The Correlation of Humanism and Realism in the Novels of Bhabani Bhattacharya

Bhattacharya is really a very powerful writer who writes with sincerity and dedication to his art. His theory of novel is applicable to his own fictional and non-fictional writings. His greatness as a writer rests on his neat narrative designs, his portrayal of fully realized characters, his humanism and his masterly handling of language. A brief analysis of the aesthetic elements of his novels will show that he is really an artist of great appeal. He is a social realist who has a sensitive understanding of the problems of contemporary Indian society and who is keen about exploring the realities of life in his novels. He is also a novelist whose humanistic vision of life finds expression in his novels. But his view on art, literature and novel as expressed in his letters, articles and essays, neat plot-construction, art of characterization, use of irony, humour, images, symbols and allegory, and his experiments in language clearly show that he is a conscious artist. He is a committed writer devoted to the cause of the country. He highly admires India’s spiritual and cultural heritage. His novels examine the importance of man in national and international perspectives. Here, it is a short attempt to analysis the meaning of humanism which will be very helpful for a fair understanding of Bhabani Bhattacharya’s humanistic vision presented in his novels.

Humanism is the art of literature. It taught a man to be sympathetically interested in the human beings and in all that was human in the world. The concept of humanism stressed the significance of the human body and human mind, “man being the measure of all things.”1 Humanism is the gift of the Renaissance; in the middle Ages people did believe highly in superstitions and God fearing writers did not like to describe human activities. Most of the literature of the time is religious in nature. If human characters are introduced; they are shown merely as puppets in the hands of God and Goddess.

Humanism is a general term covering a wide range of connotations. It is used with different shades of meaning and implication. Defining the humanism G. Rai remarks: “Humanism literally means devotion to human interests, and suggest a spirit that is concerned with the welfare of mankind”2. Humanism denotes classical because the original humanists returned to the ancient Greek and Roman thinkers for inspiration and rejuvenation of intellectual pursuit. G. Rai further remarks: “Humanism process to improve the conditions of human beings.”3 It means the humanities, including language, literature, rhetoric, philosophy and art of history, it is opposed to the sciences, as they are taught and studied in the universities and colleges “the studia humanitatis”, or humanities – that is, grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, and moral philosophy, as distinguished from fields less concerned with moral and imaginative aspects and activities of man, such as mathematics, natural philosophy, and theology.”4 To begin with, it refers to the historical movement fathered by Protagoras, a fifth century B.C. Greek sophist, who is credited with central tenet of human being’s description of all things.

However, the movement gathered momentum only when Petrach, the fourteenth century Italian poet and scholar, initiated the process of the Renaissance to break away from the medieval clutches. The term reminds us of Greek humanism, the Renaissance humanism, and the humanism of the Romantics, Greek humanism, new humanism, religious humanism is called secular humanism, and Christian humanism etc.

The Renaissance humanism which was compatible with contemporary religious beliefs and practices became very popular throughout Europe. Shakespeare is as great as a humanist as Erasmus, More and Montaigne. According to M.H. Abrahms: “Renaissance humanism assumed the dignity and central position of human beings in the universe; emphasized the importance of the study of classical imaginative and philosophical literature, although the emphasis on its moral and practical rather than its aesthetic values; and insisted on the primacy, in ordering human life, of reason (considered the distinctively human faculty) as opposed to the instinctual appetites and the “animal” passions. Many humanists also stressed the need for a rounded development of individual’s diverse powers, physical and mental artistic and moral, as opposed to merely technical or specialized training.”5 It suggests anthropocentrism that is human-centeredness Protagoras’s pithy saying is usually taken to indicate man’s supremacy over nature. Nevertheless, human-centeredness is only “axiological” and not “factual”. Any return to the past in general is considered to be humanistic.

A notable instance is the New Humanism of Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More of the U.S.A. who in the early twentieth century, emphasized a universal scale of ethical values transcending specific societies. It marked a decisive return to the Greek reason, the Christian restraint, and the oriental compassion. In the twentieth century, humanism is used in a wide sense. A humanist uses human experience and truth and values on human nature. A humanist is rejecting the truths and sanctions of a spiritual and supernatural creed. For a humanist like Irving Babbitt: “It is a philosophical creed, a substitute of religion. It stands for humanitarian outlook. At times it is very close to individualism.”6 Progressivism and modernism, according to T.S. Eliot, modernism is a “state of mind,”7 it is an outlook in his essay “Gid and George.”

