it from the jug with which he sprinkled the betel leaves now and again. having thus purified it he picked up the nickel piece and threw it into the counter, than he flung a packet of red-lamp cigarettes at Bakha,as a butcher might throw a bone to an insistent dog sniffing round the corner of his shop.”(pg.33)
Untouchable Mulk Raj Anand
Anand presents workers specifically the sweepers as people who are below any other job categorie.in this particular passage we can see the interaction between two workers, a shopkeeper and a sweeper. we can easily see through the shopkeepers treatment towards the sweeper that the sweeper is viewed as below him. moving further into this paragraph we can even see how the idea of being a sweeper came with a stigma and the sweeper himself was embarrassed of his position. so throughout this we can see that class is presented.
“For them I am a sweeper, sweeper — untouchable! Untouchable! Untouchable! That’s the word! Untouchable! I am an Untouchable!”(pg. 100)
Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. Penguin Books, 2014
This pivotal internal moment shows a conscience mind reacting to the unfortunate reality of society and its ways. The repetition of the word “untouchable” shows this built up anger and outrage, Bakha, a worker, has in him. The workers are regarded in such a negative way, stripped of human rights, and this moment when Bakha say this shows him realizing the true severe meaning of an “untouchable”. Before it was something he knew about in his subconscious and to an extent accepted and at this moment after his encounter with the higher caste man, he has a moment of realization where he feels what it is to be an untouchable.
“The outcastes’ colony was a group of mud-walled houses that clustered together in two rows, under the shadow both of the town and the cantonment, but outside their boundaries and separate from them. There lived the scavengers, the leather-workers, the washermen, the barbers, the water-carriers, the grass cutters and other outcastes from Hindu society . . . altogether the ramparts of human and animal refuse that lay on the outskirts of this little colony, and the ugliness, the squalor and the misery which lay within it, made it an ‘uncongenital’ place to live in.”
Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. Penguin Books, 2014, p. 3.
Right at the opening of the novel, Anand describes the place where workers live and stresses that their dwellings keep them separate from the town and the cantonment. Also, the place is described as filthy and as an “‘uncongenital’ place to live in.” He also calls the workers “outcastes” and mentions that they form an “outcastes’ colony,” as if they were part of a subhuman group, pointing toward a difference in classes and marginalization of the workers. This paragraph positions the workers as inferior, rendering the labor of the workers as unfruitful since, no matter how much and how hard they work, they are incapable of any social mobility due to existing social barriers.
“The outcastes were not allowed to mount the platform surrounding the well, because if they were ever to draw water from it, the Hindus of the three upper castes would consider the water polluted” (22)
Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. Penguin Classics, 1986. Page 22.
Here Anand depicts the worker as reliant. There is also an implication that the working class is filthy, although this implication is made by the Hindus and not Anand himself. Either way, it is shown that for water, a basic necessity, the working class must rely on assistance from upper class citizens
“Get up, ohe, you Bakhya, ohe son of pig! …Are you up? Get up, you illegally begotten.”
Anand, Mulk R. Untouchable. London, England New York, N.Y: Penguin, 1986. Print.
This quote is an example of the verbal abuse untouchables have to face every day. For untouchables, this is a never ending treatment; meaning from the time he wakes up in the morning to the time he goes to bed at night, he will always be looked at as being less than. Those of higher castes cannot stand his sight, not because of anything he has ever done, but because of the position he has been born into. He is only allowed to do low level, quite dirty work, like working in the latrines, and is abused for it day in and day out.
“He shivered as he turned on his side. But he didn’t mind the cold very much, suffering it willingly because he could sacrifice a good many comforts for the sake of what he called ‘fashion’, by which he understood the art of wearing trousers, breeches, coat, puttee, boots, etc., as worn by the British and Indian soldiers in India.” (10)
Class is not a simple concept here. For Bakha, he is interested in the appearance of upper-class costume. While his personal living conditions are uncomfortable, he finds solace in the embracing of clothing and the acquisition of things that reflect not only a Western sensibility, but a lavish Indian lifestyle. The quote also shows the two, British fashion and the fashion of the Indian soldiers, are very similar but not identical.
“‘Why aren’t the latrines clean, you rogue of a Bakhe! There is not one fit to go near! I have walked all around! Do you know you are responsible for my piles? I caught the contagion sitting on one of those unclean latrines!'” (9)
What is evident in class distinction from the beginning of the novel is how Bakha’s treatment is evidence of the way social hierachy is met with rigidity: noting how Havildar Charat Singh, the famous hockey player (9) who is addressing Bakha in this quotation, immediately dehumanizes him because he is of a much lower social class. The stratification of groups here is already solidified under the idea that there is a presumed quality of character to go along with the roles; how could Bakha even go about improving his life quality when all the people above him have no qualms with treating him like he deserves his place?
“The girl was a potential rival. Gulabo hated the very sight of her innocent, honest face, though she would not confess, even to herself, that she was jealous of the sweeper girl. But she unconsciously betrayed her feeling in the mockery and light-hearted abuse which she showered on Sohini. The consciousness of that prettiness which people’s compliments stimulated in her, made the young woman vaguely surmise it all”
Anand, Mulk R. Untouchable. London, England New York, N.Y: Penguin, 1986. Page 17.
Interestingly, Anand shows that there are very little that separates the two girls – in fact, Sohini was superior to Gulabo. Yet class works to both cement Sohini’s subjugation and to ease Gulabo’s insecurity.
“He contemplated his experience now in the spirit of resignation which he had inherited through the long centuries down through his countless outcaste ancestors, fixed, yet flowing like a wave, confirmed at the beginning of each generation by the discipline of the caste ideal” (Anand 66).
