Appreciation of the Novel Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand


“Untouchable” is the first novel of Mulk Raj Anand. It is his most popular novel. It was first published in 1935. His first love Irene wanted to see him as a writer; hence she was a great inspiration to him for writing his first novel “Untouchable”. Mahatma Gandhi also asked Mulk Raj Anand in 1930 to write a pamphlet on untouchability. But instead of writing a pamphlet he wrote a full - fledged novel “Untouchable”.

Appreciation of the Novel Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand


The author gives an account how he was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi: “One day, I read an article in young India, by Gandhiji, describing how he met Uka, a sweeper - boy and, finding him with torn clothes and hungry, took him into his ashram. This narrative was simple, austere and seemed to me more truthful than my artificially concocted novel “Untouchable”. I told Irene this ... and decided to go and see the old man.” He want to Ahmedabad in the spring of 1929. He writes: “The Mahatma allowed me to read portions of my novel to him, though he was anti - all novels, imagining they were all about the boy and girl affair. He felt that I had made Bakha a Bloomsbury intellectual. And he advised me to cut down a hundred or more pages and rewrite the whole...…. I revised the book during the next three months in the Sabarmati Ashram. I read the new novel to the old man, who more or less approved, though he gave me Tolstoy's Childhood, Boyhood and Youth as a model of sincere writing. He said one must not write anything which was not based on one's experience. I worked hard to achieve sincerity. I cut and cut, trying to combine the Tolstoy an emphasis on the truth of life in the raw and the Flaubert Ian objectivity. I brought the novel back to London, glowing with pride about the austerities I had practised.” 

Mulk Raj Anand found a great difficulty in publishing his novel Untouchable, as no publisher was ready to publish it. It was revised several times. Bonamy Dobree, Maurice Brown and Edward Thompson tried to help him but in vain the novel was rejected by nearly nineteen publishers and the novelist was so much depressed that he thought of committing suicide but was saved by the timely intervention of a young English poet Oswell Blakeston, who took the novel to Wishert Books. The editor, Edgell Rickwood liked the novel for its sincerity and skill. E. M. Forster supplied an introduction to the novel and it was published on 1 May, 1935.

Its Popularity: 

“Untouchable” proved to be very popular. It has been sold into several thousands and has been translated into more than twenty languages. Richard Haine in a B. B. C. Broadcast called it a “classic”. No doubt it is the most popular of Mulk Raj Anand's forty books. In the novel he has advocated the cause of the untouchables and other undergoes of the society, so, for long, he was regarded as a communist. 

Punjabi Background: 

Bulasha, a Cantonment town in Punjab is the central place of the action of the novel. Anand's father was a Regimental Head Clerk in the Indian Army and he was familiar with the life of army personnel. He has made a good use of this knowledge in the present novel. He was also familiar with the life of the untouchables. Bakha, the hero, has been modelled on one of his playmates. The novelist was himself born and brought up in Punjab. The scenes and sights, customs and traditions, ideas and beliefs of Punjab form the background to the novel. The swear words and abuses used in the novel are clearly Punjabi in origin. 

The Story of “Untouchable”: 

The novel deals with a single day in the life of Bakha, a sweeper - boy of eighteen years old. He is the central figure. He is woken up early in the morning by his father Bakha so that he may begin his work of cleaning latrines. While cleaning latrines in military barracks he is treated as a human being by Tommies on the whole. He is shocked and does not accept his job to be a part of natural and fixed order of things. The British rule has unintended effect in dissolving the fixed caste and feudal relations. Bakha is not, at once, led to direct revolt but the virus of change is at work in him. A number of other unhappy things happen to Bakha on this one day, all of which contribute to the changes in his spirit. He sweeps the gullies for food. He happens to jostle a Hindu merchant, and is slapped and abused. A priest tries to seduce his sister, Sohini, and when he peeps into the temple to see. What is happening, the pundits cry. “Polluted! Polluted!” He tells everything to his father. His father tells him his own account how he could not go into the chemist's shop to buy medicine for fear of defiling the place. All these incidents crushed his self - confidence and he was forced to come back into his hopeless - caste - position. But at heart he had a ray of hope and a burning desire to find out the solution of the problem so he kept on meeting people who thought that there was some solution for the caste problem. 

First an English missionary tells him that Jesus does not recognize caste and He died so that the untouchables like Bakha might be forgiven. Bakha does not understand anything. He tries to get a pair of white trousers to look like a white man. At the sight of the missionary's wife he runs away fearfully, and gets mixed in the crowd waiting for Gandhiji. He is impressed when he hears people say that Gandhi is a saint. Gandhi arrives and says that the sweepers are men of God, and must keep themselves pure by eating only the right food and refusing the left overs of others. Bakha is more confused because he will starve if he does not eat the left-over food given to him for cleaning latrines. In the crowd he hears a poet say that water closets and a proper drainage system would eliminate the whole problem of untouchability. He returns to his quarter full of thoughts about this wonderful machine that can work without the help of anyone. He is hopeful for future. 


