A Flight Of Pegions As A Realist Narrative English Literature Essay

Published: 2021-07-04 06:05:04
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Realism denotes an illustrious body of texts which form the core of the latter half of nineteenth-century literature and related arts, and which have both early antecedents and later descendants. As an artistic movement realism is the product and expression of the dominant mood of its time: a pervasive rationalist epistemology that turned its back on the fantasies of Romanticism and was shaped instead by the impact of the political changes as well as the scientific and industrial advances of its day. The earlier history of realism as a critical concept has been tracked by Rene Wellek in his article The Concept of Realism in Literary Scholarship. The realists’ encompassing motto is succinctly summarized in Balzac’s claim at beginning of Le Pere Goriot that ‘All is True’, which echoes the definition given in the mercure de France of 1826: ‘la literature du vrai’ (‘the literature of the true). The appearance of new literary ideals from the 1830s onwards reflects and corresponds to the changing face and spirit of Europe politically and socially. The political restructuring was in turn fostered by social factors such as the spread of literacy and especially, the increasing power of the bourgeoisie as it became enfranchised to vote and as it gained in economic stature as a result of commercial and industrial growth, which created greater affluence for it and greater hardships for the exploited labourers. A vivid picture of working conditions in the mid to later nineteenth century is depicted in the realist novels of that period. The bourgeoisie were the primary readers of realist writing, whose tone and content were geared to appeal to an audience convinced of its capacity to master the physical world. Of particular significance for the evolution of realism was the Daguerre- Niepce method of photography, presented in 1839, which facilitated a more exact reproduction of reality. It was in keeping with this mood that the realists placed truth-telling at the core of their beliefs, implying thereby a certain directness, simplicity and unadorned artless well attuned to the mid nineteenth –century preference for sober factuality. The reiterated emphasis on truth is the central motif of all contemporary views and reviews, even though the 1830s and the late 1880s. But the mission of ‘telling the truth’ about ordinary life is extremely difficult or hardly possible, and that too in the medium of words because they are so laden with associations and sometimes open to a spectrum of denotations.
According to Erich Auerbach, "the essence of realism lies in its complete emancipation from the classical doctrine of levels of representation". Through the emphasis on the flexibility and mingling of modes, he in effect shifted the criterion for realism from its subject matter to its literary treatment. He also underscored the importance of realism of both the political framework of action and the social signification of the figures. He put forward his theory that that realism denotes above all the serious portrayal of everyday occurrences among the lower social strata at a specific moment in the history of their time.
Realism presents a concrete, individualized figure embedded in the context of a particular place at a particular time. The impression of fidelity to life which it creates stems above all from the individualization and particularization of figures. As the salient underlying features of realism are established in socio- historical terms, realist works have a sound workable basis for identification. In a humanist tradition of realism, a work of art is perceived as stemming directly from a pre-existent order of reality. It is based on the fundamental Marxist belief that literature reflects social reality, whose phenomena serve as a model for the work of art. It possesses an aptitude to capture the relations between human beings and their world, between life and literature. Society at any given historical moment is conceived as performed raw material available for examination in the realist novel, which is cast in as ‘privileged instrument of the analysis of reality’. According to Georg Lukas the realist gives a complete and correct account of an observed social reality. The great realist has the insight to transcend the immediate so as to uncover the driving forces of history and to articulate the principles governing social change rather than to give a surface appearance of things. Realism however is an evolving critical discourse that has influenced—and continues to influence—cultural sensibilities toward the act of representation.
Colonialism, as a phenomenon, had certain general characteristics the world over, but its manifestations in particular countries differed according to the social and political conditions prevailing at the time. Despite its particular manifestations, the colonial phenomenon had many important consequences, both negative and positive. For instance the spread of Western education engendered a conscious awareness of exploitation and a feeling of nationalism. There occurred a process of redefining in various vistas of knowledge and life. Many of the English novels written in India or on India deal with tis national experience, either directly as theme or indirectly as significant public background to a personal narrative. Raja Rao’s Kanthapura, for example tells of the first stirrings of national awareness in a small South Indian village. The novel is in the form of an old woman’s narrative and is woven against the background figure of Mahatma Gandhi, who becomes a living symbol of the millions of Indians engaged ib the struggle for freedom. Again, in Mulkraj Anand’s Untouchable, the Mahatma, though treated as the foremost spokesman against the evil of untouchability, nevertheless emerges as a symbol of united India.
