The Barber’s Trade Union by Mulk Raj Anand
In The Barber’s Trade Union by Mulk Raj Anand we have the theme of class, appearance, alienation, arrogance, ingenuity, independence, admiration, respect, control and freedom. Taken from his Selected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by a young unnamed boy and after reading the story the reader realises that Anand may be exploring the theme of class. Chandu is considered to be of a lower caste or class than other people in the village. It is as though he is being judged solely on the fact that both he and his father are barbers. The content of their character is not taken into consideration rather a traditional hierarchy is imposed by those of a higher caste. The simple matter of Chandu changing his clothes to a style that he prefers is also frowned upon by those in the village who are of a higher caste. This may be important as those of a higher caste may be suggesting that Chandu because he is of a lower caste. Has no right to dress as he does. Something that some readers might find unusual considering that Chandu is only trying to improve his appearance. However it is by improving his appearance that others feel threatened and as such alienate Chandu.
It is also noticeable that those who alienate Chandu are arrogant and appear to be rooted to a value system (caste system) that Chandu himself does not believe in adhering to. Chandu sees nothing wrong with trying to better himself. However due to the rigid values of those in the town Chandu ends up losing business. Though it is interesting that Chandu knows that he can outwit those who have alienated him. All he has to do is to be patient and wait for each individual’s hair to grow. This too may be important as it suggests that Chandu is using his ingenuity. He will not be beaten by a system that will not include him. Purely because he is of a lower caste. If anything Chandu knows that those in the village who are alienating him are reliant on him and his services. The narrator’s relationship with Chandu is also interesting as he not only respects Chandu but he is full of admiration for him. In many ways the narrator envies the freedom that Chandu has when it comes to him being able to go into town.
Unfortunately others do not respect or admire Chandu. Something that is clear to the reader by the fact that Bijay Chand throws Chandu out of his home because he believes that Chandu has no right to dress as he is doing so. What is interesting about Bijay Chand and others is that they do not appear to realise that they need Chandu more than he needs them. He may be of a lower caste and attempting (in their eyes) to dress above his class but he is the only barber in the village. Chandu has a monopoly. Something he himself is very much aware of. Chandu can also go into town and earn money and not be judged for wearing the clothes he is wearing. If anything the fact that Chandu can earn a rupee for a haircut yet only two pice in the village suggests that not only is Chandu not being judged by his caste but his efforts are also respected by those in the town. It may also be important that Chandu buys the bicycle as symbolically this may suggest he is independent of those in the village. He has his own means to get into town and earn money. He is not reliant on the business of the men who alienated him because of his choice of clothing.
The end of the story is also interesting as Anand appears to be exploring the theme of control. Chandu by setting up a barber’s union and forcing those in the village to come to him rather than having him travel to them. Has taken control of the situation he finds himself in. Where many might have done as instructed by the elders in the village. Chandu does not. He not only continues to dress as he wants to but he also forces the men in the village to adhere to his rules rather than Chandu having to do as he has been told by Bijay Chand and others. Similarly Chandu’s mother is able to ignore the instructions of those in the village now that she has money (coming from Chandu). If anything Chandu and his mother have freed themselves from the preconceived societal norms that have been accepted for so long in the village. It might also be worth noting that Chandu’s actions have benefited other barbers in the neighbouring villages. They too have taken control of their situation thanks to Chandu’s ingenuity and his resilience. In reality Chandu started off as an underdog fighting against the caste system and managed to turn things around in his favour. It is easy for the reader to see as to why the narrator respects and admires Chandu.