Untouchable opens with a shot of the outcaste’s colony. Anand gives us a thick description of the home of Bulashah’s outcastes by describing not only the visual appearance of the colony, but also the types of people that live there and their living conditions. For example, besides the sweepers, the colony is also home to “the scavengers, the leather-workers, the washermen, the barbers,” etc. They live in “mud-walled” houses near a fetid, rank brook filled with the filth of the public latrines (Anand 16).
The smells of the colony are also described in explicit details. The air is polluted by “the odour of the hides and skins of dead carcasses left to dry,” the dung of various livestock “heaped up to be made into fuel cakes,” and human waste. As the reader reads on it's as if the “biting, choking, pungent fumes ooz[ing]” from the colony is constricting their breathing in addition to the characters' (Anand 16).
Anand uses a multitude of gerunds to craft a mental image of how the Hindu and Muslim peoples perform their ablutions. For example, they are “crouching by the water, rubbing their hands, with a little soft earth; washing their feet, their faces; chewing little twigs bitten into the shape of brushes”(Anand 34). The morning routines of the different people are so similar that Bakha uses their clothing to tell them apart, which is a direct reference to the "you are what you wear" theme. The "rejection of Indian roots" theme is also present when Bakha judges his fellow Indians for their loud “gargling and spitting” with the gaze of a condescending Englishman (Anand 35).
Bakha vs. the High-Caste Man
Bakha’s altercation with the high-caste man in Bulashah’s square is the climax of Untouchable and therefore is painstakingly depicted. The onlookers that gather around to contribute to Bakha’s public shaming belie the anger of the touched man. Their combined shouts and jeers come together in a cacophonous, mob-like scene. This is juxtaposed with Bakha’s mortification, humility, fear, and general paralysis. In the face of everyone’s anger, he is paralyzed. The narrator offers us a window into Bakha’s inner turmoil, into the “queer stirring” of the boy’s heart and his feeling that every second of the incident was an “endless age” (Anand 95).
The actual moment the high-caste man slaps Bakha is “seen” through the perspective of a passing Muslim merchant. The man hears a “sharp, clear slap” pierce the air. After that, we flash back to Bakha so we can witness his reaction. Not experiencing the slap from Bakha’s point of view creates a bit of distance between the reader and the event. For example, we aren’t privy to Bakha’s physical pain from the strike, only to his psychological and emotional pain. We don’t feel the red-hot pain on his cheek, but we can feel the red-hot rage “smouldering… in his soul” (Anand 98). This is important because it shifts the attention from the physical implications of the slap to its metaphysical import.
There are a myriad of sights, sounds, and feelings during Gandhi’s speech. The very air seems to tingle with “electric shocks” pulsing through it (Anand 280). Words and phrases like “mass of humanity” are used to illustrate the sheer overwhelming size of the gathered crowd (Anand 280). Similarly, Anand uses specific language to detail the sounds of Gandhi’s address. Particular attention is paid to the reverent silence of the crowd and the “faint whisper” of Gandhi’s voice (Anand 282). Finally, several figures of speech are used to describe Bakha’s feelings during the speech. For example, the moment when Gandhi confesses he loves scavenging, Bakha feels “thrilled to the very marrow of his bones” (Anand 287). Of course, this is not meant literally, but rather that Gandhi’s confession strikes at Bakha’s emotional core deeply.
Untouchable Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Untouchable is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
An 18-year-old Indian youth, Bakha is a sweeper and the protagonist of Untouchable. Strong and able-bodied, he is fascinated by the life and ways of India’s English colonizers. His position as an untouchable has resulted in...
Considered revolutionary because of how it champions the cause of the untouchables and exposes India’s social evils, Untouchable was well received and highly regarded both domestically and abroad. Within India, it caused a generation of educated...