The whole debate over the term realism hinges on the relation between art and life, and whether reality can be comprehensively portrayed in art. Reality today is seen as something which has to be attained, not merely taken for granted and thus becomes a concept which cannot be fitted into conventional modes of thinking but has instead to be discovered continually. Today the emphasis is on the distinctions between the work’s propensity towards realism, social documentation and interrelation with historical events and movements, and its propensity towards form, fictionality and reflexive self- examination. These are firmly rooted in particular historical and geographical contexts, and the characters that are treated as social units, are depicted in their struggle and adjustment to the changes which the society has undergone. There is no deep penetration into the individual character, aspirations, achievements and disappointments are most often seen as conditioned by the individual’s place in society. Again, this depiction of individuals against the society in which they live is often extended to raise wider ethical, moral and social issues. It can kind of bring out the specific life of individuals and connect it to history.
A Flight of Pigeons by Ruskin Bond is a novella that realistically portrays the twists of fate, history and the human heart by recreating a crucial period in modern Indian history. It is the story of the insurrection of 1857 and of "the human drama involved and the story of two families brought together by the happenstance of future". Bond brings out the dynamics of society and offers a glimpse into the "bygone and fast vanquishing era". Portraying the social through the political is the greatest characteristic of all great works of art. And that is what is achieved by this book.
Widely known as a children's writer, Ruskin Bond, an exponent of the literary genre of semi-autobiographical fantasy, recasts his experiences of living through the anxieties and pleasures of cultural hybridity in India during the Nationalist Freedom movement and afterwards. Most of his novellas and short stories have a fervent quest for identity, the concerns of which are historically and culturally inflected as its undercurrents. The appeal of the cultural and ecological Indian spaces, especially that of the small towns, intensified the feeling of alienation during his stay in England from 1951 to 1955. The nostalgic memory of his Indian life deeply rooted in him during this brief sojourn triggered his first novella, The Room on the Roof, a Bildungsroman.
The novella, A Flight of Pigeons is about Ruth Labadoor and her family (who are British) who, with the help of Indians, both Hindus and Muslims, reach their relatives when their father is killed in a church by the Indian rebels. The novella is a beautiful blending of fiction and non-fiction. All descriptions are factual and are objectively rendered. Events are narrated in a chronological order, typical of a realist fiction. The text has a clearly marked beginning, a middle part and an end which evokes sympathy which realist narratives aim at. Bond begins his story with reference to when and where it is set and keeps track of the course of the trouble as it affects the lives of the members of the Labadoor family through which he narrates the origin and nature of the Indian Uprising, foregrounding the historicity of the narrative that is distant in time and exotic in nature.
In any instance of violence, there are two kinds of participants, the active participants- those that actually take part in the violence as the perpetrators or as the victims and then those behind the scenes- those who do not actually take up arms, but are silent sufferers; those who need to survive it all, with dignity, and re-build their lives. This book deals with some such survivors.
The 1857 uprising, variously called The Mutiny, or the First war of Independence, set off a chain of events, culminated in the eventual success of the national liberation movement. But the meta-narratives of history often ignore the smaller, localized incidents which are nonetheless significant in as much as they deal with the individual lives that were impacted by the violence of the conflict. Ruskin Bond’s novella A Flight of Pigeons (1975) is set against this backdrop of the catastrophic happenings of 1857 is one based on actual historical incidents.
At the end of the 19th century, J. F. Fanthome, wrote a manuscript called Mariam: A Story of the Indian mutiny of 1857.The author stated that he wrote it from the notes made by ‘Mariam’s daughter’. In 1896 the manuscript was published as a book. The author noted in the preface that it contained "an element of fiction", but that he was telling the story "as simply as I have received it". It narrates the experiences and trials of a Christian family during the terrible political cyclone which shook the Indian Empire to its base in 1857.The book recounts the story of the Lavater family in Shajahanpur, and the relationship that develops between Mariam’s daughter- "Miss L"- and her Muslim captor. Mariam is usually described as a novel, and is generally considered to be a fictional account of the revolt. It became the basis for Ruskin’s bond derivative text "A Flight of Pigeons", which in turn inspired the well-known Hindi film Junoon (1978). Ruskin Bond in the 2002 Viking Penguin publication introduces the book thus:
"In retelling the tale for today’s reader I attempted to bring out the common humanity of most of the people involved--for in times of conflict and inter-religious or racial hatred, there are always a few (just a few) who are prepared to come to the aid of those unable to defend themselves."
