Nightwood/ Historical timeline

“…the people… they are church-broken, nation-broken — they drink and pray and piss in the one place. Every man has a house-broken heart except the great man. The people love their church and know it, as a dog knows where he was made to conform, and there he returns by his instinct.”

Barnes, Djuna, and T. S. Eliot. Nightwood. New York: New Directions, 1961. Print.

This passage focuses on conformity and returning to such conformity when one ventures to find themselves. In Nightwood Nora knows who she must be and who she is expected to be. Her sense of conformity and feeling judged is heightened. Similarly, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Stephen was so young and lonely. He knew he could not be what other expected but still wanted to please others. He wants attention, to be himself and if he cannot get that he almost seems as if he would rather die. Most similar to Nightwood is Untouchable. The sense of conformity and knowing your place is evident throughout this entire novel. The caste system greatly affected not only people’s lives but how they viewed themselves. How could they feel as if they had worth and value if no one else did. Their Eyes Were Watching God also focuses on a system of class and how others a viewed. Particularly African Americans in Hurston’s novel feel they must stay out of the light and feel that they are beneath others. In each novel there is at least a single character who feels as if they are stuck by the views of their family or even society. This sense of conformity is still seen as a major theme in many more current novels today.

Untouchable

“He halted suddenly, and facing the shopkeeper with great humility, joined his hands and begged to know where he could put a coin to pay for a packet of „Red  Lamp‟. 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. Then he flung a packet of „Red Lamp‟ cigarettes at Bakha, as a butcher might throw a bone to an instant dog sniffing round the corner of his shop.”

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. (New York: Penguin Books, 1940). 42.

This passage really sums up the caste system and shows how social interactions and much of life was really affected. Even today, the caste system is still much in place. My sister worked for a non-profit who built wells in villages that did not have access to clean water. She learned that because of the caste system higher class citizens already had access to clean water while lower class citizens did not and did not have many opportunities to pull themselves up.

Untouchable

“For though he considered them his inferiors since he came back with sharpened wits from the British barracks, he still recognised them as his neighbors, the intimates with whose lives, whose thoughts, whose feelings he had to make a compromise. He didn’t expect them to be formal. And as he stood for a while among them, he became a part of a strange, brooding, mysterious crowd that was seeking the warmth of the sun. One didn’t need to employ a courtesy, a greeting to become part of this gathering as one does in the word where there is plenty of light and happiness. For in the lives of this riff-raff, this scum of the earth, these dregs of humanity, only silence, grim silence of death fighting for life prevailed.”

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. (New York: Penguin Books, 1940). 36.

Bakha’s exposure to the Tommies as a sweeper of their barracks is enough for Bakha to view himself as superior to his neighbors. There is a noticeable hierarchy within this lower class. Bakha’s view, however, seems contradictory: while he is superior to his neighbors, he is also part of them. Through shared experience, all basking in the warmth of the sun on one level and all experiencing “the lives of the riff-raff, this scum of the earth, these dregs of humanity” on another level, Bakha was equal to them. 

Untouchable

“‘No tea, no piece of bread, and I am dying of hunger!…’ Then he frowned in the gruff manner of a man who was really good and kind at heart, but who knew he was weak and infirm and so bullied his children, to preserve his authority, lest he should be repudiated by them, refused and rejected as the difficult old rubbish he was.”

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. (New York: Penguin Books, 1940). 31.

This moment of insight by Sohini of her father seems to be something of forgiveness for his abusive nature. She is almost describing the expectation of abuse because of his “really good and kind heart” but to “preserve his authority” it was normal.

Untouchable

“How absurd, he thought, that was, since most of the Hindu children touched him willingly at hockey and wouldn’t mind having him at school with them.”

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. London, England: Penguin, 1986. Print.

When little kids have a better grasp on reality than adults.  The caste system is a made up human construct that doesn’t mean anything and is an outdated made up system.

British Obsession in Untouchable

“Now that he had been to the British barracks and known that the English didn’t like jewellry, he was full of disgust for the florid, minutely studded designs of the native ornaments. So he walked along without noticing the big ear-rings and nose-rings and hair-flowers and other gold-plated ornaments which shone out from the background of green paper against which the smiths had ingeniously set them” (45).

Repudiation of upper-caste fashion through idealizing/desire to emulate imperialists’ fashion; Bakha’s admiration for the rulers–British– of his rulers–elite castes. Bitterness toward (his) oppressor manifests through appreciation of the Ultimate Oppressor–a bit ironic.

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. London, England: Penguin, 1986. Print.

 

Untouchable

“Like a ray of light shooting through the darkness, the recognition of his position, the significance of his lot dawned upon him. It illuminated the inner chambers of his mind. Everything that had happened to him traced its course up to this light and got the answer.”

Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable (New York: Penguin Books, 1940), 52.

I think prior to this scene, Bakha identified his sweeper status as something that dictated his everyday duties, not something that “touched” his inner self or defined his character. But in writing that the light, or Bakha’s “recognition of his position,” had “illuminated the inner chambers of his mind,” Anand illustrates that Bakha has internalized others’ views of himself as “untouchable.” His sweeper status and the way the upper castes and non-sweeper outcastes treat him aren’t just external forces to him anymore, as they have now corrupted his own sense of self.