Paradigmatic Heroism: Campbell's Archetypal Heroes In Bakha And Balram

A hero is a principal character in a story, around whom the whole plot of a story revolves. His thoughts, actions and opinions influence the readers. The characteristic of a hero extends into different branches at different scenarios. For instance, in a mythology, the hero may be from a divine ancestry. The same applies for a hero in an epic who is known for his valour, bravery and determination to win. The qualities of a hero had either exceed or been reduced as literature has evolved over time.

Joseph Campbell, one of the leading authorities in comparative mythology have observed the monomythic element in almost all mythical heroes, which extends from Odysseus to Buddha. According to him, the hero, in mythical narrative, moves forth, from the realm of common day affairs to a region of mystic wonders, thereby ensuring his victory. The hero later comes back from adventure with some power which would be superior of his fellow men.

Through framing the Monomyth, Campbell lays out the number of layers in the process. The journey of the hero begins in the ordinary world, from where he departs at the call of an adventure. He later crosses a guarded threshold with the help of a mentor, who leads him into a supernatural world, where the laws and order to which he was exposed to in the ordinary world do not apply. Further, the hero embarks on a journey of trials, through which different supporters assist him. The trial is the greatest challenge faced by the hero, upon rising to which he will receive a reward, mainly a boon. Later, the hero decides to return with this boon to the ordinary world. The hero then faces more trials on the road back. Upon the hero's return, the boon or gift may be used to improve the hero's ordinary world, in what Campbell calls, the “application of the boon”.

According to Ameer Khdair, “The usefulness of Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces in this work is confined to his formula of the hero’s journey, the monomyth, which consists of three main facets: “departure––initiation––return,” which Campbell describes as “a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power, and a life-enhancing return.”18 The three facets each have sub-stages that the hero undergoes, not all of which are applicable for every hero, as Campbell himself notes.” (5)

In the modern literature too, almost all the stories consists of Campbell’s Monomyth, although there are variations in the same. Literature took a sharp turn from where legendary characters ruled literature. The topic discussed in the novels changed from victory tales to more social and personal issues. The nature of the hero and their response to a social situation also took a major toll. However, according to the theory of Ben Caplan in the article Creatures of Fiction, Myth and Imagination, “ the difference between authors and myth-makes is one of propositional attitude: authors make believe their work of art whereas myth-makers do not make believe their myths; rather they genuinely believe their myths.”(334)

The archetypal narrative, which consists of the stages “Departure” “Initiation”, and “Return” are still the main motifs of most of the literature. While “Departure” portrays deals with the hero on a quest or adventure, “Initiation” shows the immense trials the hero faces along his way. The end shows the “Return”, of the hero from his great adventure.

Mulk Raj Anand’s, classic, Untouchable narrates a day in the life of Bakha, the son of a sweeper, an untouchable. During the early 19th century, people established their superiority over the other through the Caste System. The Brahmins who stood at the topmost layer found it amusing to torture those who didn’t even belong to the caste system- the untouchables. The boy is intelligent but innocent, humble but unproductive. The classic contains the minor incidents of tragedy that the boy undergoes just because he is an untouchable. While Lakha, his father tries to accept the abnormalities the society forces into the lot, Bakha wants to step out and be treated as a proper human being. Later, as Indian developed along its time the stringent rule of the caste system was released, but that didn’t put an end to other rising toxicities like corruption.

The novel The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga can be seen as a version of the modern Indian, which shows Balram Halwai, who is of the lower class. The story perpetuates the various abnormalities in India, including corruption, class and caste domination, vulnerability of the servant class and many more. However, the story ends when Balram who began as a servant, ends up being the master and that too, through unfair means.

The archetypal characteristic insisted by Campbell in mythical and epic narratives is also evident in the characters of the novels Bakha and Balram, who just seem to be opposites of each another. When Bakha in Untouchable became a victim of the atrocities based on class, Balram in The White Tiger even though experiences the same, later on becomes successful in his life. The question asked by Bakha in Untouchable of 1935, “Why are we always abused?” is still relevant in the 21st century as seen in The White Tiger where the beings are proclaimed to have “only two destinies: eat or eaten up”.