The novel is not overcrowded with a large number of characters. Bakha, a sweeper - boy, is the central figure and hero; Lakhe is his father. Sohini is his sister, Chota and Ram Charan are his friends, and Rakha is his brother. Pandit Kali Nath is a wicked priest who tries to pollute Sohini, sister of Bakha. Col. Hutchinson is a padri and Iqbal Nath Sarsar is a young poet. There are also such minor characters as Gulabo, the washer - woman and Havildar Charat Singh who is kind and friendly to Bakha. The fully developed character is only Bakha, whose body and soul both work and undergo a unique change during the single eventful day of his life.

The Technique: 

The novelist peeps into the soul or psyche of the central character, Bakha, so he uses the stream of consciousness technique. He uses it with great mastery and skill. He has placed us into the mind of the sensitive sweeper - boy, and give us a peep into his suffering soul and has rendered the rise and fall of his emotional graph as he passes through one sad experience after another. The novelist avoids all incoherence, vagueness and confusion. In his other novels Mulk Raj Anand has followed the conventional technique of narration. It is only in “Untouchable” and “The Big Heart” that he follows the modern technique of “interior monologue”. In “Untouchable” he abandons the chronological, calendar time and allows his hero to jump from present into past and future. All other novels of his are third person narrations by the author. 


“Untouchable” is a sociological novel. It seeks to stress the evils of untouchability by focussing attention on the miserable life, suffering, poverty and degradation of a large section of Indian society. The evil of untouchability has been highlighted by studying what happens to the soul of Bakha, the sweeper - boy, on a single eventful day. Bakha is a symbolic figure for the under - dog. He is as universal as the under - dog. It is the story not only one Bakha's suffering alone, but of the suffering of the untouchables as a class. Bakha stands for a large segment of Indian society which has been doomed to suffering since the times immemorial. To stress the universal nature of his theme, the novelist has named it “Untouchable” not “The Untouchable”. Another theme is East and West, the theme of tradition versus modernity. This theme has been studied through the desire of Bakha to be a Sahib, though his relations with the Tommies and his contact with Colonel Hutchinson. The modernity theme is also implicit in the poet's suggestion that the flush system should be followed in future to eliminate the evil of untouchability. Bakha is a symbol of tradition while the Britishers are symbols of modernity. Hence the combination of the East and the West is also a theme of the novel. 

Exposure of Hypocrisy: 

“Untouchable” is a piece of social criticism. Mulk Raj Anand has exposed and satirised the hypocrisy and callousness of the caste - Hindus who can be polluted by the touch of an untouchable like Bakha. These upper caste - Hindus, like Pandit Kali Nath, do not hesitate to molest an outcast girl like Sohini, sister of Bakha. The novelist denounces the upper caste - Hindus who, in the words of E. M. Forster: “have evolved a hideous nightmare unknown to the West; the belief that the products are ritually unclean as well as physically unpleasant; and those who carry them away or otherwise help to dispose of them are outcastes from society.” 

Plot Construction: 

The plot of the novel “Untouchable” is well - knit and compact. There are no superfluous episodes to divert the attention of the reader from the main theme. The economy and sincerity attained on the advice of Gandhiji and other reviewers and the finish achieved after several revisions add to the beauty and compactness of the plot. The action of the novel, occurring during a single eventful day, takes place in Bulasha. The novel is constructed in scenes; one scene follows another in quick succession. The two most important pathetic scenes are the ‘touching’ scene in the market and the ‘pollution’ scene in the temple courtyard. The end of the novel has been open to some criticism. Anand for championing the cause of untouchability has been charged as being a propagandist.

Language and Style: 

The language of “Untouchable” is correct, fine and idiomatic Indian English. His Indian English has a few peculiarities like oriental opulence, use of more words than are necessary, the fast galloping tempo. For example: “As they sat or stood in the sun, showing their dark hands and feet, they had a curiously lackadaisical lazy, lousy look about them. It seemed their insides were concentrate in the act of emergence, of a new birth, as it were, from the raw, black, wintry feeling in their souls to the world of warmth. The taint of the dark, narrow, dingy little prison cells of their one - room homes lurked in them, however, even in the outdoor air.” 

The hue and cry that Gulabo raises at the sight of Sohini is an example of Anand's use of Indian English. “Ari, ari bitch! Do you take me for a buffon? What are you laughing at slut? Aren't you ashamed of showing your teeth to me in the presence of men, you prostitute?”


Anand has written “Untouchable” dealing with a single eventful day in the life of Bakha, a sweeper - boy, whose soul gets stirred at the cruel treatment given to him by the upper caste - Hindus of Indian society. There comes over a change in his soul and mind and he is no more ready to accept the traditional view of things. He hopes for better future for the untouchables when the evil of untouchability would be removed by the introduction of the flush system. Anand has introduced in the novel the outcaste as the central figure. He has imparted social realism to the novel .     

Saurabh Gupta

My name is Saurabh Gupta. I have designed this blog to help those students and people who are greatly interested to get knowledge about English Literature. This blog provides precious knowledge and information about English Literature and Criticism.

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