About the Book:
This book is a pioneering work on an area which has been edging more into the international cultural spot light. Although African American playwrights as well as dalit playwrights differ in their stance, methodology and aesthetic theories, nearly all of them take it as axiomatic that in a poor, problem-ridden society like ours any literature, in order to be legitimate and significant, has to be responsive to society and its needs. In the prevailing Indian context the book has a great significance as it tells us how cultural clashes and their aftermath may lead us to harmoniously integrated society. The book dwells upon the indigenous aesthetic theories of contemporary African American Literature and Dalit Literature. It opens up new areas of research possibilities in the field. It will be an invaluable aid to researchers and social thinkers.
About the Author:
Dr. S.r. Jalote is a Professor, Department of English, Banaras Hindu University. He obtained his Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Allahabad in 1970, studied modern drama with Professor W.L Godshalk. Department of English and comparative Literature, University of Cincinnati, U.S.A. during the winter and spring of 1982-83. He is the author of Shaw's Principles of Literary Criticism and The Plays of Harold Pinter : A Study in Neurotic Anxiety. He has to his credit a number of research papers of national and international acclaim. His current research interests are in the areas of British Drama, American Drama, Indian English Drama and Dalit Theatre.
In recent decades, African American Literature and Dalit Literature, hitherto hardly ever paid mainstream attention, have been edging more and more into the international cultural spotlight. In the prevailing Indian context a comparative study of African American Theatre and Dalit Theatre assumes special significance, because it tells us as to how the cultural clashes and their aftermath may lead us to a harmoniously integrated society. Though situated on diametrically opposite side of the globe, Indian and American Societies contain areas of remarkable similarities. The traumatic horror of negro life in America and the pathetic sufferings undergone by the untouchables in India are tormenting. Both Dalit Literature and African American Literature are mostly written by the socially, economically, politically and culturally deprived and disadvantaged group of people of the respective Indian and American Societies. Both African American Literature and Dalit Literature are recent phenomena. During the 19th Century African Americans were excluded for so long as audience, actors and playwrights. Dalit Literature, which owes its inspiration to the writings of Babasaheb Ambedkar, truly blossomed in the post-independence era and reached its peak in the mid'70s. Dalit Theatre followed closely on the heels of Dalit poetry and short stories.
Besides making a comparative study of the respective historical backgrounds which called forth the emergence of Africn American Literature in U.S.A. and Dalit Literature in India, Professor Jalote has discussed at length the major themes which are common to both African American Theatre as well as Dalit Theatre. Professor Jalote has also analyzed some African American plays and some Dalit plays in terms of their themes and techniques.
The theme of emasculation of the minority communities is truly represented and effectively dramatized in James Baldwin's play Blues for Mr. Charlie (1964) and Avinash Dolus's play The Village Without a Face (1977). Blues for Mr. Charlie tells the story of Richard Henry, an African American youth, who is killed because he refuses to remain in the subservient position required for African Americans in U.S.A. Avinash Dolus's play The Village Without a Face tells the story of a Dalit youth who perishes because he dares claim his economic, social and political rights and privileges. Both .the plays evoke a sense of helplessness, depression and gloom for minority communities.
The theme of irrational race prejudices prevailing in U.S.A. and caste prejudices prevailing in India are dramatized in Baraka's Dutchman (1964) and Prabhakar Dupare's play Beyond the Seven Oceans respectively. However, these plays do not deal with the theme of rebellion and change. Instead, these plays offer an analysis of those things which make rebellion and change possible.
In Baraka's play The Slave the African American protagonist, Walker Vessels, arises as a new revolutionary hero, an "avenger", a "righteous Bomber" whose mission is to eliminate those who have participated in his oppression. He has rejected Grace, his white ex- wife, because he cannot reconcile his personal love for her with his revolutionary spirit. The Slave conveys the message that interracial marriage cannot ensure the integration of the African American in the community of the White. The play ends with blood-shed symbolizing Baraka's conviction that history develops through cycles of race-war. In The Slave racism is at the root of revolution and bloodshed, whereas, in Girish Kamad's Tale-Danda bloodshed is caused by the hypergamous marriage which is considered sacrilegious according to Hindu religion. The theme of Tale-Danda is the marriage of a Brahmin girl with an untouchable boy which spurted out violence and bloodshed in the city of Kalyana. Though the plot of Tale-Danda is based on the historical event which occurred in Kalyana in the medieval period, Kamad claims that the play has its relevance for our age.
