Author’s Ventriloquism in Untouchable

“The Mahatma didn’t say so, but the legal and sociological basis of caste having been broken down by the British-Indian penal, which recognizes the rights of every man before a court, caste is now mainly governed by profession. When the sweepers change their profession, they will no longer remain Untouchables. And they can do that soon, for the first thing we will do when we accept the machine, will be to introduce the machine which clears dung without anyone having to handle it – the flush system. Then the sweepers can be free from the stigma of untouchability and assume the dignity and status that is their right as useful members of a casteless and classless society” (Anand 137).

Based on what we’ve discussed in class about Anand already– having studied in the UK and finding the social conditions in India to be less than desirable under British rule– it is a reasonable assumption to make that the poet that speaks this ideologically-rich paragraph in the dead-center of page 137 of our assigned editions is a stand-in for Anand himself. First, he is a scholar, and second, he makes a case for accepting new technologies mainly invented by the occupying British. This is a nuanced take on imperialism, and one that doesn’t endorse, but rather calls for people to take what good they can out of an overall oppressive, restrictive system.

The Narrator’s taunting….

“to do with dadababu coming back…Alas, the mistaken human heart! Its delusions never end.”

The postmaster 1891 by Rabindranuth Tagore pg. 34

This quote shows the narrator has his own thoughts in response to the story and can make his own comments such as “Alas, the mistaken human heart!” It shows how the narrator is aware of the next step in the story is somewhat taunting of the character because he is a couple steps ahead.

The Impartial Perspective, Partially

“And with this and other strange and exotic items of dress he had built up a new world, which was commendable, if for nothing else, because it represented a change from the old ossified order and the stagnating conventions of the life to which he was born.”

Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable (pg. 66)

Untouchable‘s narrator is a deeply social voice, understanding actions and sentiments in the way that they may be viewed by society at large. Yet, in its impartiality are implicit statements—not in stated belief but in what is missing from the narrator’s image. To escape the world is commendable, specifically because the voice of the novel cannot.

Narrator’s Side

“It was then 10 p.m., and as the train, we heard, was likely to be very late, owing to something wrong in the lines, I spread my bed on the table and was about to lie down for a comfortable doze, when the extraordinary person deliberately set about spinning the following yarn. Of course, I could get no sleep that night. ”

I think the narrator wants to let himself believe what the man told him and have an outlook more like his friend. And I think he thinks the man is better than he is and ends up mad at himself for enjoying the interaction.

Narrator in The Hungry Stones

“Then I came under such a spell that this intangible, inaccessible, unearthly vision appeared to be the only reality in the world and all else a mere dream, (Tagore 11).

This sentence is sandwiched by the narrator’s blurring of what is real and what isn’t. The narrator alludes to his own unreliability through his using the word, ‘spell,’ and filtering his sensory experiences through the verb, ‘appear.’ He furthers the implicit assessment of his dreamlike experience here through juxtaposing what is ‘real’ in actuality and what is ‘real’ to him.

A Gullible Mind

“We were real innocents: this was the first time we had been away from home. He held us spellbound: on the slightest of pretexts, he would switch from lecturing us on science to expounding the Vedas or reciting Persian poetry–and since we knew nothing about science or the Vedas or Persian poetry, our awe of him increased with every word he uttered.”

Tagore, Rabindranath, et al. “Hungry Stone.” The Essential Tagore: Rabindranath Tagore, Belknap, Cambridge, MA, 2011, 540

This passage shows the narrator and his cousin as being susceptible to the words of the strange man they meet on the train. This unknown man tells them many things, which the narrator takes as fact, since he and his cousin do not know any better. As stated by the narrator, they are innocents who do not know much of the world outside of their home. This passage is very telling in how the story will play out further and how the stories the strange man tells them will be important.

The Judgmental Narrator

“But Ratan had no philosophy. She was wandering about the post office in a flood of tears. It may be that she had still a lurking hope in some corner of her heart that her Dada would return, and that is why she could not tear herself away. Alas for the foolish human heart!”

