Munoo: Character Analysis in The Novel Coolie

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An Impersonal Creation

      Munoo is the central character in Mulk Raj Anand’s Coolie. He is a true representative of toiling, suffering, and starving millions of India. However, Anand is of the view that he represents the wretched plight of the teeming millions of India. Some critics are of the opinion that he is of a stature comparable with some great juvenile characters in literature like Dickens’ David Copperfield; Victor Hugo’s Gavroche and Mark Twain’s Huck Finn. Anand’s character Munoo is a triumph of characterisation in Indo-Anglian fiction. He becomes a tragic protagonist but his passivity prevents him from possessing a tragic character. According to R. Shepherd, “All of Anand’s heroes are typically youthful, energetic, sensitive and idealistic people possessing an awareness of the follies, injustices, as well as the hypocrisies rampant in a traditional and caste-bound society.”

Passive Suffering

      Munoo is an orphan boy hardly fourteen years of age. His father died when he was a mere child and he was brought up by his uncle in poverty and squalor. He has visions of his mother grinding corn all the time and finally, she breathed her last due to hunger and overwork. He inherited suffering and he saw suffering throughout his life being a passive victims of society He emerges as a tragic character but all his potentialities of good actions are hampered in the time of social and economic exploitation. We find that he is not always passive. He faces the challenge and does not give in easily In Sham Nagar he fights with some other servants who are using abusive words for his mistress and he manages to give a blow or two to his assailants. His uncle also tortures him badly but he does not utter words of defiance to him, however, he abhors and abuses him strongly in his mind. He reacts fiercely whenever someone of his age maltreats him. In the very beginning he is the formidable rival of Jay Singh for leadership of the village boys. When Jay Singh mocks at him, he smiles but his smile seemed to say ‘if it wasn’t my last day here, I would give you such a sock on the jaw that you would never dare to aspire to the leadership of the boys.’ When Babu’s daughter Sheila humiliates and insults him, Munoo reacts forcefully and bites her on the cheek, although he has to undergo terrible beatings. Thus, Munoo may be passive but he is bold and courageous in his outlook. He decides to go to talk to Chimta Sahib for getting Ratan employed in the factory as he was dismissed from the job by him. Whenever he has lacked his courage, it is not because of his passiveness but it is the part of his situation.

No Self Growth

      Munoo is a very significant character of Mulk Raj Anand, however, he is meant to be a flat creation in the sense that he does not change and undergo any development in the course of the novel. As M.K. Naik points out, “His character is basically the same throughout the novel. There is no evolution of his inner self.” But here the question is that Munoo is a boy of hardly fourteen years of age so, there is a little chance to change himself. His character is presented only in relation to his society and environment. Briefly stating he is the slave of circumstances and society in which he lives his life. He is exploited wherever he is employed and made to work hard and died young, it is because he is poor and helpless.

Innocence in His Character

      Innocence is one of the best parts of Munoo’s life. Munoo’s goodness and innocence comes out naturally and he is ready to help others whenever and wherever he is able to do so. In the beginning he was curious to go to city life after completing in study and live there. It was because of his innocence and curiosity to know about the city life. His innocence is shown in his conversation and behaviour when he goes to fetch water from the well where he is encountered with his fellow servant Varma. When Varma showers abusive languages to his mistress, he gets angry and there takes place a quarrel between them. When Munoo relieves himself outside the kitchen of Babu Nathu Ram he is called a rustic since his innocence is mistaken for rusticity He is humiliated and maltreated however, he maintains his innocence. He wants to play with Sheila and her friends because of innocence in him.

      Peter Conventry says “through the child could be expressed the artist’s awareness of human innocence against cumulative pressures of social experiences, and this Anand has done through Munoo” Munoo’s innocence is a dominant trait of his character. Saros Cowasjee says, “The magic of the book is in Munoo’s innocence, in his native warm heartedness his love and comradeship, his irrepressible curiosity and zest for life”

Helpful Attitude

      Munoo is a helpful boy and helping others is in his instinct. He never gets away from his service and his readiness to serve others is shown in the novel. Prabha Dayal was a kind-hearted employer of Munoo in his factory. When he is deceived by his partner Ganpat he ran into debt. By the time of departure of Munoo to Kangra to work and help shows his helping attitude towards his master. Munoo’s readiness to help with sincerity and industry catches the attention of the elephant driver in the circus as it had done also in the case of Chota Sahib, who likes him and defends him in all his misfortunes. Munoo renders disinterested piece of service to Hari by not only saving his daughter who is trapped in the busy traffic but also by carrying both the children of the poor old labourer Hari Har for several miles till they reach the factory He would like to take Hari Har’s child to the hospital when one of his arms is injured. He is equally eager to extend his hands in the service of Mrs. Mainwaring. The constant readiness to work told upon his health. Hence, Munoo’s warm-heartedness, friendliness and cheerful love of life are the distinctive features which make him a kind person.

