Stream of Consciousness or Psychology in Untouchable

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Stream of Consciousness: Definition

      The ‘stream of consciousness’, a fictional technique which is applied to make us perceive and scrutinize the psyche of some particular character or characters. It is rather a journey through the mind, soul and spirit of characters. In this way ‘stream of consciousness’ or psychology is focused more on the internal than the external aspects of a character and the novelist presents the conspicuous portrayal of the character's mind and heart. It projects the character, the objectives and impulses, conscious and unconscious, which determine their actions. The technique of stream of consciousness is chiefly applied to present the protagonist’s totality of mental states and process in Untouchable.

Anand’s Application of ‘Stream of Consciousness Technique

      Anand’s chief objective to write Untouchable was to depict the pathos of the untouchables, subjected to brutality and savagery and barbarity meted on them by the so-called custodians of Hindu culture and tradition, the caste Hindus. The stream of consciousness technique best supports the purpose to substantialize it. He learned it from James Joyce’s Ulysses and applied it in a much modified and simplified form in order to realise his objective. M.K. Naik remarks, “he has used it in a much simplified and modified form, in order to realise his objective of presenting a vivid picture both of Bakha’s mind and milieu”. No other technique could have enable Anand to depict a picture of anguish and agony of these outcastes in their sub-human, dirty and filthy surroundings. Thus he has maintained a perfect cohesion, harmony and balance between, theme and technique, form and content, social vision and method to convey it.

The Protagonist’s Anguish and Agony

      Bakha experiences woes and grief every time he is subjected to insult and humiliation. The caste Hindus revile and slander him for no fault or guilt. The stream of consciousness technique gives a vent to his infinite woe and distress and it enables us perceive the protagonist’s anguish and agony in exact magnitude. Anand superbly depicts the pain and pang of Bakha whenever he is subjected to humiliation. Anand writes, “Then he flung a packet of ‘Red-Camp’ cigarettes at Bakha, as a butcher might throw a bone to an insistent dog sniffing round the corner of his shop.” At confectioner’s shop, Anand depicts Bakha’s mind, “He caught the 'jalebis' which the confectioner threw at him like a cricket ball, placed four nickel coins on the shoe board for the confectioner assistant who stood ready to splash some water on them, and walked away embarrassed yet happy.” And it is through ‘stream of consciousness’ technique that Anand depicts the embarrassment, fear, humility and servility when he touches a caste Hindu. He is paralysed. His mouth is open but he is unable to utter a single word. He is about to apologise. He has already joined hand instinctively. The technique scrutinises Bakha’s psychology and brings out that he does not want to be a subject of savagery and brutality perpetually He does want to revenge, react and retaliate. Anand says, “But there was a smouldering rage in his soul. His feelings would rise like spurts of smoke from a half-smothered fire in fitful jerks when the recollection of abuse or rebuke he had suffered kindled a spark in the ashes of remorse inside him. And in the smoky atmosphere of his mind arose dim ghosts of forms peopling the scene he had been through. The picture of the touched man stood in the front, among several indistinct faces, his bloodshot eyes, his little body with the sunken cheeks, his dry; thin lips, his ridiculously agitated manner, his abuse; and there was the circle of the crowd, jeering, scoffing, abusing while he himself stood with joined hands in the centre.” Why does he suffer? He asked the question himself and emotions responded quietly, “he suffers because he is an outcaste.” No other way could have been more effectively devised to portray with full potentials the torment and torture of Bakha arouse our sympathy for him, and others like him.

Bakha’s Mental Process

      Due to persistent torture, humiliation and tribulations he develops a morbid fear that may be termed as “agoraphobia”. He feels insecure in market and open space because he is quite unaware of the man (a caste Hindu) whom he is going to touch next. His mind is preoccupied with fear, insecurity, humility. Anand presents a graphic screening of his awe as he advances the steps of the temple. The temple seemed to advance towards him like a monster and to envelop him. Anand brings out everything that happens in the labyrinthine depth of Bakha’s unconscious. Anand knows the chemistry of Bakha’s mind and soul and what agitates the cell of his brain and what works as tranquilizer for his agitated brain. He has accomplished it by giving us a phantasmagoria that is invoked by his feverish and agitated brain.

Lakha’s Poor Sensibility

      The other character, besides Bakha, that is remarkable for stream of consciousness is Lakha. It reveals his poor sensibility, lack of self-esteem and servility. We can read how he suffers pain and pangs of old age and poor health. Years of servility has sucked out his self-esteem. He is of the opinion that the untouchable should accept the tyranny and torture, savagery and brutality perpetrated in them by the caste Hindus as their lot. The way he craves for food and tea and medicine is pathetic and arouse our sympathy He remembers, “the great big piles of cooked food which he had received on the occasion of marriages in the alleys in the city. There were fried bread and. Chingripuffs. Vegetables, curries and sweet smelling puddina, sweets and tasty pickles - remainders from the trays of the high-caste men, and sometimes portions direct from the Kitchen...”

The Drawbacks of This Technique

      To be precise, Anand has applied this technique cogently to delineate the psychological states of various characters. The technique is not without drawbacks as it leads to incoherence, confusion and intelligibility. The reader gets lost in labyrinth of characters’ complex mental process. Anand has peripaciously avoided such pitfalls by replacing Bakha’s inner tensions and conflict with social milieu and external environment. The unity of time, place and action add to the elegance of the novel in totality. The details of characters are vivid and quite perceptible and they follow time sequence. The savagery and barbarity Bakha undergoes have been graphically screened.

      R.S. Singh remarks, “Brisk and direct movement, economy in the selection of incidents, and definiteness of the contours of the characters, make the novel not only compact and well knit but also a triumph of the use of stream of consciousness for rendering the disturbed, restless and paranoiac, mental states.”

University Questions

Critically evaluate with special reference to text that Untouchable is a psychological novel.
Untouchable is the combination of the Eastern and Western techniques of story telling. Explain.
Detect some of the structural faults and deficiencies of the novel Untouchable.
Describe the common features between the narration in Untouchable and that in a typical moral fable.
To what extent does the use of ‘stream of consciousness’ technique in Untouchable influence?
Write a note on Untouchable as a psychological novel.

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