Untouchable: The Proletariat Cycle of Dependency

“The outcastes were not allowed to mount the platform surrounding the well, because if they were ever to draw water from it, the Hindus of the three upper castes would consider the water polluted. Nor were they allowed access to the near- by brook as their use of it would contaminate the stream. They had no well of their own because it cost at least a thousand rupees to dig a well in such a hilly town as Bulashah. Perforce they had to collect at the foot of the caste Hindus’ well and depend on the bounty of some of their superiors to pour water into their pitchers” (Anand, 20).

Anand , Mulk Raj. Untouchable . London, United Kingdom: Penguin Books, 1940.

This passage symbolizes the cycle vulnerability and dependency enforced on the proletariat. The only way poor people can get water is with the help and permission of higher caste members. They can’t get it for themselves because they are “dirty”, and they can’t make their own well as they have no money. They live and die by those who have money, and the only way they can ever have anything, even that which they need to survive, is by the “generosity” of those who have already depraved them of everything. It’s a cycle that reinforces the idea that they are weak and need the rich to survive, and it allows for the rich to comfortable keep their power and money without fear of retaliation.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neal Hurston: Janie’s New Life in the South

“Sometimes Janie would think of the old days in the big white house and the store and laugh to herself. What if Eatonville could see her now in her blue denim overalls and heavy shoes? The crowd of people around her and a dice game on her floor! She was sorry for her friends back there and scornful of the others. The men held big arguments here like they used to do on the store porch. Only here, she could listen and laugh and even talk some herself if she wanted to. She got so she could tell big stories herself from listening to the rest. Because she loved to hear it, and the men loved to hear themselves, they would “woof” and “boogerboo” around the games to the limit. No matter how rough it was, people seldom got mad, because everything was done for a laugh” (Hurston 128).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.

Janie’s life in the south is almost a polar opposite from what she experienced in the North. She is in love with her husband, more independent, and happier. What this passage particularly highlights is how Janie pities those back in Eatonville, even though they would probably pity her too if they saw how she lived. It’s interesting to see how differently the characters find reasons to pity each other and to believe that one is trapped or wasting away in the lifestyle they have chosen.

Form in Jean Toomer’s, “Cane”

“Black horses drive a mower through the weeds,/
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds,/
… I see the blade,/
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade”. (Toomer 6)

Toomer, Jean. Cane. Boni and Liveright, 1923.

“Reaper” in Jean Toomer’s, Cane, utilizes an AABB rhyme scheme and a number of commas to give the poem an eerie tone and vivid imagery, showing the grizzly loss of an innocent life for the simple act of cutting grass. This symbolizes the idea of African American slave lives lost for the South’s agricultural profit and growth.

“Whose Body?” and Societal Obligations

“No, Bunter, I pay you £200 a year to keep your thoughts to yourself. Tell me, Bunter, in these democratic days, don’t you think that’s unfair?”

“No, my lord.”

“You don’t. D’you mind telling me frankly why you don’t think it unfair?”

“Frankly, my lord, your lordship is paid a nobleman’s income to take Lady Worthington in to dinner and refrain from exercising your lordship’s undoubted powers of repartee.”

Lord Peter considered this.

“That’s your idea, is it, Bunter? Noblesse oblige—for a consideration. I daresay you’re right. Then you’re better off than I am, because I’d have to behave myself to Lady Worthington if I hadn’t a penny.”

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009. isbn: 9780486473628.

This dialogue between Lord Peter and his butler, Bunter, highlights the idea of  role of the individual within society. Bunter essentially tells Lord Peter that they are the same; both are paid to fulfill social obligations and expectancies of them, and that it’s their ‘noblesse oblige’; or, the responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged. It illustrates that, in a way, no one is different from each other as we all must play specific roles and parts within society, and that is simply how life is.

“Worshipping Proportion”, Connection in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

“Worshipping proportion, Sir William not only prospered himself but made England prosper, secluded her lunatics, forbade childbirth, penalised  despair, made it impossible for the unfit to propagate their views until they, too, shared his sense of proportion” (Woolf 99).

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Benediction Classics, Oxford, 2017, pp. 99.

Sir William’s intense need for proportion and his abusive treatment methods serves as a comment for English society’s conformist nature and for society as a whole. In treating his patients, Sir William is oppressing them and worsening their conditions, as he alienates them from others, punishes their emotions and regards them as lesser beings. This is a comment for how English society forces conformity amongst its citizens, to display only the best of themselves and to deny any negative or unpleasant feelings they may have, especially those who had returned from WWI. But, it also shows how societies in general expect its peoples to maintain certain ideas and behaviors, and anything less will have them deemed at sick, undesirable, and unfit to participate with others.

Stephen’s Fulfillment; Art and Artistry

“He felt his cheeks aflame and his throat throbbing with song. There was a lust of wandering in his feet that burned to set out for the ends of the earth. On! On! his heart seemed to cry. Evening would deepen above the sea, night fall upon the plains, dawn glimmer before the wanderer and show him strange fields and hills and faces” (Joyce 122).

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Dover Publications, 1994

Stephen’s urge to sing emphasizes how much more he wants from his life. He is trying to force himself to live a life of intense piety, relying on religion as a sole means of fulfilling his needs. However, it is only causing him to feel deep resentment for religion itself and those around him. Art is a motivator for him; a way to explain and understand life, and to feel he has a purpose within it. When he can begin to accept the fact that he does not need to be solely defined by God or by restrictive and oppressive behaviors, he can begin to heal and grow as a person, and truly contribute his talent to the world.

Henry James, ‘The Middle Years’ Book Entry

‘His book was a novel; it had the catchpenny cover, and while the
romance of life stood neglected at his side he lost himself in that of the circulating library’ (James 336).

James, Henry. ‘The Middle Years’. Terminations, Scribner’s Magazine, 1893, pp. 335–55.

Dencombe’s observation of the three beach goers represents the idea of mortality. The young man reading the book is unable to realize that something just as exciting as his story is happening right next to him because he is so enraptured by wild ideas and fantasies found within stories. ‘His book was a novel’ is not only talking about the young man’s book, but his own life. It means his life is also a story, a story that he has to shape and write himself for it to be just as enjoyable and fulfilling as the books he losses himself in, reminding Dencombe and readers that life is fleeting and we do not get 2nd chances to properly enjoy it.