In all of the four novels we have read in this section, each character had to face something they rather not worry about. In Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Dalloway is struggling to put a party together and is questioning her relationship with her husband, in As I lay Dying, Addie Bundren’s family is trying to figure out why the murder happened, in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie tells her story of being Aferican-American during the slavery period, and lastly in Untouchable, Bakha is torn between following Christianity or following the teachings of Ghandi.
In each of these novels, the reader can learn about other people’s lives, and think outside of their own world. Each novel tells a great meaningful story that can be relatable to everyday life.
Mrs. Dalloway: The main characters are decidedly upper class. Most of them are well-to-do.
Their Eyes Were Watching God: The main characters range from middle to upper class.
As I Lay Dying: The main characters in the story are middle to lower class.
Untouchable: The main characters are the lowest of the low class.
These novels came out in different eras and reflect different societies. They all deal very heavily with issues of class and social stratification. The worst situations are reserved for the characters in Untouchable. This is interesting because these books represent a decent amount of the twentieth century world. Interestingly, the more modern books don’t deal with the higher classes. It would be assumed that social stratification becomes less of an issue as time goes on because people begin to understand compassion and the unfairness of inequality. According to these novels, however, this is not the case.
Heart of Darkness (1899): The novel takes place in the context of the “civilized” English expanding their presence in “uncivilized” Africa.
Mrs. Dalloway (1925): The novel takes place in the core of civilized city life; London. Complications arise when characters have difficulty adjusting to civilized life (Septimus)
As I Lay Dying (1925): “Uncivilized” country folk make a journey into the “civilized” town.
Untouchable (1935): The caste system in India forces social statuses among citizens; separation of classes. Untouchables practically considered uncivilized.
These four novels all take place in drastically different places with characters confronting different social/economical standings; yet they all share the common issue of division of civility. Heart of Darkness in 1899 was written about a time when the English led an imperialist mission to Africa and considered the native Africans wild. 26 years later this issue is presented in a different setting; Mrs. Dalloway showed a thriving metropolis, yet within that civilized life existed people like Septimus, who had trouble adjusting to that kind of life. That same year came As I Lay Dying which showed an opposite world in the deep south of America. The Bundrens were “uncivilized country folk” attempting to enter a “civilized” world (the town) unlike their own. In Untouchable in 10 years later, the same issue arises across the world in India where the caste system forces civility and incivility among its people. The theme of social class crosses all cultural and temporal borders.
World War I made a huge impact in society. The novels that were published after it reflect the problems of the pre-war world that people began to observe and then look to change. Dorothy Sayers’ Whose Body?, published in 1923, is a detective novel with a completely different take on the method of investigation. The protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey breaks away from the traditional method of deduction and instead relies on intuition. This novel slowly reveals people realizing that the world they were living in before the war was not ideal and that they wanted to change it. Moving away from what was once the main method signals that in the post-war era, people looked to new ways in life. The realization of the faults of pre-war way of life continue with the publication of Mrs. Dalloway in 1925. In this Virginia Woolf novel, readers are exposed to an upper class way of life that is ending. The old values of the pre-war world are crumbling. There is also a sense of how the old English way of thinking failed as exemplified by Septimus’ death since he was a soldier who fought for England. Then the critique evolves to one that pushes for change. In Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable, published in 1935, the problems of colonization and the enforcement of the caste system is exposed. The novel shows how the faults of society can lead an individual to look for change. Through the protagonist Bakha, Anand was able to point out the faults that exist within the treatment of the lower class. The criticism on the way of life continues with Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was published in 1937.This novel exposes the problems within the unfair treatment of an individual based on his or her race. Hurston is able to illustrate the problems an individual must face in life due to the prejudice set against him or her due to their race. Through an analysis of these four post-war novels, we begin to see a pattern of critique on the social order and way of life. There is a continuation of the theme of finding faults within the way things are and wanting to correct them.
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1899): Conrad’s novella focuses more on the separation between civilized and uncivilized, the matter of colonization looming in the background.
