Can the subaltern speak? In my first post in relation to if a subaltern can speak, I stated that one analogy indicated that the subalterns are the lowest classes and the social groups who are at...

Can the subaltern speak? In my first post in relation to if a subaltern can speak, I stated that one analogy indicated that the subalterns are the lowest classes and the social groups who are at the boundaries of a society and that they do not have a voice.  It is believed by Gayatri Spivak that subaltern’s cannot speak because they do not have a voice. However, once they find their voice, they advance to the level of Other. We can also conclude that those who are considered the subaltern are not given a voice because they are not viewed as having any form of value. After going through this course and being exposed to the different literature that we have explored, I believe that the subaltern actually do have a voice.  Furthermore, I believe that authors, through their literature, have been able to provide an outlet for their voices to be heard.  The authors have given merit to their voice and have shown that even though they may be considered the lowest of the low, they still have contributing value.  Take Narayan’s A Tiger for Malgudi. Here is an example of a creature that can be classified as a subaltern.  Raja, as a tiger, is provided a human voice through the power of the mighty pen.  Raja, in tiger form, does not have a voice that we as humans would be able to understand and therefore wouldn’t typically pay attention too.  However, with Narayan’s help, he is not only given a voice that we can understand but value is recognized as more and more attention is turned his way. 

If we allow the subaltern to use that voice and/or if we pay attention when they do speak...should the question be changed to : Are we listening? 

Asked on by forensic39

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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This is an interesting start to an essay. One of the first steps to answering your question might be to problematize your use of "we". Is it possible to speak collectively or does the very use of such generic plural pronouns function to disempower or exclude alternative voice or viewpoints?

On one level, one can argue that Narayan’s A Tiger for Malgudi gives voice to the tiger, who is both subaltern and other. On another level, though, tigers cannot speak. Instead, what we hear is the voice of a middle class Indian speaking for the tiger, and so we can argue that the tiger is being doubly silenced, first because he has no voice and second because the right to speak for him has been appropriated. In one sense, the sannyasi gives voice to the tiger and in another sense, he steals the voice of the tiger. An additional level of complexity lies in the novel being written in English, the language of a foreign power the colonized India, by an Indian, who is part of the human group that colonized the land of the tigers.

As to whether we are listening or not, there are two answers. First, as readers of the novel, we obviously are listening to the novel. In so far, however, as the voice we listen to is always redacted through our own identity and position, there is a sense in which oppressors never can truly listen to the subaltern voice.

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