Tagore, Sir Rabindranath. “Tagore, Postmaster and The Hungry Stones (Required).” MacMillan and Co,. Limited, 1918, page 169.

This passage shows what the narrator thinks about Ratan, and all humans for that matter, through the last line “Alas for the foolish human heart!” This line proves that the narrator knows that this situation is not going to have a happy ending for her, and the narrator thinks she is foolish for thinking otherwise. Therefore, the narrator may know things going on in the character’s minds but obviously is separated from the situation and able to make comments of their own.

A Predisposition for Suspicion

“I said, ‘The man took us for fools and had a good laugh at our expense. The story was all made up from beginning to end.’ The argument that followed led to a lifelong rupture between me and my theosophist cousin.”

Tagore, Rabindranath, et al. The Essential Tagore, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2014, p. 552.

This short excerpt perfectly depicts the narrator’s stance on the man who has told them this story on the train–that is, one of instinctual distrust. I think that this is an especially interesting thing to note given the storyteller’s social position. The narrator’s sentiment of distrust is expressed right after the man leaves them to go to first class. On top of this, it is no accident that the man is a tax collector, often a symbol of a greedy, manipulative figure. The narrator’s distrust of the storyteller, in this sense, seems to stem from a division of class and social standing, not just from the strange nature of the story that he told.

The Distrustful Narrator

“As we got into a second-class carriage, we had no chance of findingout who the man was nor what was the end of his story. I said : ‘ The man evidently took us for fools and imposed upon us out of fun.'” (Tagore 24-25)

Tagore, Rabindranath, 1861-1941, and C. F. (Charles Freer) Andrews. The Hungry Stones: And Other Stories. New York: The Macmillan company, 1916.

I found it interesting that the narrator points out how the man enters the first class carriage, in comparison to the narrator who enters the second-class carriage. I wonder the man’s connection to the upper class and English feeds into the narrator’s distrust of the man and his story and whether it was fiction or not.


Collective Voice and The Outsider

“The postmaster first took up his duties in the village of Ulapur…Our postmaster belonged to Calcutta…Among strangers he appears either proud or ill at ease.”

Tagore, Rabindranath. Mashi and Other Stories. Translated. (London: Macmillan and Co, 1918), 159.

This is the only explicit use of the first person plural in “The Postmaster.” This would suggest that the “narrator” here is the collective community – unlike, for example, in Hurston, where community is depicted by an external narrator. It’s also used in the Chaudhuri translation. Why choose the plural here? It could suggest that the story circulates in the community beyond the postmaster’s time there. However, it’s an interesting choice given that emphasis is put on the community’s lack of similarity, and distance from, the postmaster. The language of “our postmaster” blurs the lines of profession in the way that the relationship between him and Ratan does as well.

The Removed Narrator

“He hung upon the lightest word from this unusual man with the rapt attention of a devotee, even jotting down notes in secret. I felt the great man too knew what was going on, and although he didn’t let on, he was not in the least bit displeased.” (540)

Tagore, Rabindranath, et al. “Hungry Stone.” The Essential Tagore: Rabindranath Tagore, Belknap, Cambridge, MA, 2011, 540

The narrator of the beginning part of the story is a listener of the story of the Hungry Stone. He is skeptical of the “great man”, as he suspects that this man is pretending not to notice his story is being noted because it is, as the narrator believes, his main motive in telling the story to an audience. The narrator stands outside of the story, both in being a listener and a non-believer.

Life Further South

“They’d go out any late afternoon and come back loaded down with game. One night they got a boat and went out hunting alligators. Shining their phosphorescent eyes and shooting them in the dark.” (Hurston, 165)

Janie’s life changed in many ways after she moved further South. Not only was the culture different, but her life required new understandings of the world around her. Chapter fourteen really showcases the ways her and Tea Cake live in the Everglades, and focuses on their ability to live off the land and fend for themselves.

Janie set free?! Not surprising

“So she was free and the judge and everybody up there smiled with her and shook her hand. And the white women cried and stood around her like a protecting wall and the Negroes, with heads hung down, shuffled out and away” (Hurston 188).

