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Humanism in Select Post War English Novels

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As Literature is a part of man’s social and aesthetic experience, it always shows concern for humanism in its multiple forms. Different writers express humanistic thoughts in their works on the basis of their understanding and experience. Their understanding of humanism finds expression in their writings in different forms. The term humanism found various modifications and transformations since the time of its inception. Different socio-cultural, political and philosophical developments have affected this change.

Today, when much is talked about globalization and liberalization, it is very much necessary to understand different cultures, ideologies, traditions and trends all over the world. After the two World Wars in 20th century, the world became aware of the devastations, cruelty and its effects on the human beings. Man started realizing his mistakes and the urgent need of correcting the world. By making use of his intellect, man is enjoying comforts, and luxuries created by the scientific advancements on the one hand, and on the other hand, the same scientific advancements are taking the whole world towards its horrifying end. Human being needed to be treated as human beings. Such type of need has always been there from the ancient times, but it was seriously felt on the background of the two World Wars in 20th century.

Due to the industrial revolution, the human life has undergone tremendous changes. Luxuries and comforts created by the machine age affected man on the larger scale. Modern advancements made the world smaller for man. Similarly men also become small, selfish and self-centered. Literature being the mirror of the society reflected this entire changing panorama. Human concern became the focus in the writing of 20th century.

The present paper is an attempt to explore the nature of humanistic concerns in the select post-war novels. The relationship between literature and philosophy cannot be denied. Basically philosophy is meant for better understanding of the human life and literature also has the same end. Most of the novelists try to glorify man as the crown of creation. It seems that they believe, “Only Religion is the Religion of man in which the infinite is defined in humanity” (Tagore, 1963: 83). They believe that if the Divine is real, it must be human. Humanity, for them, is a necessary factor in perfecting the divine truth. Their concept of religion and God is also based on broad humanism.

Humanism is a way of viewing things by relating them to man’s concerns. It centers round man and asserts that the capacities, the character and the qualities of man have to be given fullest expression. Humanism means love of man. It means bringing co-ordination and harmony in human life. It is the fight between the human nature and animal nature that is between ideals and facts. Humanism emphasizes always the dignity of man. . A man’s ideals, values and behavior are determined by his sense of humanism. Without certain element of humanism, neither personal relationships nor cultural growth is possible. Thus, humanism is the most important factor in the formation and cultural development of community.

In the West, the loss of faith has led to a predominance of materialism in human affairs. This trend is spreading fast. The advanced civilizations are looking towards something that will give peace. In such a situation humane consideration are not only relevant, but also necessary. Societies always remain divided on racial, communal and linguistic lines. Internationalization of politics, human rights, and the promotion of human values as the panacea for social maladies has radically changed the thinking of the newly literate masses. So, the novelists after Two World wars have expressed their vision to bring about harmony in a society uphold the values of non-violence and seek to build up social balance in their novels. On the background of World War II, humanism is reflected in literature.

So we will take a review of the humanism expressed in select post war English novels. Lessing and Wilson come from Britain, Buck comes from America (and even represents China), Alan Paton comes from South Africa, Khushawant Singh comes from India. Thus the selection of the novels represents the global canvas. The novels also represent the major cultures of the world. The writers selected here enjoy the world recognition. The carefully selected novels A Passage to India, Pavilion of Women, Cry, the Beloved Country, Hemlock and After, The Golden Notebook and Train to Pakistan are the representative novels of the respective authors.

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Angus Wilson has presented ample liberal humanist values in his Hemlock and After through his hero Bernard Sands, a successful writer and self-declared anarchic humanist. Bernard Sands is the artistic humanist temperament. Bernard Sands is one of those who hates the forces of power, whether capitalism or State tyranny and finds their solution in man’s own natural goodness. His characters are happy in making their relationships with other human beings in a humanistic way. They are always willing to accept some sort of pleasure principle in life. The comprehensive study of the novel reveals him essentially as a humanist – an agnostic humanist as he thinks that man is the essential centre of the world as we understand it. In the novel he is satirical about his many characters but ultimately he is on the side of liberalism. In Hemlock and After he has shown an accurate understanding of English society and a sympathetic sense of the problems of the modern humanist. Although, in Hemlock and After Wilson uses all his intelligence to find new ways of satisfying conduct for the humanist, he often suggests that true humanism is dying, its representativeness growing old and being replaced by a younger generation, whose values he deplores.

Pearl S. Buck’s Pavilion of Women’ analyses the novel in the light of religious humanism. Her humanism is a fusion of classical wisdom and Christian faith. Buck’s faith keeps Madam Wu in touch with God and prevents her from succumbing to her lower nature. Pavilion of Women focuses upon Madam Wu, aspiring to the higher realm of divinity, staying free from the bestial level by imposing ethical control upon her wild impulses. She recognizes her position she occupies in the scheme of nature after her encounter with Brother Andre, a Christian priest. Buck believes that successful relationships are built by respecting others and by paying proper attention to the people around. She also believes that one should pursue his/her ‘Way of religion’ for the welfare of mankind. Pearl Buck’s idea of religion is all-inclusive and human. It defines her humanist convictions. She believes that love is the force that transforms and improves men. Love and humanity makes man to forget himself.