According to Khdair, “Jung describes a collective unconscious, which “does not derive from personal acquisition but is inborn this part of the unconscious is not individual but universal; in contrast to the personal psyche, it has contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals.”… “the archetype is essentially an unconscious content that is altered by becoming conscious and by being perceived, and it takes its colour from the individual consciousness in which it happens to appear.” In other words, the archetype is an individual’s conscious expression of the collective unconscious imbued with elements from the individual’s perception.” (3)

Even though the characters belonged to different time periods, they exhibit a heroism that can be closely attributed to Campbell’s observations. When Anand inverts the pattern, Adiga follows a more classic pattern of the hero’s journey showing that the authors present their own interpretations of archetypal heroism. The paper attempts to prove that either way the hero maintains the features of a conventional hero that appears in the early religions, myths and epics of the world.

In order to apply the Monomyth to Anand’s Untouchable and Adiga’s The White Tiger, a restructured form of Campbell’s template is put into force. The first stage of the hero’s journey, the separation stage, includes five subsections: ‘The Call to Adventure,’ ‘The Refusal of the Call,’ ‘Supernatural Aid,’ ‘The Crossing of the First Threshold,’ and ‘The Belly of the Whale.’ In the first stage the hero undergoes a deviation from the known world and realises the existence to many other things which are unknown to him. The second facet of the hero’s journey involves trials that the hero undergoes: ‘The Road of Trials,’ ‘The Meeting with the Goddess,’ ‘Woman as the Temptress,’ ‘Atonement with the Father,’ ‘Apotheosis,’ and ‘The Ultimate Boon.’ The third and final stage of the hero’s journey,which according to Campbell’s model, is the return. The third stage of return then consists of: ‘The Magic Flight,’ ‘The Crossing of the Return Threshold,’ ‘The Master of Two Worlds,’ and the ‘Freedom to Live.’ In the present period of time, most of the literature lack many of the features stated above as a requirement for an archetypal hero. Therefore only certain factors of the Archetypal Heros are taken into consideration to analyse.

Both the Untouchble and The White Tiger have a relation to Campbell’s monomyth paradigm; as the heroes in their journey towards attaining knowledge of themselves, they follow a basic outline of Campbell’s hero’s journey. Even the deviations from the paradigm underscore the adherence to the pattern of “departure––initiation––return.”

According to Campbell in the process of Departure the first factor is the “Call to Adventure”. He says “….This is an example of one of the ways in which the adventure can begin. A blunder—apparently the merest chance—reveals an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood. As Freud has shown, blunders are not the merest chance. They are the result of suppressed desires and conflicts. They are ripples on the surface of life, produced by unsuspected springs. And these may be very deep—as deep as the soul itself. The blunder may amount to the opening of a destiny.” (46)

The Untouchable, is single day in the life of a Scavenger boy. The incident that marks the conflict which calls the hero to adventure is when Bakha is walking down the street, far from home savouring on his jalebis “defiles” a Brahmin man by his touch. A crowd gathers around the scene where Bakha is blamed and scolded by the Brahmin. His moment of perplexity is the first evidence of the hero’s blunder.

“To Bakha, every second seemed an endless age of woe and suffering. His whole demeanour was concentrated in humility, and his heart there was a queer stirring. His legs trembled and shook under him. he felt they would fail him…” (Anand 40 - 41)

In a similar manner, Balram experiences the departure of normality from his life when he is taken off from school to work for the stork inorder to pay the family loan. The White Tiger who was adorned of his intelligence at school was made to work in a tea shop and to smash coal. Later he goes away to Delhi to fulfil his dreams.

“what is that creature that comes along once in a generation? One boy asked loudly.

The coal breaker, another replied

And then all of them began to laugh” (Adiga 37)

However, both Balram and Bakha are seen helpless of their situation due to the domination of class and caste. When Bakha decided to justify his fate as “For them I (Bakha) am a sweeper, sweeper-untouchable! Untouchable! Untouchable! That’s the word! Untouchable! I am an Untouchable!” (Anand, 43) Balram “said nothing” (Adiga 58).