With regard to Black Aesthetic Theory and Dalit Aesthetic Theory Professor Jalote is of the opinion that there are obvious similarities between the two. Since African American writers and Dalit writers condemn and castigate the traditional norms of the society, both Black Aesthetic Theory as well as Dalit Aesthetic Theory are indigenous and politically committed to an ideology. According to African American writers and Dalit writers universal aesthetics is an impossibility, and that the function of literature is not to bridle the audience to concede to what pre-exists. Instead, Literature should be designed to stimulate the spectator to transform his society. Both African American playwrights and Dalit playwrights believe that ethics and aesthetics are one.
Professor Jalote's book, Contemporary African American Theatre and Dalit Theatre : A Comparative Study in Themes and Techniques, is an admirable piece of work, and it reveals that Professor Jalote is, indeed, an incisive critic and a careful scholar.
A comparative study of the themes and techniques of contemporary African American Theatre and Dalit Theatre envisages an attempt to examine the kind of life the African Americans and the Dalits were subjected to in their respective countries. Violence against African Americans is a recurring phenomenon to which every generation of Black writers in America is drawn. The Blacks are not originally Americans. People from different regions of Europe came to America and established their colonies there in search of a prosperous life. But the Black was forcibly taken there and America bestowed on him terrible slavery and colossal poverty. Over a period of time, the Black in America became devoid of his African language and cultural heritage. The White in America ostracized the Black and he was always made to do the dirty jobs. He had to live outside the city limits of the Whites.
On the other hand the Indian Dalit has neither rrived from a foreign country nor he is radically different from the majority of Indians. For centuries he was deprived of an equal share in the cultural, religious and social life of this country. Like the Black, he too had to do low and dirty jobs for his "superiors", and he, therefore, has fallen deep into the pit of depression. According to the pattern of Chaturvarna, the Shudras were denied the right to education. The rule of Chaturvarna also denied the right to education to all women including those belonging to the class of Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. The theory of Chaturvarna was repugnant to Buddha. According to him the composition of society, based on status conferred upon an individual by the accident of his birth, was arbitrary. Vice, however heinous, was no ground for degrading a man from his status, and virtue, however great, had no value to raise him above it.
In Western theatre the use of race as a dramatic theme is not new. Racial consciousness is a motif in Euripides' Medea, Shakespeare's Othello, and Edward Albee's The Death of Bessie Smith. But it is the agonizing reality and the expression of a radical revolt used as motif in contemporary African American Theatre as well as Dalit Theatre which distinguishes these art forms from Western theatre and non- Dalit Indian theatre respectively. Contemporary Dalit Theatre is portraying dreadful and humiliating events of Dalit world. According to M.N. Wankhade:
The word 'Dalit' does not refer only to Buddhists and backward class people but also to all those who toil and are exploited and oppressed. This definition is in accordance with that given by Baburao Bagul in the Dalit literary conference at Mahad. He said, "Dalit Literature takes man as its center. It participates in man's joys and sorrows and leads him to a just revolution. It teaches equality to the mass of humanity, that is, society. It considers man noble. Dalit literature does not spread hatred among men but love. "
The aforesaid definition of Dalit Literature given by M.N. Wankhade and accepted in the Dalit Literary Conference explains that a work of art dealing with the theme of exploitation and oppression of the masses is a piece of Dalit Literature, irrespective of the fact that its author might be an upper caste Hindu. Dalit Literature is integrationist, and it does not exclude as its subject matter those exploited and oppressed persons who do not come from the lowest castes of India. Dalit Literature is against all organized network of oppression of a community or a group of people. It uses literature as a weapon to fight against all institutions which foster segregation, exploitation, and suppression on the basis of caste, race, and class.
In view of the above mentioned definition of Dalit Literature as given by Wankhade, I have analysed in the present work the play entitled Tale-Danda by Girish Karnad, a non-Dalit playwright;and I have made a comparative study of Amiri Baraka's The Slave with Karnad's Tale-Danda. In Tale-Danda Karnad has successfully dramatized the intricate dogmas of Hindu religion which unequivocally condemns hypergamous marriages.
In the present work I have made a comparative study of some of the representative African American plays and Dalit plays in respect of their forms and techniques. I have also analyzed the extent to which the socio-cultural, psycho- logical and political ramifications have influenced the aesthetic principles of the African American Theatre and of the Dalit Theatre. The twentieth century has witnessed proliferations of drama of a fairly rich variety. But African American Theatre and Dalit Theatre eschew those contemporary movements in drama. In the present work I have made a comparative study of African American Aesthetic Theory and Dalit Dramatic Principles.
In the prevailing Indian context a comparative study of African American Theatre and of Dalit Theatre assumes special significance, because of the analogous situation prevai- ling in this country in which people belonging to different castes, creeds and colour live together and experienced the agony of foreign domination for many centuries. As we have come to the beginning of the new millennium and many cultures of the world come into increasing proximity and, sometimes, conflict, a comparative study of contemporary African American Theatre and Dalit Theatre can tell us about cultural clashes and their aftermath.
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