A variety of pragmatism practiced by the English pragmatist Ferdinand Schiller is called humanism, for he believes that man is the creator of truth, the humanistic ethical, political and social ideals were incorporated by Christianity, giving rise to band of religious humanism known as Christian humanism. The French theologian Jacques Maritian is a famous Christian humanist. Humanism is applied to the view of man. His life here and now is more significant than blissful hereafter. Greeks, as opposed to Christianity, had an abiding respect of human assets like beauty and freedom. Greek humanism is including in the revolt of Promethus against Zeus and his interest in the well being of man.

A theoretical religious humanism is secular humanism, which is upheld by most of the materialists, scientists, agnostics and others. Secular humanism in its radical forms aims at eradicating all types of superstitious and supernatural beliefs and practices which hide rather than facilitate the general human welfare. Among a host of other connotations, the most significant and broad currency of humanism refers to certain cherished human ideals and values such as understanding, benevolence, compassion, mercy, fortitude, judgment, prudence, eloquence, love of honour, kindness, liberty, equality, fraternity, democracy, and social justice. E.M. Forster lays down the characteristics of a humanist: “The humanist has four leading characteristics – curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste and belief in the human race.”8 Writers and artists expose the oppressors of mankind and make the people aware of their rights and needs.

In sixteenth century, a study focused on classical, and above all, Latin culture, and they put great emphasis on learning to speak and write good Latin. The word ‘Humanist’ signified a scholar who was associated with the recovery of classical texts and revival of classical learning and so contributed greatly to the store of materials and ideas of the European Renaissance. Humanists concerned with rhetoric and criticism, and with the application of these to literature. These humanists also wrote many works related with educational, political, and moral problems based on classical writers such as Aristotle, Plato and, Cicero, and other European humanists. Humanism discards only a type of ornament of literature. It is a collection of day-to-day activities of common human beings. The purpose of humanist is to present before us the real picture of the contemporary society through indirect method and provides a comprehensive picture of society. It contains a unique quality.

A humanist frequently connotes a person who bases truth on human experience and bases values on human culture and nature, as distinct from people who regard religious revelation as the guarantor of all truth and values. The need of the humanistic tradition defends the role of the humanities in a liberal education against the encroachments of the sciences and practical arts. The knowledge of truth is external nature and the sciences, which that knowledge requires or includes, are not the great or the frequent business of the human mind.

Matthew Arnold was the great humanist of Victorian age. His conception of poetry is essentially “a criticism of life.” His leading ideas are adaptations of tenets of the older humanism – his view for example, that culture is a perfection “of our humanity proper, as distinguished from our animalistic,” his emphasis on knowing “the best that is known and thought in the world”. The main role of human studies in general education consist a harmonious expansion of the powers; it makes the beauty, and worth of human nature.

Late twentieth century is, however, characterized by an interrogation of all human ideas and deals from the structuralism’s and post-structuralism that are often perceived as anti-humanist, though the thorough going interrogative spirit is an essential aspect of all humanists. The writings of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) are expressly structuralism and post-structuralism, critical theory, anti-humanistic, not only in the sense that they undertake to subvert many of the values proposed by traditional humanism. The objective study should be cultured and effecting scientific and literary achievements. M.H. Abrahms remarks: “Deconstructionists tend to reduce the human subject to one of the “effects” engendered by the differential play of language; and a number of Marxist and ideological or cultural “discursive formations” that the author-as-subject incorporates and transmits in his or her own literary products.”9 Thus, the course of humanism displays conflicting and contradictory views, but all of them deal with the question of man in the universe.