Whose Body?, Dorothy Sayers (1923): Sayers novel focuses on the upper class through its protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey.
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Wolf (1925): Similar to Sayers, Wolf’s novel focuses on the upper class as told from the point of view of Clarissa Dalloway. Clarissa realizes the importance and thus only wants to associate herself with people of the same class. For example when she expresses her dislike toward Mrs. Kilman and Ellie Henderson.
Untouchable, Mulk Raj Anand (1935): Anand steps away from English social stratus and introduces readers to the caste system of India. Unlike the English class system, where one can change class through education and work, the Indian caste system is much more rigid in the fact that one is predestined to a certain caste.
Literary-Historical Trajectory: For the most part, the literary-historical line for these 4 novels remains the same except for the novels at the beginning and towards the end. Conrad’s novella doesn’t really focus on social class but more of the question of what it means to be civilized. While Anand brings a new perspective to social class by breaking away from the English class system to demonstrate the caste system of India.
“…He seemed a true child of the outcaste colony, where there are no drains, no light, no water; of the marshland where people live among the latrines of the townsmen, and in the stink of their own dung scattered about here, there and everywhere; of the world where the day is dark as the night and the night pitch-dark. He had wallowed in its mire, bathed in its marshes, played among its rubbish-heaps; his listless, lazy, lousy manner was a result of his surroundings. He was the vehicle of a life-force, the culminating point in the destiny of which would never come, because malaria lingered in his bones, and that disease does not kill but merely dissipates the energy. He was a friend of the flies and the mosquitoes, their boon companion since his childhood” (84).
Anand, Mulk Raj. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1935. Print.
notes: the role of environment, “nature”, of the complexity of this character
“the parents of the other children would not allow their sons to be contaminated by the touch of the low-caste man’s son (39)”.
“At least so thought Bakha, a young man of eighteen, strong and able-bodied, the son of Lakha, the Jamadar of all the sweepers in the town and the cantonment, and officially in charge of the three rows of public latrines which lined the extremest end of the colony, by the brookside.”
Anand, Mulk Raj. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1935. Print.
Notes: sentence structure = lots of info separated with commas (states the entire background). Describes in detail what Bakha’s role is in society. Everyone has their own job and tasks they are designated to perform in society. Location seems also very important
“Ever since he had worked in the British barracks Bakha had been ashamed of the Indian way of performing ablutions, all that gargling and spitting, because he knew the Tommies disliked it… But he himself had been ashamed at the sight of Tommies running naked to their tub baths. ‘Disgraceful,’ he had said to himself…” (Anand 18).
Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1935. Print.
Notes: Bakha is technically lowest in the Caste system, yet is caught in a middle ground because he has spent time with and emulates the English. He cannot be clearly placed in a certain level of class because his language suggests that he thinks of himself separate and higher than his Indian brethren, but is painfully aware that he is not like the English, only “apeing” them.
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. The contempt of those who came to the latrines daily and complained that there weren’t any latrines clean, the sneers of the people in the outcastes’ colony, the abuse of the crowd which had gathered round him this morning. It was all explicable now. A shock of which this was the name had passed through his perceptions, previously numb and torpid, and had sent a quiver into his being, stirred his nerves of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste, all into a quickening. ‘ I am an Untouchable ! ‘ he said to himself, ‘an Untouchable ! ‘ He repeated the words in his mind, for it was still a bit hazy and he felt afraid it might be immersed in the darkness again. Then, aware of his position, he began to shout aloud the warning word with which he used to announce his approach : ‘ Posh, posh, sweeper coming. ‘ The undertone, ‘ Untouchable, Untouchable, ‘ was in his heart ; the warning shout, ‘ Posh, posh, sweeper coming ! ‘ was in his mouth. (52)
Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable, Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics Editions, 1935
Notes : Realization of his condition, his social status in the Indian’s society, his identity, his caste. Use of an extended metaphor of light/darkness to represent the realization/ignorance of his identity. Focus on the senses and perceptions. Character abruptly brought back to reality of his condition, endowed with confusion between what he says and what he feels and thinks.