Use of Irony in The Novel Untouchable

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Definition and Explanation of Irony

      Lesley Brown, the editor of The New Shorter Oxford Dictionary, defines irony as (a) the expression of meaning using language that normally expresses the opposite; esp. the humorous or sarcastic use of praise to imply condemnation or contempt, (b) Discrepancy between the expected and the actual state of affairs; a contradictory outcome of events as if in mockery of the fitness of things. M. H. Abrams says, in Greek comedy the character called the 'eiron' was a “dissembler” who characteristically spoke in understatement and deliberately pretended to be less intelligent than he was, yet triumphed over the alazon—the self-deceiving and stupid braggart In most of the dissimulation, or of a difference between what is asserted and what is actually the case. The Chambers Dictionary defines it as the Socratic method of discussion by professing ignorance; conveyance of meaning (generally satirical) by words whose literal meaning is the opposite, esp. words of praise used as criticism or condemnations of a situation or utterance (eg in a tragedy) that has a significance unperceived at the time, or by the persons involved; a condition in which one seems to be mocked by fate or the facts.

Irony Exposes Hypocrisy of Orthodox Hindu

      E. M. Forster says, “Really it takes the human mind to evolve anything so devilish. No animal could have done it.” The irony behind the worship of cows and bulls is comic and critical. They worship the animals which emits foul-smelling urine and dung. They worship the insensible creatures while hate and exploit the paramount of all creatures, the human being. ‘They think we are mere dirts because we clean their dirts’. The man who works hard to keep the society neat and clean is regarded as untouchable, contemptible, and ignoble while those who taste the urine and dung of the cow and bull and smear them on their foreheads are regarded as exalted custodians of Hindu tradition. Saros Cowasjee writes, Untouchable is a scathing indictment of Human society and irony is the weapon of this indictment. Since the social indictment is at the heart of Anand’s writing, he finds irony—which works largely through contrasting appearance with reality—a particularly useful tool to destroy the myth about ‘contentment’, ‘mystical silence’ and ‘spiritual attainments’ built round the Indian character by the 19th century novelists. Untouchability which can have no moral, religious or even aesthetic sanction, is singularly vulnerable to an ironic treatment”.

      Similarly, the untouchables are denied entrance to temples. They believe that only the caste Hindus have the privilege to worship Hindu deities. It is the gross hypocrisy of the Hindu tradition and culture that one who cleans the society and the temple as well is himself untouchable. When Pundit Kali Nath holds Sohini’s breasts to gratify his libido, the Priest was not polluted. But the moment his sin is exposed he shouts “Polluted.! Polluted”! to hide his libidinous and lascivious character. The caste Hindu women who treat Bakha (as well as other sweepers) as untouchable but feels exalted to be called ‘mother’ by him.

Ironical Presentation of Colonel Hutchinson and Englishmen

      The chief of the Salvation Army Colonel Hutchinson is, of course, very devoted and committed missionary who is spiritually interested in the welfare of the untouchables who are treated as beasts and convert them to Christianity because he believes that only Christianity can give them total emancipation, salvation and human dignity. But in spite of his long stay in India he could not familiar to Indian language; culture and tradition. So he fails to communicate his Christian theosophical philosophy to Bakha and he bores Bakha by the monotonous and incomprehensible sermon. Colonel’s wife aggravates the situation by her arrogant attitude to Indians, the attitude which cost England her Indian Empire. Anand’s novel gives an insight into the misery and wretchedness of the outcastes since the first Aryan invaded Indian.

Elements of Paradox in Untouchable

      Untouchable is replete with irony in a very intense and powerful form. The novel reveals traditional and fanatical atmosphere in India and simultaneously a character, Bakha, who belongs to an outcaste community has passion for everything English. He feels exalted and elevated if he copies the fashion of Tommies. He sneers at native tradition. He makes a mockery of tradition by wearing old uniforms discarded by the Tommies. Muslims walking about with their hands in their pajamas taking wazoo (ablution) to visit their mosque, but they lose their temper when asked what they are doing. The caste Hindu businessmen overfeed the voracious and greedy priests but deny even dry breads to the untouchables, who clean their dirts. Anand has exposed the corruptions prevailing among the affluent caste Hindus and for this purpose he applied irony and he is successful. Anand deserves compliment for exposing the hypocrisy of priests, businessmen, money lenders, shop owners, merchants and orthodox women of caste Hindu community.


      Anand is a novelist, social reformer, educationist, humanist and a benevolent and compassionate philanthropist with a mission who is concerned with the miserable plight of the untouchables, who are subject to live as pigs and dogs. The social pariahs are denied of most fundamental rights. They have to be quiet even if their daughters are raped and molested by a high-caste Hindu. They are indentured workers. E. M. Forster writers, “The sweeper is worse off than a slave, for the slave may change his master and his duties, may even become free, but the sweeper is bound forever, born into a state from which he cannot escape and where he is excluded from social intercourse and the consolations of his religion”. To realise his objective, he uses irony to highlight the plight of the social pariahs. Anand enlists our compassion for them and launches a campaign for social reform.

University Questions

Define irony; Anand has applied the elements of irony in his novel Untouchable to achieve his desired effects. Discuss.
“Since the social impulse is at the heart of Anand’s writing—he finds irony—which works largely through contrasting appearance with reality.” Justify the statement with reference to Untouchable.
Write a note an Anand’s use of irony in Untouchable.
“Really it takes human mind to evolve anything so devilish. No animal could have hit on it”. Explain with reference to the text of Untouchable.
“Pollution by touch and pollution from distance” is irony of Hindu tradition and culture. Elucidate.

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