‘Humanism’ seeks to improve the conditions of human life. It literally means ‘devotion to human interests’. It suggests a spirit concerned with the welfare of mankind. The writers and artists expose the oppressors of mankind and make the people aware of their rights and needs. Humanism opposes suffering and indignity of man in all forms. The present-day novels of magic realism achieve their effects in large part by exploiting a realistic manner in rendering events that are in themselves fantastic, absurd, or impossible. “Realism, on the other hand, is said to represent life as it really is. This distinction in terms of subject matter, while relevant, is clearly inadequate.”10 Bhattacharya’s broad humanism has made him a writer of great relevance. His humanistic vision consists of love, compassion, sympathy for the suffering and honest recognition of the dignity of man irrespective of his caste, creed, poverty and faith in the imperishable values of life such as truth, goodness and beauty and an ever abiding faith in the infinite capacity. This has given him a unique place among the Indo-English writers of fiction in the present age with a universal appeal and recognition thereof.

As a man interested in the cause of humanity, he was greatly influenced both by Tagore and Gandhi. He is actually a humanist in this light. In a study on Mulk Raj Anand, Prof. M.K. Naik has summarized the main events of humanism as follows: “The highest reality in the world is man and his life. The fulfilment of the self, which depends upon man’s full freedom, is the noblest object of human life. The destruction all sorts of barrier – social, political and religious are necessary for self-realisation. Liberal education, humanistic art, and fair distribution of the benefits of progress are the means of achieving the ideal of a full and happy life.”11

Bhabani Bhattacharya has keenly observed incidents and happenings around him. He has caught the vein of rural life and rural speech and depicted them in a natural and precise fashion. In fact, he is simply highlighting the new trends of the novel. The advent of the nineteenth century had already marked the development of realistic fiction. Saratchandra Chatterjee and Ravindra Nath Tagore, Munshi Premchand were the great exponents of realism in Bengali and Hindi fictions. Every literary artist has a vision, which is reflected through his works. R.K. Narayan, in this regard, is close to Jane Austen; Bhattacharya is capable of making psychoanalysis of his characters as is seen in R.K. Narayan’s popular novel ‘The Guide’. Even after enjoying the reputation of being a major Indo-Anglian novelist, R.K. Narayan does not possess that depth that philosophical colour and that excellence of a creative genius that is possessed by Bhattacharya. Thomas Hardy used to call himself an ameliorant with an underlying hope in his protagonists that their struggle against the forces of evil shall ultimately bring them relief. Hardy’s realism, great forces work against man’s happening years. Hardy is a realist and his approach to the problems of the world is realistic. He looks at life and world not through coloured glass of romantic or fancy but he sees them faithfully so it is impossible for him to overlook the great forces which work for man’s happiness in life. As a keen observer, he feels the sorrow of life and admits that life is for the most painful with only occasional interludes of happiness.

Bhattacharya, too, like Mulk Raj Anand and R.K. Narayan, depicts realistically in his novels and short stories. But realism in Bhattacharya’s case is essentially a social instinct. For him fiction has to manifest a social purpose. The novels of Anand are concerned with the predicament of the poor and the suppressed. He seeks to make readers sensitively aware of the horrors of poverty and sufferings of the people. Bhabani Bhattacharya continues the tradition of Anand. Like Mulk Raj Anand, he tries to expose the suffering and humiliation of the poor and downtrodden. G. Rai remarks: “His Humanism is also evident from the choice of hunger and freedom as the recurring themes. The various types of hunger and his plea for different kind of freedom are essentially an outcome of his humanistic vision. Freedom is necessary for men to realize his potential for a complete life.”12 Bhattacharya bemoans the non-acceptance of the challenge that recent happenings prose of the creative artists. Western writers have written copiously about the two World Wars. India has passed through the experience of war and the long drawn struggle for independence. It also faced a calamitous famine in 1943, wherein millions died slowly of starvation. The partition of country in 1947 awakens nauseous scenes of genocide. In this regard K.K. Sharma remarks: “Bhattacharya focuses his attention on the writer’s concern with social or historical reality, which through an aspect of the real cannot be have an absolutely independent entity.” Bhattacharya is dedicated to the country and his art. He is full of admiration for the spiritual and cultural heritage of the country. He remarks: “It is not often that novelist is fortunate enough to live at a turning point of national life. The turning point faces us with its challenge will not some of Indian’s novelists accept the challenge?”

His broad humanistic vision has made him a great novelist. In his novels he examines the importance of man in national and international perspectives.