Social Oppression Exposed in Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable

Social Oppression Exposed in Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable

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Social Oppression Exposed in Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable


Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand offers more than just a day in the life of a member of India's lowest caste. Anand manages to "touch" the reader with Bakha's untouchability. As he struggles to internalize his place in society, Bakha displays to the reader his potential, and how his low-caste birth has affected his spirit.

As the story progresses, the reader experiences with Bakha the reality of his place in society and his struggle with that realization. At one point in the novel, Bakha is sweeping the courtyard of a Hindu temple, and is overpowered by his curiosity to see what lies within. Bakha's inner struggle over peering into the temple and the repercussions of his acting out that desire parallel the divided nature of his will:

A murderer might have advanced like that, one confident in his consummate mastery of the art of killing. But he soon lost his grace in the low stoop which the dead weight of years of habitual bending cast on him. …After he had mounted the first two steps, he stood completely demoralized with fear and retreated…(Anand 58)

This quotation is one of several in which Anand portrays a noble side to Bakha. Bakha's movement is compared with that of "a murderer… confident in his consummate mastery of the art…" While the word "murderer" carries negative connotations, Anand's choice of metaphor is powerful in that it carries with it all the strength of purpose and artful skill required of the professional assassin.

Long years of degradation and menial work have taken their toll on Bakha. His return to a stooping posture displays more than physical deformity. The "dead weight of years" rests heavily on his spirit as well, demoralizing him into a retreat from the forbidden temple steps, and recalling to his demeanor the "humble, oppressed under-dog that he was by birth."(58) Bakha's self-doubt is reinforced when he finally summons the courage to climb the temple steps and explore the mysteries within.

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He is caught and severely chastised for "polluting" the temple with his presence.

Untouchable is more than a simple narrative. It offers a glimpse into the struggle to come to terms with oppression, and reminds the reader that in many ways, society defines for us what we can become and how we view ourselves. In Bakha's case, the struggle is not only with the caste system; he must also overcome the self-doubt society has made a part of his personality.
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