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Archives > 4. What does the story reveal about Indian’s caste system and the way it determines people’s fates within the novel?

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message 1: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 3958 comments Mod
Some things to consider;
Post-Independence India has seen much religious and ethnic violence: for instance, the mutual slaughter of Hindus and Muslims after Partition (1947), during which Ishvar and Narayan saved Ashraf and his family, and the hunting down and killing of Sikhs after the Prime Minister's murder, witnessed by Maneck. How does the behavior of the characters in the novel, ordinary Hindus, Parsis, and Muslims, contrast with the hatred that inspired these terrible acts? How much of this hatred seems to be fomented by political leaders? Dukhi observes bitterly "that at least his Muslim friend treated him better than his Hindu brothers" [p. 115]. What does this say about ethnic and religious loyalties, as opposed to personal ones?

People at the bottom of the economic heap frequently blame so-called middlemen: people like Dina, who makes her living through other people's labor, or like Ibrahim the rent collector. Do such middlemen strike you as making money immorally? Who are the real villains?

The novel gives us a vivid picture of life for members of the untouchable caste in remote villages. Why might such an apparently anachronistic system have survived into the late twentieth century? Does it resemble any other social systems with which you are acquainted? Why do so few of its victims fight the system, as Narayan does? Why do so few leave the village: is it from necessity, social conservatism, respect for tradition?


message 2: by Anna (new)

Anna Fennell | 107 comments The real villains are the corrupt political figures and the corrupt people in authority. They have created a society where treating people immorally is considered the norm where greed is more important than humanity.

I think that tradition and a lack of a proper educations plays a part into the caste system in remote villages. If no one has seen someone change their fate, then why would they try.


message 3: by Book (new)

Book Wormy | 1922 comments Mod
The villains in the novel are the politicians with power and those who have money to abuse the system and the poor.

I also felt that Beggarmaster was making money immorally.

Ibrahim was a different matter he needed to work to provide for his family but in the end it destroyed him.

I don't blame Dina for what she did after her tragic life it was the only way to escape and maintain independence and she softened eventually and really cared about the tailors.


message 4: by Eadie (last edited Mar 23, 2016 07:28PM) (new)

Eadie (eadieburke) I agree with Book in regards to the politicians are to blame and the Beggarmaster making money immorally.

Thanks for the information Shuva. I am also ignorant of how the caste system works in India.


message 5: by Pip (new)

Pip | 1357 comments The caste system is proving difficult to alter. India is a democracy and a complicated and messy one. Change is difficult to implement. in contrast China was able to edict a one child policy and mostly people conformed. Such wholesale societal changes are more difficult in India, for example the sterilisation programme as described in the novel. England still has a three tier class system despite the best political attempts to change.


message 6: by Josh (new)

Josh | 13 comments The real villain is me. When I say that, I mean everyone. When we always look at evil as something that is outside of me, we won't be able to address it in ourselves. If I don't see it in myself, I will reason it away, blame it on others while everyone else does the same to me. Essentially, human nature will always revert to Darwin's theory, "survival of the fittest." Kill or be killed. The caste system is just an outworking of the evil we have in ourselves to want to survive at any cost. So, who is to blame for the evils of the caste system? Me. That is the only satisfactory answer.

I'm getting into uncomfortable territory here, but I think you see similar things in pure capitalism, abortion, racism, social media trolling, etc. All of these things are ways that we elevate ourselves at others' expense. If we can be higher on the food chain, we don't need to deal with the evil we see in ourselves. It is human nature, and when you get a lot of humans in a small space (think urban settings), you get to see the ugliness come out. And this novel shows this in a vivid way.

I think the only way out of the Darwinian spiral downward is to see your value in something outside of yourself.


message 7: by Connie (new)

Connie D | 91 comments Going back to the original questions, the slaughter of Hindus and Muslims was horrendous (and something I didn't know about until this book). I like the way the book reminds us that each person is an individual making individual choices (within their restrictive means, of course). They certainly experience hate and anger, but in most of the cases they seem to choose personal relationships (including with nature and places) over political or religious fervor.

It's certainly hard to believe that the caste system has survived this long, but it's so ingrained that it would feel nearly impossible to fight against. Ishvar and Narayan's father was unusually clever (and brave) to apprentice his boys as tailors, an out-of-the-caste choice. So, I guess it's not so surprising that his son, Narayan, would be one of the even braver ones to fight the system physically as well. How many of us who value our lives as they are fight hard against injustice (in whichever country we live in)? So many other aspects of life keep us busy, including, for the untouchables, the business of survival.

I don't, incidentally, see the middlemen as the monsters. The rent collector and Dina are just trying to get by too. Dina worked herself as hard as her tailors until her eyes started going; it's not a matter of setting out to take advantage of others for the sake of money, and she at least supplies them some money (unlike Ashraf's "friend" the tailor and every other tailor they applied to).


message 8: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Robitaille | 904 comments I echo those who mentioned that, despite changes to gradually eliminate the caste system, discrimination still occurs in India on the basis of your origins, whether caste or religion.


message 9: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 3958 comments Mod
I agree with those that have mentioned that even if castes etc have been made illegal the disparity continues and I also agree that it was very disheartening that those who had some kind of power could hurt others for greed and money. So sad.


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