The literary reflection of an outward reality sets forth the authors vision of the world against the changing background of social and political events. Through giving the reader a glimpse of history, Ruskin Bond narrates the story of an English family who seeks refuge in a Pathan during that period of history. He is bringing together and synthesizing the background, the history with the fiction, considering it not merely as just a frame work. Things left as background becomes prominent and serves as the prima material of the novel.
Main characters in the novel are Ruth Labadoor who is the narrator of the novel and the eye witness of the death of her father. Mariam Labadoor, Ruth’s mother, is a strong-from-the-heart lady who saves her family from every harm. Lala Ramjimal, the most trusted friend of the Labadoor family and he gives them shelter when Mr. Labadoor passes away. And, Javed Khan, the courageous Pathan whose commitment goes loose when he finds Ruth Labadoor and falls in love with her, although despite many pleads, he is not able to please Mariam Labadoor to marry her daughter with him. Apart from the Labadoor family, all others are Indians. Bond places the English people in typical Indian contexts. There is a constant juxtaposition of the lives of the English and the Indians and depict how the both in some sense merge, transforming themselves into the other, and differ from each other. In this historical novella not only does the character Mariam evince much public interest in a possible British salvation of their lives, but suffers from fear of insecurity characteristic of an Anglo Indian wife of a deceased British husband and of a mother who has an Anglo Indian child to protect.
In this book, the story is told from the point of view of Ruth Labadoor, a teenage British girl, who witnesses the massacre of British civilians in the church in the town of Shahajahanpur, including that of her father, at the hands of Indian militants. After a brief authorial foreword, Bond makes Ruth shoulder the role of the storyteller. It seemly obfuscates the gap between the narrator and the authorial intentions underneath the narration. Bond accentuates the similarity between his positions with that of Ruth, a girl of mixed blood. The realism of the depiction is enhanced by the fact that the whole world of the novella is filtered through Ruth’s consciousness. A microcosm is therefore presented to the reader, a microcosm that is objective and tangible, and yet subjective, for it is touched with the naive wonder that Ruth experiences. By means of this device, typical of a realist narrative, Bond can both be the omniscient narrator and yet penetrate the minds of his characters. Bond’s portrayal of the character of Ruth is remarkable as she never loses her innocence, though confronted by the harshness of reality and the sordid vicissitudes of experience.
The book makes a detailed look into the mechanisms of the zenana or women’s quarters in a segregated household. It is a tale of survival of the refugee women who probably did so only because of a mother playing by her wits, guts and an ability to adapt and accept her circumstances. There is also a detailed and very perceptive portrayal of the comradeship and internal politics inside an all women Indian Muslim household from a hundred years ago.
Until it touches the individual, the larger issues remain distanced and untouched. It is the moment when the social gets transformed into personal. The war is initially something that happens somewhere for both the Labadoor family and Javed Khan, a far reality. They all continue to live in their own immediate circumstances until it becomes an inevitably significant part of the lives of Mariam and Pathan and when it becomes the deciding factor of their very existence and future. Mariam does the best thing that she could do as a mother fighting for her and her daughter’s survival- keeps him at bay with the assurance that he could marry her daughter if the British fail in taking over Delhi, all the time hoping for the victory of the British, as that would ensure their safety. She knows that if she had stood up in open rebellion of him, she and her daughter would lose all chance of surviving honourably. Upon this, the entire perspective from which the rebellion is looked upon takes on an entirely new paradigm. Each and everyone in the novel have separate dynamics for supporting the rebellion. By combining the general and particular in the characters as well as history, Bond enhances the realism of the narrative, and achieves a combination of social documentation and artistic success.
The novella becomes a realist portrayal of the time in which it was set. Realism is an aesthetic mode which broke with the classical demands of art to show life as it should be in order to show life "as it is." The work of realist art tends to eschew the elevated subject matter of tragedy in favour of the quotidian; the average, the commonplace, the middle classes and their daily struggles with the mean verities of everyday existence which are the typical subject matters of realism.
The portrayal of the socio- cultural nature of the insurgency of Bond has a unique choice of focus. He highpoints the humane elements that remain unspoken in the traditionally oblique accounts of the Indian Uprising. Instances of heroic signs of unanimity were not singular, but were either not recorded or greatly slanted by imperial treatises on Mutiny. The retelling of the tale gets transformed into an act of healing. He vicariously enacts the drama of self- definition in Mariam and her daughter. While the narrative features the relations of supremacy in the cross-cultural and political milieu, it is predominantly concerned with the impact of the clash on the individual lives detached from a definite isolation of nationalist identities. By telling an individual’s life story the author is analyzing the society.

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