Mulk Raj Anand's 1936 novel Coolie is about a 14-year-old boy, Munoo, who represents the lowest part of India's socioeconomic spectrum, a position identified by various names, including Dalit and, more commonly, "the untouchables." Dalits are destined to remain at the bottom of India's extraordinarily rigid caste system and equally rigid socioeconomic system.
By presenting as his protagonist, the desperately poor Munoo, a servant in the home of a member of the upper caste, Anand has indicted the entire class system and economic system that dominates Indian culture.
Furthermore, by vividly contrasting the opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum through the eyes of his perceptive protagonist, the author has illuminated the fundamental injustices inherent in an economic system that has been imposed by an alien power, Great Britain, while also placing blame for this unfortunate situation squarely in the hands of Indians, especially those Indians on the higher levels of the socioeconomic spectrum (one cannot use the phrase "socioeconomic ladder," as that would denote the possibility of upward mobility). The higher levels have benefited from this alien economic system while ignoring its long-term ramifications (the varna caste system, with its fifth caste of Dalits, dates to around the "3rd century A.D." thus is a separate issue from the alien economic system introduced by the British).
In one passage in Coolie that presents this stark contrast between the hopes and expectations of members of different castes with which the individual is raised in Indian society, Anand describes the young boy's thoughts:
"It did not occur to him to ask himself what he was apart from being a servant, and why he was a servant and Babu Rathoo Ram his master. His identity he took for granted, and the relationship between Babu Rathoo Ram, who wore black boots, and himself, Munoo, who went about barefoot, was to him like sunshine...
and sunset, inevitable and unquestionable."
The theme of Coolie, therefore, is the hopelessness and despair to which millions of Indians are condemned by virtue of antiquated and inherently unjust social and economic structures.