Comparative study of Mark Twain’s Racism and Mulk Raj Anand’s Marginalism

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Comparative study of Mark Twain’s Racism and  Mulk Raj Anand’s Marginalism

by – M. Sree Lakshmi Ratnam, Vol. III, Issue. XXXIII



            The attempt in this article is to draw a comparative study of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable. Both the authors had a realistic and humanitarian approach in portraying the social political and economic issues. They projected the common man’s problems of the society.  I tried to draw similarities between the racial issues in America and the caste issues in India which were the main problems during the authors’ times. The authors tried to project these ideas of need for new ideologies in their writings. The protagonists in the novels are children who belonged to the lower strata of the society.

            Mark Twain belonged to the nineteenth century when there was slavery in Mississippi. He voiced his views on the treatment of blacks during his times. Slavery was considered as a property in the white families. They were not allowed to join the mainstream of the society and mostly worked in the plantation farms. They were not educated and were sold as commodities among the estate owners. They were subjected to harsh treatment and were given tedious and laborious low jobs. They were ill-treated by the whites who presumed that they were torchbearers of the Victorian ideologies. The colour was one of the major issues of Mark Twain’s times.

Mark Twain has portrayed the social injustice in his well-acclaimed novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. His satire on the society is well portrayed in this novel with two main characters, one Huckleberry Finn and two Jim. Jim is a slave in the novel who is treated as property and Huckleberry Finn is an uneducated Black with modern ideas of humanity. Mark Twain depicts the evils of the society like hypocrisy, injustice, racism and greed that has afflicted the society in the name of industrialization. The book opens with the introduction of Huck as the friend of Tom Sawyer, who is a white. Widow Douglas adopts him to ‘sivilize’ him but he feels suffocated in learning the lessons of good etiquettes from both the Widow and Miss Watson. There is sarcasm in the description of the characters like Widow Douglas, Miss Watson, Colonel Granger Ford, Shepardson, and other whites.

Huck views the world around him realistically. He accepts the society as it is and always battles with his inner natural freedom with the values he learns from the society. He accepts his father as he is and is aware of the societal discriminations. Mark Twain through the dialect of the Negroes expresses Huck’s naive observations of the society which are stark realities in a true sense. Huck is portrayed as a boy who comes from a lower class and is parented by a drunken father who occasionally takes care of him. He is a homeless independent boy and cleanliness is not his nature. He was not trained in religious or social values like Tom Sawyer, his friend who belonged to the white community. The author also projects the general ignorance of the slaves and the inhumanity through Huck’s actions of cheating, escaping, telling lies which are not viewed as a fault and they are justifiable because of his lifestyle and the upbringing. The dilemma Huck faces in protecting Jim exhibits the struggle that the blacks faced in finding the respectable place in the society.

Jim is another important character in the novel. He is the slave of Miss Watson. Huck protects Jim from getting entangled into the existing system of slavery. Jim is separated from his wife and children and craves to meet his family. He runs away from Miss Watson with a hope to unite with his family. Jim is honest, innocent gullible, and simple. But he is strong in his convictions and superstitious. Though he seems superstitious his grip over the knowledge of nature’s behaviour when he stays in Jacksons Island with Huck depicts the raw intelligence of man. He believes Huck fully. His love, trust, friendship and loyalty for Huck till the end of the novel are noteworthy. He does not want Huck to cry over his dead father and so asks Huck not to see the face of the dead man. He becomes the fatherly figure for Huck. He has been hardened by the society and his behaviour and actions replicate his conditioned upbringing. He understands the societal constraints and associated fears that the society has imposed on the slaves. He is realistic like Huck and acts maturely and cautiously in the society.

Mulk Raj Anand, one of the Indian writers depicted problems faced in the lower caste of the traditional Hindu society. He was concerned about the differences that prevailed in India during his times. The dogmatic situations were strongly depicted in his work Untouchable. The main character Bhaka in the novel is a portrait of the downtrodden people of his times. He performed menial jobs as a sweeper in a fictitious town Bulashah. Anand projected the orthodoxy and superstitious beliefs of the society which made the life of the lower class people miserable. He voiced the Gandhian views of equality and unity in this fiction. Protagonists like Bhaka were marginalized during the British rule. Being a person of high-class society he brings out the stark realities of the caste system in Indian society.

Bhaka works as a sweeper forcibly. He cleans the filth of the society being born in a low-class family. He is harshly woken by his father to start working. He listens to Gandhi’s struggle for equality and unity. He sees his sister being ill-treated by the priest when she goes to draw water from the nearby well. All this disturbs him. He is attracted by Havaldar Charat Singh who allows him to touch his things. There was no restriction and this moves Bhaka. He is excited to receive the hockey stick from Charat Singh. People like Charat Singh and Gandhi worked to uplift the morale and status of these kinds of people. Colonel Hutchinson invites Bhaka to the church telling him that Colonel’s religion is beyond the social differences. But Colonel’s wife objects him by calling Bhaka “blackie”. Bhaka is again humiliated and leaves the place.

He hears the conversation of two educated friends on the issues of untouchability and introduction of flush toilets. This arouses hope in him and he returns with confidence that there would be change very soon. People like Charat Singh, Gandhi, worked against caste system and that gave solace to people like Bhaka expecting a change. Anand has nakedly projected the treatment of the lower class people of his times. Anand translates the colloquial words of the language to give effect to his expressions.

