Justify The European Characters in The Novel Coolie

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Allegation of Caricature

      Some critics are of the opinion that Anand’s English characters are failures, that they are, more caricatures and not creatures of flesh and blood. Infact, it is doubtless that Anand has a Dickens-like eye for the idiosyncrasies and grotesqueries of characters, and this quality of his genius is seen even in his Indian characters. The wife of Nathoo Ram, Bibi Uttam Kaur and Sir Todar Mal and Lady Todar Mal have elements of caricature in their presentation. However, in the presentations of English characters the charge that these characters are mere caricatures rather than creatures of flesh and blood, is truly justified.

English Characters in Bombay Phase

      There is no doubt that English characters in the Bombay chapter are caricatures. Commenting upon the English characters Maurice Brown says, “haven’t the terrible impersonality which most of the book has”. This is infact, right that all minor characters are inclined to caricatures, since this is how they would appear to the masses. After the tantalizing realism with which he brings to life his Indian characters, Jimmie Thomas, Mr. Little and Sir Reginald White appear flat by comparison.

Anand’s Biased Attitude: His Lack of Compassion

      Anand’s English characters are supposed to be mere caricatures because of his prejudices and biases, except the lonely character, Mr. W.P. England. This is quite an admitted fact that Anand’s prejudices and biases explain his failure with the English characters, the sole exception being Mr. W.P. England. But then, Mr. England is the only English character in the novel who is new to India, holds an unimportant job and, as Anand tells us, has not yet had the opportunity to follow the exhortations of his compatriots and ‘show himself off as the son of King George himself if need be’. In the Daulatpur chapter, Dr. Marjoribanks is described as ‘a short, fat man, about forty bald-headed and prim’, who like most Englishmen in India, played tennis, cricket, polo, drank whisky and tried to retain the affections of his wife.....The English Inspector of police who makes a brief entry and can hardly be referred to as a character, allows Prabha to be foully whipped’. “Now, it in not always true that the English police officers were more honest and just than their
Indian counterparts, but nothing is here achieved by showing that the English police officer is callous and brutal. Had Anand shown the English officer as upholding the law and trying to put some restraint on the Indian policemen, he would have weakened his case against British misrule and at the same time he would have revealed himself as unbiased”.

Jimmie Thomas and Mrs. Thomas

      Jimmie Thomas is the head foreman of the Cotton Mill, Bombay. He is a thoroughly repulsive character. Anand portrays him as ‘a massive man with a scarlet bulldog face and a small waxed moustache, his huge body dressed in a greasy white shirt, greasy white trousers and a greasy white polo topee’. He treats the factory workers as if they were animals. He kicks, beats and abuses them at will. He uses foul words while speaking to the workers. He refers to Hari as a ‘stupid bullock’. He is also so greedy that he charges every worker in the mill a price for the gift of a job—a price which increases if there are more workers available against the vacancies to fill. He also runs the business of money lender and the interest he charges is one fourth of the amount. He is the virtual master of the factory. He works as an agent of the employer who engages workers, he is the god, for the workers, on whose mercy the workers depend for the security of their jobs.

      In contrast to Mr. Jimmie Thomas his wife Mrs. Thomas has been depicted by the novelist as a dried-up small woman with streaks of grey mixed with her shock of brown hair. Mr. Little, the Manager of Sir George White’s Cotton Mill, is fussy; nervous man, who orders a Parsee messenger-boy to take a fly-killer and strike a fly when it settles anywhere in the room. The obedient Parsee lad swats the fly when it settles on the forehead of Mr. Little. The way Anand has created the scene makes the English look ridiculous. The Mill owner Sir Reginald White is a character who has been described in the earlier editions of Coolie as a ‘small round man, with a weather-beaten face, streaked with ruptured veins. It again makes his character a ridiculous one. But in the Badley Head edition, Anand has made his presence felt describing him as ‘a tall and well built man with a rather handsome face’.

Application of Expressionistic Device

      Anand is charged that his English characters are failures. This, of course, results partly from a lack of sympathy and partly from his attempts at expressionistic devices. Anand, through his art, The Story of My Experiment with a White Lie, comments on the urge to express oneself at all costs, in an absolute manner, so as to expose the ugliness of life by deliberately dramatising, even through distortion, the non-human realities which impinged on one from all sides. To quote Saros Cowasjee, “It was a kind of expressionism which I began to share with some of the painters I know in London at that time. O’ Casey too made similar attempts with unhappy results as can be seen from plays like Oak Leaves and Lavender and The Star Turns Red. Instead of giving universality to their characters through expressionistic devices, they ended up drawing one dimensional characters. Curiously, both Anand and O’ Casey use expressionism for delineating their characters”

Mrs. Mainwaring

      Mrs. Mainwaring belongs to Anglo-Indian community. To quote Prof Naik “As an Anglo-Indian, she is a house divided against itself, the passionate blood of her pagan Indian grandmother in her being at perpetual war with the European-Christian horror of the flesh and sex instilled into her by her convent schooling”

      Mrs. Mainwaring is presented as a lady of loose character. She indulged in a strange, furtive surreptitious promiscuity. She gave herself to people at feast felt impulse and regretted having done so afterwards. Thus, she is a satire on the vanities and vulgarities of the Anglo-Indian community who considers England to be her home and tries to become pucca in various unnatural ways. Anand has provided much space for showing her character. It is rightly quoted “She is one of the fleas in a world of big fleas and little fleas and lesser fleas created by British Imperialism.” She does not develop the sense of integrity of her character because of her moral laxity and immoral relations. Anand says “If her mind had not been reacting against the deep rooted belief in the sin of sex, she might have had an integrity of character which would have saved her from the onslaughts of all these men, but, vacillating between a belief she felt to be wrong and a desire which was continually insistent, she became a bitch to all the hounds that prowled round her bungalow.” However, Mrs. Mainswaring is good at heart and she gives Munoo lift in her car when he is knocked down by the car and inspite of her chauffeur’s interference she brings him back to Simla and employs him as her page-cum-rickshaw-puller and takes good care of him when he falls sick.


      In a nutshell, Anand’s English characters, the sole exception being Mr. W.P. England, are depicted to look ridiculous, almost clownish in the novel. Their characteristics have been exaggerated and they make their presence little felt in the novel.

University Questions

How could you justify that ‘Anand’s European characters are caricatures?
Critically examine that Anand is failure with his English characters.
What are the various facets of Anand’s European characters?

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