Art of Characterisation in The Novel Coolie

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      E.M. Forster introduced popular new terms for an old distinction in discriminating between flat and round characters. According to Forster, A flat character is built around “a single idea or quality” and is presented in outline and without much individualized detail, and so can be fairly adequately described in a single phrase or sentence. A round, character is complex in temperament and motivation and is represented with subtle particularity; thus he is as difficult to describe with any adequacy as a person in real life, and, like most people, he is capable of surprising us.

Anand’s Art of Characterization

      Anand has humanised the English novel and he has enlarged its scope by introducing into it new themes and an entirely new set of characters. Says M.K. Naik in this connection “the novels and short-stories of Anand present a fictional world of people by a striking variety of characters, covering a wide area of Indian social and political scene, over a period of more than thirty years. Among the Indian novelists in English; it is perhaps Anand who gives us the most comprehensive picture of the Englishman in India during the colonial times”.

      Some are of the view that in terms of quality; characterization is certainly not Anand’s strong factor. However, this limitation does not apply to the heroes of the novels and to one or two characters in each novel who are comprehended more profoundly than the others. However, in terms of quantity Anand’s characterizations are impressive. This is in case of Coolie which is on an epical scale and has proper place for a very large number of characters. Thus it is one of most striking facts about Anand’s characterization in the novel Coolie that the grandeur of the canvas has appeared in an abundance of characters.

Anand’s Characterization: Different Cross Sections of Indian Society (His Gallery of Characters)

      There is no doubt that Anand’s characters represent different cross-sections of Indian society as well as some representatives of the colonial ruling class. In Coolie, he has represented almost all other levels of Indian society except for the top most section of Indian society. Iyengar describes Coolie as a character - novel in terms of Edwin Muir’s classification, since “it extends primarily in space: with the hero, the hill-boy Munoo, we move too, and follow his fortunes or rather misfortunes first with his uncle and aunt in his village, Bilaspur; then with the bank sub-accountant’s family at Sham Nagar, where Munoo works as a servant; then with Munoo’s benefactor, Prabha Dayal, and his wife in the incredible Cat Killer’s lane in the old feudal-city, Daulatpur; we are presently lost with Munoo in Bombay’s slums and Chawls and noise and madness and general filth and cases of splendour; and, lastly, with Mrs. Mainwaring at Simla, as her page and rickshaw-puller where he dies of consumption. The pace of the writing, as in Untouchable, is swift, and the scenes follow in quick succession. If Untouchable is the microcosm, Coolie is more like the macrocosm that is Indian society: concentration gives place to diffusion and comprehension, with several foci of concentration. Coolie is verily a cross-section of India, the visible India, that mixture of the horrible and the holy, the inhuman and the humane, the sordid and the beautiful. The general effect is panoramic, good and evil being thrown together as in actual life”.

Various Categories of Anand’s Characters (Classification)

      As the novel Coolie has abundant characters, therefore, it is possible to divide the characters into various categories from more than one point of view. The one kind of classification belongs to that of flat characters or institutional or typical characters. The other kind of classification belongs to round characters or representational characters. Most of the minor characters can be classified as representational characters: accurate portraits from real life. In the novel Coolie, we have an obvious categorization i.e. Indian characters and European characters. There are always some strong points and weak points within each category. These categories are, of course, all in addition to the prominent character, Munoo himself. Individual characters have strongly marked personal qualities which are sometimes carried to the extent of singularity. However, while depicting individual characters, Anand forgets the norm and goes on exaggerating the good and evil in them as if he cared a little of making his characters typical or even symbolic ones. While depicting the evil characters like the foreman Jimmie Thomas, Anand is most successful in his character creation, the good characters like Hari are also an example of successful character portrayal. Institutional characters may be defined as those who generally appear in groups and represent some particular class, institution or profession, or, are meant to typify some social evil.

      The institutional characters in the novel are represented through the village friends of Munoo, the servants in Sham Nagar, the exploited workers in the pickle factory in Daulatpur, textile workers in Bombay and rickshaw pullers in Simla. Although these characters do not play major role but they are important from the thematic point of view since they enable Anand to depict the poverty, evil, misery and corruption which are rampant in Indian society. While depicting representational characters or round characters Anand proves himself to be a pure artist, for he for a moment is oblivious of his deep-seated prejudices. Infact, it is Mr. England, in Coolie who is the most successful character of this type.