Writers used their vernacular language to express their philosophical ideas. Mark Twain in his book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses the Negro dialect to project the differences that existed in the form of racism in the nineteenth century America. Anand depicts Marginalism by using the translation of colloquial words. The authors displayed the concern over the problems associated with the less privileged class of the society. The stark realities of the society were projected in both the works.

Mark Twain’s protagonist Huck, understands his limitations as a black in the circumstances. He is projected as a sensible boy compared to Jim, the fatherly figure of Huck, and acts accordingly when he tries to save Jim from slavery hoping for a better future. Jim succumbs to the societal pressures of racism. Huck’s decision to save Jim is the freedom of Blacks from slavery which Mark Twain foresees in future. Mulk Raj Anand in similar grounds portrays Bhaka as a “gentleman”. Unlike his father, Lakha who succumbs to the communal pressures of marginalism, Bhaka is a boy who displays the ray of hope from freedom of treacherous caste systems. Both the authors believed in equality and echoed them in their works.

Child image is another similarity that both the authors have used to depict the social negative factors. Child fo them is the symbol of future ideas of the youth. Huck, a Negro, tries to fight against racial differences in the society. When Huck undergoes the process to “Sivilize” he gets choked with the rules and customs imposed on him by Widow Douglas and Miss Watson and finds solace in the company of Tom who does not insist on so-called civilized behaviour. Bhaka is a boy who questions his father of the plight of his low lifestyle in the society.  Bhaka feels uneasy when his sister is ill-treated and finds solace in listening to the speech of Gandhi and the conversations of educated persons about the changes in society.

Mark Twain depicts the society clinging to hypocritical Victorian ideologies which impede man from true progress. These ideologies display the emptiness of man and man’s lust and greed and superficiality of life. Mark Twain through satire makes fun of these ideologies. Mark Twain in his work projects man who fails to understand the true humaneness and gives more importance to the superficialities. The child displays the true humaneness through his actions and deeds. Anand projects the hypocrisy of orthodoxy and the superstitions of the society which hampers man from understanding the true essence of Hinduism. The untouchables are not allowed to draw the water from the well and they are provided only at the mercy of the upper castes. Water a natural resource cannot be polluted by a mere touch of the well. The orthodoxy detriments the spiritual progress of man. The lust and greed make man blind to see the inner Light.

Another striking resemblance is the discussion of social political and economic forces that worked on the society for a change. They governed the independence of the people. Huck’s father was a drunkard and used whatever little he earned through begging or by stealing. He hardly bothered of Huck. Huck had to fend for himself if he had to pull on his life. Huck’s father was harsh to Huck and so Huck grew as a carefree boy and joins Tom Sawyer where he finds comfort. Bhaka’s father harshly wakes up Bhaka reminding him of his menial job. Bhaka goes to work disinterestedly and feels happy when he receives hockey stick from Charat Singh and plays with the stick with his friends.

The society that Mark Twain depicted was the time when industrialization dawned in the south of America. The society was shattered by the liberal and rational awareness, the progressive views of industrialization, and the importance of upholding the dying Victorian ideologies. The institution of slavery was one of the burning issues during the nineteenth century. Mark Twain through this book instigated the social transformation and progress. Anand in his book exhibited the social economic political factors that had a strong impact on the people. The struggle for unity and equality in India to fight against the foreign rule did influence people to work towards progress. The thought of introducing flush system is a sign of industrial progress to uplift the lives of the low caste people.

Both the authors had the sense of realistic and humanistic approach in their writings. They were concerned about the social values and true justice which were deprived of to wider section of the society. America was influenced by industrialization, fraternity, liberalization. The existing social order was suffocated with injustice and Victorian superficialities. The society was confused with the old social order and dawn of modernism. This change affected the common man and the youth. The society went in search of new openings and it was more so in the youth who opted for the new lifestyle which made life easy. Slavery was one of the taboos which reached its pinnacle during this time as it was difficult or the Blacks to find their place in the society. The whites suppressed the growth of the Blacks for two reasons one the colour and two they lived the present and had no specific ideologies of their own.

In India, there were many divisions that the society had to fight for in the name of caste, creed, religion, superstitions and the external rule. The society was shattered by dogmatism, progress that the foreign rule ushered in and the conflict that the society faced in the form of oppression, exploitation and marginalism. This change showed its impact on the common man and more so in the lower strata of the society. The youth were influenced by these changes and the struggle for internal freedom was against hypocrisy, despotism, exploitation within the country and collective struggle for freedom from foreign rule.

  Both the authors ushered new thoughts and ideas through their writings leaving the reader to ponder over the existing dogmas of their times.  Both the authors have portrayed the protagonists who belonged to that part of the society which was not allowed to work with mainstream of the society. They had the urge to create a new social order by analyzing the existing socio-economic system. The authors portrayed the stories in an imaginative manner but they are so realistic that they are lifelike and the readers get connected to the situations. The vivid and metaphorical descriptions display the lifestyle of the common man which tends to be didactic. Authentic life experiences are moulded accordingly to develop a concern towards the lives of the common people.

Introduction to the Author: 

M. Sree Lakshmi Ratnam is a research scholar, department of English, Rayalaseema University, Kurnool. She is doing her research under the guidance of Sarat Babu.


Neilson, Keith. Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. U.S.A.: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., 1985

Blair, Walter. Mark Twain and Huck Finn. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962.

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable, India, Penguin Books. 2001

Bhatnagar, Manmohan K. The Novels of Mulk Raj Anand A Critical Study, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors. 2000.

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