In this section, Hurston ensures that the reader understands that anyone who is white is living life in easy mode. Rather than the jury finding her guilty and sentencing her to time in jail, there is a sense of approval in the jury. Janie’s murder of Tea Cake is seen as a triumph, but the jury does not know that Janie is mixed race. But since she appears white, she passes. This realization asks the question of identity. Did Janie identify as white at this moment to not get sent to jail?

Public Opinion of Janie Further South

“Because they really loved Janie just a little less than they had loved Tea Cake, and because they wanted to think well of themselves, they wanted their hostile attitude forgotten. So they blamed it all on Mrs. Turner’s brother and ran him off the muck again” (Hurston, 190).

Chapter 20 opens up with more of the same thread that’s run throughout the novel up to this point: people as a collective (crowds) have no sense of responsibility and have an immature view of the world. The generic crowd’s view is immature insofar as they care so deeply for outward appearance (“wanted to think well of themselves”), but take no care in trying to change what they are internally. Like Joe and Tea Cake, the crowd’s confidence is external and is sustained by hating on people different from them, i.e. Janie.

Some notes on Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore wrote primarily in Bengali. He became very well-known internationally thanks to his collection of translations of some of his own poems into English, Gitanjali (1912; available on HathiTrust). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. The two stories we are focusing on were originally written in Bengali. Tagore did not translate them himself, but their English translations date from the period we are studying; Tagore’s fiction thus became part of English-language fiction in the early twentieth century. I have given you the translations from two volumes of short stories put out by the important London publishing house Macmillan, Hungry Stones and Other Stories (1916) and Mashi and Other Stories (1918). If you would like a sample of Tagore’s own style in English fiction, read his own translation of his short story “The Victory,” in Hungry Stones.

Here is a little bit of context on the two stories. Think about why it is that there are so many more terms to annotate in “The Hungry Stones.”

The Postmaster

Published in Bengali in 1891. First published in English in a version by Devendranath Mitter in the Calcutta magazine The Modern Review (January 1910); scan available on HathiTrust. The translator of the version in Mashi is, so far as I have been able to find out, unknown.

cicalas (160)
faquirs of the Baul sect (160)
“Fakir” is a a more common spelling for this term for a religious mendicant, typically used for Sufi Muslims. The Bāuls (“the mad ones”) are a group of wandering religious singers from Bengal. Tagore was very influenced by their songs, which, like other popular religious traditions in North India, combine Muslim and Hindu elements—and more.
the alphabet (163)
That is, the Bengali alphabet. The “double consonants” (164) are the conjunct consonants. In Bengali, as in other Indic scripts, there are special ways of writing two consonants together without a vowel; this is the trickiest part of the alphabet to learn.
showers of the season (163)
Śrābaṇ, the second month of the monsoon season (mid-July to mid-August).

The Hungry Stones

Published in Bengali in 1895. It first appeared in the Calcutta Modern Review in February 1910, in a translation by Panna Lal Basu; a scan is available on HathiTrust. This same translation, apparently slightly edited, is the one we have in Hungry Stones. The wonderful contemporary English-language writer Amitav Ghosh has translated this story as “Hungry Stone” in The Essential Tagore, ed. Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2011).

