Untouchable By Mulk Raj Anand

Discuss the plot and the theme of Mulk Raj Anand's Untouchable.

Mulk Raj Anand's novel Untouchable is episodic in its plot and follows one day in the life of Bakha, a young man of the untouchable caste. The story reveals how the untouchables are oppressed and abused, and Anand uses the story to examine such themes as oppression, the struggle between traditional Indian life and modernity, hypocrisy, and the lack of charity.

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The plot of Mulk Raj Anand’s novel Untouchable spotlights a boy named Bakha. Bakha lives in India. His family is not financially well-off. He cleans the streets and the bathrooms of rich people. His dad, Lakha, is abusive and indolent. He calls Bakha a “son of pig” and other demeaning names.

The plot unfolds over the course of one day. Throughout this day, Bakha experiences abuse from many other people besides his dad. When he inadvertently bumps into an upper-class person on the street, the supposedly superior Brahmin assaults him.

Adding to his distress, Bakha discovers that a priest has assaulted his sister. It doesn’t look like Bakha can just have a nice time. Even when he and his friends play hockey—a sport that he loves—a harmful fight erupts.

However, the end of the story seems to offer Bakha some hope. The novel concludes with Bakha listening to Gandhi speak about the inevitable dissolution of India’s cruel caste system and the arrival of toilets that flush. The latter particularly symbolizes hope for Bakhka because it means that he won’t have to deal with human waste himself anymore.

As for themes, consider the theme of fathers and sons and the ways in which toxic masculinity can produce some harmful father-son relationships. Bhaka and Lakha’s relationship is not exactly loving and compassionate. It could also be interesting to think about how Gandhi becomes a better father figure for Bhaka than his own dad.

Another theme to think about is class and the way in which wealth differences can result in terribly unequal treatment. Think about how Bhaka’s impoverished status leads to constant indignities, while those with class status are regarded as if they’re unimpeachable royals.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 19, 2021
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The plot of Mulk Raj Anand's novel Untouchable is episodic, and the story narrates one day in the life of Bakha, who is a young Indian man, an “untouchable,” of the lowest, most despised caste in India. Bakha has the job of cleaning the toilets, and he is oppressed by nearly everyone with whom he comes into contact.

As the story begins, Bakha's father scolds him for laziness, and a high-caste man named Singh also hollers at Bakha for not doing his job. Then Singh relents and tells Bakha to visit him later. Bakha is excited by the offer, but his day only goes downhill from there.

In the next episode, Bakha's sister Sohini is harassed by another woman as she waits in the water line. Bakha must do his father's work as well as his own because his father is pretending to be sick, and as he heads out to do so, he forgets to shout out the untouchable's call (to let others know to avoid him), and a high-class man brushes against him by mistake. The man is furious at being made “unclean” and slaps Bakha.

At the temple, Bakha meets his Sohini. She is crying because she has just been assaulted by the temple's priest, who then proceeds to tell everyone that she has made him unclean. Bakha sends her home and takes on her duties along with everything else he has to do. This includes begging for food, and he receives more abuse as he does so.

Toward evening, Bakha spends some times with his friends, one of whom sympathizes with him. The other, however, is embarrassed. Bakha goes to visit Singh and receives a fantastic hockey stick from the older man who even allows him to drink tea with him. For once, Bakha does not feel like an untouchable.

As the story continues, though, Bakha gets into a fight at a hockey game and is yelled at again by his father. Even the friendly British man he meets cannot help him, for the man's wife screams at him, disgusted by his low class. The story ends with Bakha listening to a speech from Mahatma Gandhi, who is trying his best to eliminate the “untouchable” designation. Bakha also hears that flush toilets will soon be arriving in India, and he is actually quite excited by that, for it will eliminate one of his most disgusting tasks.

The themes presented in this novel include the oppression by the caste system, especially for those at the bottom; the struggle between Indian customs and modern innovations; British colonization and its effects on Indian life; the hypocrisy of some religious people; and the lack of charity that plagues people of all classes. Clearly, the novel serves as Anand's argument for the end of the caste system.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 19, 2021
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Untouchable, written by the Indo-English writer Mulk Raj Anand, has a simple but very uncomfortable, depressing plot. The novel’s protagonist is "Bhaka", who is an untouchable, outcast boy. The novel is historical in the sense that it touches upon the caste system, which gave rise to the practice of “Untouchability” that was much prevalent in the Indian society.

The entire plot gives an account of events happening in a single day in the life of Bhaka. It exposes the harsh life and struggles of the so-called Untouchable people. Bhaka doesn’t like to do toilet cleaning. He wants to study and be a learned man. Much of the novel’s success lies in the revolutionary idea of education of Untouchables. The outcasts were not allowed to draw water from wells, enter temples or basically touch anything, as everyone believed that their touch would make anything impure and corrupt. Bhaka is also mentally and physically abused by the upper caste Hindus. Pandits, or the upper-caste Hindus, are hypocrites as one of them tries to touch Sohini’s (Bhaka’s sister) breasts but claims to have been defiled when touched accidentally by an "Untouchable".

In the end of the novel, Mulk Raj Anand presents three answers to this malpractice. Bhaka is offered to accept Christianity that has no caste system, and so in this way he will no longer be an outcast. But Bhaka fears such a religion change, even if that means equal treatment and opportunity to visit a church. After that Mahatma Gandhi comes to Bhaka’s village and educates everyone on Untouchability. Bhaka loves to hear someone talking on behalf of people of his caste. In the concluding paragraphs, a person randomly comes into the scene and informs everyone about a machine (toilet-flush machine, perhaps) that will clean faecal matter automatically, ending manual collection of excreta. Bhaka thinks that this will be a solution to all his problems.

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