Bakha, despite his physical and mental prowess, is beaten down by the system’s legalized form of classism. So validated in Bakha’s eyes are these doctrines about caste superiority, that the boy’s natural state is that of neither acceptance or rejection, but rather resignation. When Bakha states “confirmed at the beginning of each generation” he acknowledges that his position is already sealed with no chance of appeal. The next generation may ascend the social ladder, but in the end, even his children will be subject to the caste’s ideal rather than their own.
Anand, Mulk R. Untouchable. London, England New York, N.Y: Penguin, 1986. Print.
AG posting for Eug:
“The outcastes were not allowed to mount the platform surrounding the well,
because if they were ever to draw water from it, the Hindus of the three upper
castes would consider the water polluted,”
Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. Penguin Classics, pp. 15
The workers are only looked at as workers, as they must look up to the higher
ups to perform even the most basic tasks required to survive.
They were all so lushly, expensively smothered in syrup, that he knew they certainly could not be cheap, certainly not for him, because the shopkeepers always deceived the sweepers and the poor people, charging them much bigger prices, as if to compensate themselves for the pollution they courted by dealing with outcastes.
The unfairness in this story (particularly this sentence) is overwhelming.
Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. Penguin Classics, pp. 36
“Why are we always abused?… They [gentility] always abuse us. Because we are sweepers. Because we touch dung. They hate dung. I hate it too. That’s why I came here. I was tired of working on the latrines every day.” (42) Anand represents the lowest worker as someone who is at the same standing as their task. The worker is esteemed by his line of work. Bakha realizes that his social position and worth as a person is in line with his occupation, he is seen and treated as the very thing he cleans, feces.
Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. Penguin Classics, 2014.
November 26: Tagore (2).
November 25: Tagore (1).
“The master said : ‘ You need not be anxious about my going away, Ratan ; I shall tell my successor to look after you.’ … Ratan had borne many a scolding from her master without complaint, but these kind words she could not bear. She burst out weeping, and said : ‘No, no, you need not tell anybody anything at all about me ; I don’t want to stay on here.'”
Tagor, Rabindranath. “The Postmaster.” Macmillan and Co., 1918, pp. 167.
In one of the final scenes between Ratan and the postmaster, the difference in how Ratan views him versus how he values her is highlighted, as she weeps at the most simple statement he could possibly say, while he says what he sees as just enough to comfort her. The postmaster frames it as she is just anxious about him leaving, but in reality Ratan holds a close emotional bond with him through the memories that they’ve shared and the time they spent together, time that she doesn’t want to spend with another replacement person, while the postmaster sees his presence as something that can be replaced. Ratan fell into the emotions of seeing their relationship as more permanent, but the postmaster saw it as temporary – for what it was.
“After a while Ratan rose, and went off to the kitchen to prepare the meal ; but she was not so quick about it as on other days. Many new things to think of had entered her little brain. When the postmaster had finished his supper, the girl suddenly asked him : ‘ Dada, will you take me to your home ? ‘
The postmaster laughed. ‘ What an idea ! ‘ said he ; but he did not think it necessary to explain to the girl wherein lay the absurdity.”
Tagor, Rabindranath. “The Postmaster.” Macmillan and Co., 1918, pp. 166.
The narrator has a stronger understanding of Ratan’s emotions and thoughts than the Postmaster does. Ratan is struck by the news that her “dada” will be returning home and has no idea what that means for her. She hopes that the Postmaster will take her with him. Ratan has became attached to him and sees him as an older brother (dada) or maybe he became a vessel for her own father. She cannot imagine being away from him or him leaving her. The Postmaster does not see Ratan this way. He sees her as just his servant so it’s absurd that he’ll take her with him.
“On some evenings, seated at his desk in the corner of the big empty shed, the postmaster too would call up memories of his own home… memories which were always haunting him, but which he could not talk with the men of the factory, though he found himself naturally recalling them aloud in the presence of the simple little girl,”
Tagor, Rabindranath. “The Postmaster.” Macmillan and Co., 1918, pp. 162.
The narrator uses Ratan as an outlet for reconciling difficult memories of his past. Her eagerness to open up about her own troubled upbringing allows for a relationship to form where neither pass judgment on each other. This exchange seems therapeutic in a way, as the narrator is able to articulate haunting thoughts instead of keeping them bottled up, a practice which he would not feel comfortable doing in the presence of other acquaintances or colleagues.
“He longed to remember the touch on the forehead of soft hands with tinkling bracelets, to imagine the presence of loving womanhood, the nearness of mother and sister And the exile was not disappointed. Ratan ceased to be a little girl.”
Tagor, Rabindranath. “The Postmaster.” Macmillan and Co., 1918, pp. 164.
As more than just a companion for his loneliness, Ratan was able to simultaneously take on all of the roles in womanhood that the postmaster was missing – from mother, to sister, and I’m sure to some extent, a daughter he never hand. In this way, Ratan seems to be less of a person to the postmaster than she is just a fluid substitute he can use for his fulfillment.
“‘I was thinking,’ said the postmaster, ‘of teaching you to read,’ and then for the rest of the afternoon he taught her the alphabet.”
Tagor, Rabindranath. “The Postmaster.” Macmillan and Co., 1918, pp. 163.
As the postman looks on the rain clouds, the birds, and the falling leaves, he concludes that the loneliness they express is the same loneliness he feels in his heart. Soon after he has this thought, he calls on Ratan. His decision to teach her the alphabet turns their master-servant relationship into a more intimate teacher-pupil one. Just as Ratan has been giving her services to the postmaster, the postmaster has now reciprocated that by doing something for Ratan, making a deeper place for himself in her life.