Puja trip (3)
pūjā is a general term for Hindu worship. The two men are probably taking a holiday trip during Durga Puja, an important festival in Bengal.
up-country Mahomedan (3)
That is, a Muslim from North India. “Mahomedan” was a common term for Muslims in English but is now obsolete.
“There happen more things…” (3)
I award you 25 English major points if you recognize this as a riff on a line from Hamlet.
Vedas (4)
Ancient sacred texts of India, first composed in Sanskrit in the 2nd millennium BCE, and part of Hindu scripture. They are always recited in Sanskrit (a classical language), so the man’s knowledge of the Vedas shows his erudition. The same goes for his knowledge of Persian, which is not spoken natively in North India but was a language of high culture from the time of the Mughal emperors (16th to 18th centuries) onwards.
theosophist (4)
Theosophy was an occult movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, founded in New York in 1875 but subsequently headquartered in Bombay, influenced by various religious traditions and mystical philosophies—hence the narrator’s kinsman’s belief in “occult power” from an “astral body.”
my post at Junagarh…Nizam of Hyderabad (5)
Junagarh or Junagadh was a princely state in Gujarat (in the west of India). Though India was under British rule, parts of India were governed by proxy rather than directly. The man has worked for two such rulers. The hereditary ruler of the state of Hyderabad (south-central India) was called the Nizam.
Susta (5)
or Shusta, a river. The translator has cut a pretentious aside in which the man gives the Sanskrit etymology of the river name (cf. the Ghosh version).
Mahmud Shah II (5)
I am unsure how to gloss this. Does it refer to the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah (r. 1719–1748)? A Persian Shah? It also seems possible to me that this is deliberately unreal.
ghazal (5)
an intricate poetic form, important in the Persian and Urdu traditions.
ghi (9)
now usually spelled ghee: clarified butter.
sola hat like the sahebs (9–10)
that is, the sola topee, the signature hat of the British (the sahebs) in India.
attar (10)
rose essence.
guitar (11)
the translator’s rendition of sitār, an instrument now better-known beyond the subcontinent.
nahabat (11)
a type of instrumental band. Other translations render this passage differently. Somewhere far off, music is starting.
bulbuls (11)
the bulbul is a songbird and, like the nightingale, a poetic trope.
Rs. (11)
rupees, the currency.
Avalli hills (12)
the Aravalli mountain range, which runs from Delhi to Gujarat.
narghileh (16)
a hookah. All the details here evoke the Mughal court or indeed the Baghdad of the Arabian Nights.
Badshah (19)
the Mughal emperor.
Abyssinian (20)
that is, Ethiopian; but perhaps the same as the earlier “negro eunuch.”
chamar (20)
the footnote only helps if you know the Anglo-Indian word “chowrie” or chowry, the yak-tail fly whisk and yet another sign of royalty.
chaprasi (20)
an office messenger.
Nizamat (21)
that is, all that pertains to the Nizam of Hyderabad, who was a byword for wealth.

Janie Court Acquittal

“So she was free and the judge and everybody up there smiled with her and shook her hand. And the white women cried and stood around her like a protecting wall and the Negroes, with heads hung down, shuffled out and away” (Hurston 188).

Hurston, Zora Neale. There Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial, 2006

In Janie’s acquittal of Tea Cake’s murder, it is shown that the white women celebrate her victory while the black men leave in disappointment. It questions the racial perspective that people have on Janie who is lighter-skinned than other black women.


“Tea Cake’s house was a magnet, the unauthorized center of the “job” (Hurston 173).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. HarperCollins e-Books, 2013.

We get introduced to this more intensive kind of labor/work with the move further south. I find it interesting that “job” is in quotations because for the first time this is true work being done. I wonder why the choice was to make it seem less than a true job.

Janie and Racial Differences

“And the white women cried and stood around her like a protecting wall and the Negros, with heads hung down, shuffled out and away” (188).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013

Further south Janie travels the division between white and black people is more evident. Previously this issue was not seen before in a unjust way more of a “beauty”way.

Janie in, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’

“‘Wha-whut’s dat you say, Janie? You must be out yo’ head.’

‘Naw, Ah ain’t outa mah head neither.’

‘You must be. Talkin’ any such language as dat.’ (Hurtston, 79)

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006)

In this scene, we see Janie standing up for herself, something we have not seen in the novel. We also begin to see her strength as a character and as a women during this time. Its also a time to wonder what the consequence will be for Janie for speaking to a man this way.

Recognizing Inner Strength in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’

“They sat in company with the others… their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God” (160).

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Amistad, 1937, pg. 160.

In this moment, the people in this community contemplate how strong they truly are. They are trying to gauge their own strengths in a South that is highly oppressive, one that deems them as weak. It seems that deep down, the people are aware of a unique power brewing within them; but what is this power, and what does it mean?