Compassionate and Co-operative

      Munoo possessed innate goodness. His nature is very sweet and lovely and gives no harm to others. Whenever he gets the opportunity to serve someone he does so with all his love and compassion. But he is exploited and overworked without any fault of his own. He has a dominant sense of comradeship. While he is working with the other servants in Prabha’s factory he has the feeling of oneness and thinks himself one, of the poor class. The other workers like Maharaja and others mix with him and are friendly to him. This someway relieves much of his suffering. “The only thing that relieved these fits of depression was the silent comradeship which existed between him and other coolies.” Hari Har becomes his intimate friend because of his friendliness and Ratan helps him a lot because of his same nature. Later, there is a warm friendship between him and Ratan. Throughout the novel he remembers his old village companions. He befriends those who come in his contact, because he is very social and friendly in nature.

His Heroic Characteristics

      Munoo is undoubtedly a heroic character in the real sense of the word. In his character there is true sense of heroism. He stoically suffers in hands of all. He is very patient and bears the troubles of the society to which he belongs. The society harasses him a lot without thinking about his life. The hero Munoo is beaten black and blue and he is beaten during the communal riots, but nowhere he shows any signs of being broken either in body or spirit upto the very last day of his life. He gives Varma several blows in a quarrel between the two. He is strong and sturdy and able to do every work. He is really a true son of the soil. He is morally very strong and therefore, he is seen in his heroic act of saving Hari’s son from being run over by a victoria in Bombay This act of Munoo wins the love of Hari Har and his wife, and he becomes the inseparable part of his family.

His Curiosity and Adventurous Qualities

      Munoo is a boy hardly fourteen years old. He is full of romantic curiosity and finds some of the things very interesting which are new discoveries for him. His curiosity to go to city grows from his schooling time. He comes to the city and several things fascinate him. He looks at everything new with excitement and wonder. He dreams of beautiful things to eat, beautiful clothes to wear, and beautiful toys to play with. He is most fascinated to see a phonogram and asks what is that singing. He then asks how does a man get into a box to sing. When he sees a railway engine, he thinks that it is a huge animal which is pulling a number of houses behind him. He calls a bicycle a two wheeled horse. He asks his uncle where the cattle of the city people graze and where they plough. His uncle tells that they are rich people and they do not have these things here. He again asks, “But how do they get their food, uncle?”

      Before he left for Bombay he dreamt of getting more and more gold there but the city did prove that his dream would not come true. He always takes interest in the life of the workers and the working of the machinery in the mill. He sees a beautiful scene of cine star in the middle of the road and he fixes his eye on it and he is suddenly knocked down by a speeding car. There are many other wonderful sights which attract him most. While he was coming from Bombay as an injured man, the road from Kalka to Simla seemed to Munoo to be a miracle as it belted the zigzag courses of fountains and rocks. He was also wonder-struck by the sight of railway train which somehow kept pace with this car.

      Munoo’s curiosity is also concerned with a spirit of adventure. The sights and the scenery which arouse curiosity in him on one hand and his sense of excitement on the other hand. Munoo’s heart lightened for a moment with the joy of seeing the sea for the first time in his life. Soon the blue-water way ran at his feet, below the railway bridges, and his heart throbbed to it.

      In the beginning of the novel, the novelist describes his idea about Munoo’s opinion. “There was the curious flutter of excitement in his heart, like the thrill of fear and happiness which had filled him when he first laid eyes on Sham Nagar—the fear of the unknown in his bowels and the stirring of hope for a wonderful life in the place he was entering”. The novelist mentions Munoo’s numerous desires and thus he gives us his thoughts as ‘I want to live, I want to know, I want to work, to work this machine,’ he again said, “I shall grow up and be a man, a strong man like the Wrestler...”

      Thus Munoo has zest for life. He does not lose his hopes and desires to be modern, which inspire with the spirit of adventure. He goes from place to place and endure much in Babu’s house, but when he is maltreated and humiliated at every step he runs away from his house. He reaches Daulatpur, Bombay, Simla with a view to make his life happy and successful.

      It is this spirit of adventure which takes him to the circus and the life of Bombay encourages him enter a grand restaurant to have a soda-water bottle and he did not hesitate to pay two-annas for it. It appears that he has developed modern outlook in his approach.

Laborious and Sincere

      Munoo is an important figures in the novel. He is physically strong and sturdy on the one hand and healthy and handsome on the other. He is, therefore, very laborious and hardworking, and very sincere in his work he is performing right from the beginning to the end of his life. He got chance to go to the city and he tried his best to prove his capacities but he was overworked and exploited under an adverse situation. In the very beginning he was interested in education and wanted to pass all his examinations before he could leave for the city. He was interested in machines and ready to learn to make machines himself. As a boy of fourteen years he can easily adapt himself to his circumstances. He was in practice of doing various odd jobs and adjusts himself to his work either as a servant, coolie or rickshaw-puller in no time. He never looses his patience and takes interest in whatever he does to the best of his ability. He is humiliated several times however, he bears all hardships all the while but he is hardly found shirker. When he runs away from Babu’s house it is not because of doing hardwork but that of excessive disgrace and humiliation that he received in his house. Munoo always takes a keen interest in Prabha’s factory and wants to co-operate with him in his difficult hours. Further he works as a coolie and works hard beyond his capacity. He works at the machines also quite efficiently. While he is working as a rickshaw puller he attends his jobs properly. Mrs. Mainwaring admits that she has taken over-work from the boy.