Anand’s English Characters

      The characters of Coolie have been, generally classified into Indian characters and English characters. Judging the characters from the point of view of Indian and English characters, one should note that there is often a marked prejudice or evidence of preoccupied ideology in the mind of the novelist. While portraying the character of Mr. England Anand does shows no trace of any anti-English feeling. While portraying the character of Jimmie Thomas, Anand is seen at his extreme patriotic prejudice and depicts him as an unredeemed monster. In the depiction of the character Mrs. Mainwaring, Anand voices the popular view of all Anglo-Indians as sexually promiscuous, she still is a highly successful creation, vivid lifelike and completely humane. To quote Saros in this context:

A strain of criticism of this author is that lie does not fully understand his English characters and that they are not convincingly sketched. But where in Indian fiction is there a more authentic picture of a colonial Englishman that we have in Mr. W.P. England in the second chapter? Only in chapter four where the milieu is Bombay does Anand caricature the English baronet and the English foreman. This is deliberately done, for it is precisely as they would appear to Indian eyes. The careless reader still viewing the world through Munoo’s eyes and relying on the tantalising realism of the earlier chapters is shocked for he has failed to see the subtle shift in technique and point of view on the author’s part...of the five English characters in the novel, only the two that fall in the Bombay chapter are caricatured, very much in the manner of the nineteenth-century Indian novel Fasana-i-Azad. Chapter four is wholly expres-sionistic in technique and is devoted to dramatising and universalising the basic theme—that of the fact of the natural man’s essential innocence. The reader who has failed to see the change in the point of view and the technique has no one but himself to blame.

Drawbacks of His Characters

      Anand is the most successful novelist to depict the characters the way they are most suited in his fictions. However, Anand’s characterization has two drawbacks though the extent of the draw-backs is sometimes exaggerated. One is that there is noticeable static quality in his characters. Although in his defence it may be said that development of character is not one of his main objectives as novelist, the static quality does create a certain borings and dissatisfied the readers interest. Says M.K. Naik, even the protagonist, Munoo, gives very little evidence of inner development through the course of the novel although he undergoes a variety of events and comes in contact with a large number of people in every phase of his life. As Naik sees Munoo’s experiences are harrowing enough to have brought about a total change in him but we observe no trace of it:

A sensitive and intelligent rustic adolescent, uprooted from the heaven of his native and thrown into the maelstrom of the varied urban world should undergo nothing short of total transformation of personality within the space of two years, which can actually constitute an age in terms of development at that impressionable period of this transformation there is no sign in Munoo. The charge brought by puberty and the loss of vitality consequent on the onset of disease are duly noted, but the inner development of Munoo is totally neglected.

      The second drawback in Anand is that his characters are not convincing human beings-blend of good and bad. Anand, like Dickens at his worst, almost invariably makes his characters either completely good or totally bad. The most glaring example of this in Coolie is the contrasted pair Prabha Dayal and Ganpat, the co-partner of his who are different from each other like day and night. It is unbelievable that one person could be always so innocent, passive and truthful like Prabha Dayal on the one hand, or so evil, wicked, inhuman and cheating as Ganpat on the other. In reality, such characters are also existing in life, as it is up to the artist to place them in a creative work and make them seem convincing.

His Technique of Characterization

      Anand s characters are depicted mainly through set of descriptions. However, it is not true in the case of Munoo who is brought to life through his actions and speeches and also through thoughts but once or twice in the novel. Most of the other characters are also not depicted through speeches and actions but they are mainly described by the novelist. However, in some of the cases it is clearly seen that a set of character descriptions is followed by a dramatic representation which bear it out. The significant example of this can be seen in Babu and his wife in Sham Nagar. On the other hand, the plentiful description can be seen in the portrayal of Mrs. Mainwaring, the description which in fact crosses the limits of reason. We are given little information about the parents of Munoo by the novelist while he feels it necessary to write about the grandparents, the parents, the successive husbands and the children of such insignificant character, functionally speaking, as Mrs. Mainwaring.

      Anand is a successful novelist who defends his characterization and his hero’s lack of complexity. One of such critics like R. Shepherd who finds that there is a great complexity of characterization beneath the charging moods of Anand’s work and that this has sometimes been seen as an aberration or inconsistency. He also agrees with two other critics, William Walsh and C.D. Narasimhaiah. As William Walsh is of the view that there is “a certain passivity on the part of the characters, apt no doubt when they are the victims of circumstances, which they so frequently are, but out of place in those parts of his work where the individual should be more energetically active in the working out of his own nature.”

      Shepherd also quotes the view of Narasimhaiah regarding Anand’s alleged propensity of perpetuating the fatalism of the part against which he has clearly set himself in all his novels. He is of the opinion that these critics regard Anand as a novelist on the ground of his views expressed in his non-creative writings rather than his creative writings. As a matter of fact, Anand’s essays raise expectations which are so lofty that it can hardly be fulfilled in any creative work. After all, R. Shepherd is right in his approach that there is a great complexity of characterization and hence it is not the distinguishing feature of Anand’s characters. Infact, his greatness as a character-creator is, perhaps, found in his minor characters much more than in his protagonists.

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