As the departure stage come to an end, next is the stage of “initiation” which shows the road of trials where, “Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. This is a favourite phase of the myth adventure. It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage.” (Campbell 39)

It was after the incident at the street that Bakha came to realize his plight realisation hit on him like “ a ray of light shooting from darkness, the recognition of his position, the significance dawned upon him. It illuminated the inner chambers of his mind. Everything that happened to him traced his course up to this light and got the answer.”( Anand 43)

It was only after this incident that he became conscious of everything that was happening around him. Bakha began to see into the reality of every situation where the hypocrisy of the upper castes was truly relieved. One such incident is where Bakha observed how the upper class Hindus “feed their cows on mere reminders of food and even on grain, sifted from the cowdung.”(Anand 45)

The difficulties that Bakha had to face after that knew no bounds which included the abuse of his sister. A psychological transition is seen in Bakha who turns away from being innocent through his experience. The first instance of Bakha’s hatred for the system is evident through his reaction when the Brahmin priest abused his sister, Sohini and later accused her of having defiles him. He became ruthless and deadly pale and thought, “ Father of fathers! I could kill that man. I could kill that man! (Anand 54). The event doesn’t end there, which combined with the helplessness of poverty, Bakha goes on to ask for food in a high caste Hindu woman’s house. She too comes screaming at Bakha for polluting her house. Bakha was tested to such an extent, where she asked her son to relieve along the way the sweeper was cleaning, so that he can clean it away. Bakha was entitled to do the job to earn his bread. The further problems included the mother of a son belonging to a upper class Hindu, who accused Bakha of defiling his son, who was carried home by Bakha since he was wounded while they were playing cricket. “Colonel Hutchinson, a priest from the church, finds Bakha lonely and takes him to church where he asks Bakha to confess his sin so that he can be converted to the Christian religion.”( Jadhav 3) As Chelliah says, “Instead of being thankful to him for his cleaning the dirt, the society disregards him as dirt, treats him badly and squeezes him economically. The outcastes are prohibited from taking directly from the well, entering the temple and they are denied education also. Throughout the day, on many occasions, Bakha is exposed to both verbal and physical abuse and humiliation for doing nothing the so-called duty-cleaning and sweeping the dirt.”(3)

However in all these situations Bakha couldn’t do the least- react. “Bakha and his kind become restless in the beginning but finally come to terms with their condition they hope that the future would bring something new and good for them.” (Chapter IV 3). This behaviour of the hero is an inversion of that of an archetypal hero who is aided by an supernatural helper Balram in The White Tiger had to face the same humiliation in the name of class differences. His masters, for whom he was a driver, were into coal business which involved huge corruption. They humiliated and considered him less than human at many instances. He had to face a lot of trials inorder to prove his honesty to his masters. An instance of the same is where Ms Pinky drunk and drove their car and run over a human child of lower being. Balram was later made to take responsibility of the murder which he accepted even though he had his own with doubts.

“ The jails of Delhi are full of drivers who are there behind bars because they are taking the blame for their good, solid middle-class masters. We have left the villages, but the masters still own us, body, soul, and arse.” (Adiga 170)

His incorrect pronunciation of words like ‘Mall’ and ‘Pizza’ were sources of amusement for the masters where Ashok and Pinky used to force him to pronounce English words which were unfamiliar to the man. Another session of the trials Balram had to face included the torments and harshness of Mukesh, who was the brother of Ashok, his master. Mukesh goes to the extent of making Balram look for a one rupee that accidently feel off his pocket, so that Balram doesn’t get it, a trail which the white tiger won graciously. Although Balram didn’t have the assistance of a supernatural power, humans like his brother Kisan, the Nepali Watchman, Ram Presad and many more had help him overcome his trials.

Another feature in the stage of Departure includes atonement with father. According to Campbell, “The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands —and the two are atoned.”

Although Bakha is sent away from his house by his father who asked him to “get out of my(his) house. And don’t come back! Don’t let us see your face again!” (Anand 109). Bakha surrendered to his father’s abuse and took flight. But his father remained inside him until the end of the story where he listens to Gandhi’s enlightening speech where the lower class were shown some respect and appreciation, Bakha decides to “go and tell father all that Gandhi said about us the!”(Anand 148)

In Balram’s case, the sequence worked in a different way. He was in good terms with his father from the beginning and everything he did had a motive that his father had instilled on his. He said, “my whole life I have been treated like a donkey. All I want is that one son of mine- at least- should live like a man” (Adiga 26) the rich life of Balram at the end of the novel is in itself a realization of his father’s dream. It happened by choosing through the necessity of separation of life he was born into and the need to direct his own actions. As he says at the end of the novel, “Yet… even if they throw me in jail… I’ll say it was all worthwhile to know, just for a day, just for an hour, just for a minute, what it means not to be a servant.”( Adiga 321)