Sexual Relationship

      Munoo is a very innocent and warm-hearted and likable boy. He therefore, is sexually attracted by some of the woman. He has an illegal sexual relationship with Lakshmi, his co-partner’s wife while he is staying with him on the one hand and he has illicit sexual intercourse with Mrs. Mainwaring, an Anglo-Indian lady who has made him her domestic servant on the other. These two cases of sexual relationship has not been stated explicitly, but has been frequently suggested and hinted at. As far as the relation with Lakshmi is concerned, she is very kind to him whatever the reason may be. When Munoo returns home alone at midnight, Lakshmi is awake and waiting for him while the others are sound asleep.

      Lakshmi bent down upon him, with a wild light in her eyes and a warm flush on her cheeks. She kissed his forehead, murmuring in the faintest of whispers like an incantation: ‘We belong to suffering! we belong to suffering! My Love!’ And she lay down by his side and took him in her arms, pressing him to her bosom with a silent warmth which made him ache with the hurt of her physical nearness.

      Secondly, we meet across the lady Mrs. Mainwaring who willingly makes sexual relationship with the boy. His lithe limbs and brisk movement attracts her and she is used of making illicit intercourse with this boy. The other coolies request Munoo to leave the job of her mistress because he has not only to pull the rickshaw but also to satisfy her mistress.

‘Your mimsahib is no memsahib’, said one of the coolies. ‘No other Mem or Sahib in Simla would leave a card on her.’

‘I have nothing to do that’, said Munoo. ‘But you are only saying that about her because she did not alight from the rickshaw all the way up to mashobra!’

‘No, we are saying it for your good’, said the head coolie. You should leave her service, you have to attend on her and also drive the rickshaw’.

Munoo kept silence (silence, is half consent),

A Symbolic Character

      Bakha in Untouchable is far different from Munoo in Coolie. Bakha is kicked and abused for offending the laws of caste, but Munoo more as a coolie moves from place to place and chases his own work. He is also humiliated in the hands of some of the people who are dominating materialistically in the society. Munoo like Bakha, does not act but is acted upon by society. The coolie is overworked and exploited and cheated by his employers and lives in constant fear of losing his job.

      He does not face a kind of an old caste system, for he himself belongs to the second highest order of caste. The caste system is here much different, it is money that matters. The plight of Bakha is concerned with a system that has prevailed in India for centuries as the English are not responsible for it whereas the plight of Munoo is the direct result of British rule and due to industrial revolution. Munoo is a symbol for all those like him who migrate to city life for their betterment as Anand says “freedom to Munoo, as to millions of others, means no more than being beaten from pillar to post. Munoo represents suffering or struggle for status like many other boys in the society. That is why the novel is branded as epic of misery, the “Odyssey of Munoo, the coolie”.

A Promising Character

      Undoubtedly the character of Munoo is promising and convincing. Anand has deeply studied the Indian society and has seen it with his close eyes and therefore, he expresses the world through the eyes of a child, and this makes his character more real and ideal. As Saros Cowasjee writes, “Few writers apart from Trollope, Edmund Gosse, Goethe and Tolstoy have been able to recapture childhood effectively. Among them, Anand is closest to Tolstoy and, like Tolstoy, he has remarkable capacity for wonder which one also finds in Pushkin. Anand's portraits of children are remarkable for their authenticity, for he is able to describe the life of a child from within, from the child's point of view.” Hence Munoo possesses this quality in his character.


      Munoo is a fine characterisation in Indo-Anglican fiction. Munoo is one of the immortals of literature. According to Saros Cowasjee “He belongs with some of the endearing juvenile characters in modern literature; with Victor Hugo's Gavroche and Dickens’ David Copperfield; Munoo has great merits followed by and some demerit too. According to Dieter Riemanschneider, “Anand convey Munoo's lack of insight into the necessity of executing his duties in a manner expected from him by portraying his action as of having no effect on him, as being something indifferent to him”. He also charges him of alienation and says Munoo’s alienation is revealed in his self-accusation that he being an orphan must have been the cause of Hari’s bad luck. Munoo is the hero of this tragic novel, but he fails to be called a tragic hero because of his passivity in his approach. He has a zest for life but he does not act like what Baldia does in Untouchable.

      In a nutshell, Munoo is a hard-working travelling hero, suffering every vicissitude, good and bad, and enduring them all. This is the tale of all the coolies. Hence, Munoo is a universal character; representing whole section of the coolies of the Indian society.

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