The opposition to Campbell’s method of an archetypal hero was itself a way to adhere to his views. “The ultimate boon”, a feature of initiation is exhibited in different ways in both the novels. In Untouchable, the boon is to be realised when Bakha rush forth to watch the event where Mahatma Gandhi addresses the crowd. “The word Mahatma was like a magical magnet to which he was going. He hasn’t paused to think” (Anand 126). This narration here exactly fits the criteria where, “The ease with which the adventure is here accomplished signifies that the hero is a superior man, a born king.” (Campbell 159) However Bakha, didn’t change to a superior man, instead he felt empowered and happy when he realised there was someone to look into and talk about the issues her faced.

The moment when Balram ceased to act unlike the conventional drivers who safeguarded the master and was truthful to his money, he became a superior one especially when he slit his master’s neck and later took the car for a spin. He felt like a winner himself who broke out of the cage of servitude, his whole life.

The final phase “return” determines the end of Campbell archetypal heroes. A feature in the same is “The magical flight”, where according to Campbell, “If the hero in his triumph wins the blessing of the goddess or the god and is then explicitly commissioned to return to the world with some elixir for the restoration of society, the final stage of his adventure is supported by all the powers of his supernatural patron.”

After listening to Mahatma Gandhi about his enlightened ideas on caste and class system, Bakha felt excited and happy about the same. Gandhi becomes the supernatural power who strengthens the downtrodden. When Gandhi detailed on the ways where the so called untouchable should behave like accepting only grains and not rotten grains which are courteously offered. It was parallel to Bakha’s state and he in turn wanted to say, “Now, Mahatma ji, Now you are talking” (Anand 139)

Mahatma’s words along with the words of Iqbal Nath Sarashar, a poet, who talks about a machine with a flush system, so that nobody has to handle faeces. The flight he takes home ward is symbolic of the reformation he longed for all along the time. As E.M Foster said, “His Indian day is over and the next day will be like it, but on the surface of the earth if not in the depths of the sky, a change is at hand”. (Chelliah, 43), Bakha life doesn’t literally turn to being one devoid of caste inequality. However, the light of hope that sporuted in his heart who he decides to share with his father is the moment where the hero takes its true archetypal form.

The flight of Balram from Delhi to Bangalore proves the archetypal hero in him. Balram had so much presence of mind and wit that he saved himself from being caught. He strategically moved from hotels to hotels and planned cunningly. “In conclusion, although Balram breaks the rules and frees himself from bondage, oppression, and servitude, he ends up being another capitalist who starts a taxi business and uses the same corrupt means to get richer: violence replaces one capitalist master with another capitalist master and hence the unjust system remains unchanged.” (Al-Dagamseh 8) However, the journey back to his homeland, “the return” marks him as an archetypal hero.

Thus, the archetypal heroes extend it from the age old epic tales to the contemporary novels. In fact, Campbell’s observation has its relevance even in the current phase of literature.

Works Cited

  1. Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable.Penguin Books, 2001.
  2. Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger.HarperCollins, 2009.
  3. Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press.2004.
  4. Caplan, Ben. Creatures of Fiction, Myth and Imagination. American Philisophical Quartely, vol.41, no.4,2004, pp. 331-337. JSTOR,
  6. Chelliah, S. Portrayal of Bakha and Bhikhu as Victimized Heroes: M. R. Anand’s Untouchable and The Road. Language in India, Vol. 17:9, September 2017, pp.39-50
  8. Jadhav, Shrikant, Bakha’ in Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable and ‘Jabya’ in Nagraj Manjule’s Fandry as Untouchable Characters : A Comparative Analysis. Epitome Journals, Vol. I, Issue III, July 2015, pp.1-5
  10. Al-Dagamseh, Abdullah M. 'Adiga's The White Tiger as World Bank Literature.' CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 15.6,2013, pp.1-9
  12. Khdair , Ameen. Paradigmatic Heroism: The Archetypal Hero's Journeys of Dante and Milton's Satan.Diss. CC Honors Thesis.Web. 26 Feb.2019.
16 December 2021
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