According to Pearl Buck want of sympathy, love; understanding and consideration are the basic tenets of humanism. The novel reveals Pearl Buck a great votary of human uplift and emancipation. She loved and served man because she accepted the reality of a true super Spirit. As a humanist, she cherishes man’s ideals and aspirations because man is the replica of the Divine Spirit. In the novel Divinity itself acquires a new meaning. If the Divine is real, it must be human. Humanism is a necessary factor in perfecting the Divine truth.

Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country’ is the best example of Philosophical humanism. As a humanist Alan Paton emphasizes the dignity of man and his perfectibility, human dignity, individual freedom and social justice. The novel shows that welfare of man is his central concern. The novel made Paton a leading philosophical humanist in South Africa on corrective institutions. Paton tried to promote brotherhood through his own version of humanism. In the novel he talks of the “sense of duty” and his commitment to a sense of social responsibility and a pursuit of those oppressed by society. Through Jarvis and Kumalo, the novelist brings out to the fore of the human value, inherent in a very sad and serious human situation. Mr. Jarvis and Kumalo are the children of the light, surrounded by personal and national tragedy. They never fail to inspire us with their courage and service to humanity. In their fight with adverse fate, they bleed, but their heads are unbowed. Through these characters Paton suggests that there are good man to rebuild society in terms of justice, equality and generosity. It clearly shows that Paton is one of those novelists who stand with the unfortunates. His example of individual conscience, Rev. Stephen Kumalo, has become a character that we mentally lift from the novel and incorporate into our own lives as a reference point of humanism.

Now let us see Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan in the context of humanism. In the novel Khushwant Singh goes deeper and deeper in ethical humanism. It shows how human love, compassion and brotherhood can assuage the wounds caused by man’s hatred for his fellow men in times of great divides. Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan is one of the finest humanistic novels to emerge out of the trauma of partition. It examines with clinical intensity the harsh facts of inhuman bestialities of life and shows how human love can transcend all man-made barriers and boundaries to confront and overcome such catastrophe. Khushwant Singh attacks the narrow concept of religion and upholds the values of human life such as love, affection and brotherhood. Singh emphasizes human dignity, individual freedom, social justice and cultural values. This defines his humanistic bent of mind. Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan is an epoch-making novel which describes not only the terror and tumult at the time of partition of the country, but also lays stress on the values dear to human beings. These values come into focus in Jugga’s final act of sacrifice. .Jugga’s struggle and ultimate death to save the train is truly noble act of humanism. In doing so Jugga’s authentic or real self grasps the transcendent reality. This gives a decisive meaning to his life and destiny.

According to Radhakamal Mukerjee, transcendence … pins man’s faith to cosmic goodness, love and reverence. Jugga’s act of self-sacrifice and humanism is his own choice and not imposed by anyone. His enlightened self-interest can be said to have his inspiration for moral human behaviour. Jugga’s struggle and ultimate death to save the train is truly noble act of humanism.

The study of The Golden Notebook reveals that the relationship between a humanist and a novelist is very close. As a modern humanist she believes in naturalistic philosophy. She rejects all supernaturalism. She relies primarily upon reason. In The Golden Notebook Lessing’s ‘free women’, Anna and Molly decide for themselves ‘their human needs’ and ‘design their lifestyles’ in accordance with their wishes. They are “free women”, they both “live the same kind of life- not getting married” (5). They are “a completely new type of women” (Ibid), and refuse the traditions as Anna says, “they still define us in terms of relationship with men” (Ibid). They are able to live “free” of men and marriage. The Golden Notebook reflects upon the innate goodness of human beings. The great ethical problem of Lessing’s humanism is how to get rid of the boredom, tedium and meaninglessness of life and the consequent tension and anxiety in modern advanced cultures. In The Golden Notebook Lessing suggests certain strategies for the betterment of the individuals and the universe with humanistic outlook.

To conclude, the study reveals that each civilization has developed a humanism characterized by the human person, values and social milieu. Each has nourished a characteristic historical pattern of truths, values and myths, embodying the human person’s and society’s integration with mankind and cosmos as a whole. All the writers of the present study believe that true humanism rests on the moral and spiritual communion of man with fellow-man. Their humanism seeks to rehabilitate man through basing his moral decisions and standards on the foundations of love and reverence rather than those of reciprocity, prudence and equity. They believe that true reverence for life and cosmos is the unfading, perennial flower of humanism.


  1. Buck, Pearl, S. Pavilion of Women. New York. 1946.
  2. Forster, E. M. A Passage to India England: Penguin Group. 1924.
  3. Paton, Alan. Cry, The Beloved Country New York : Macmillan. 1948.
  4. Lessing, Doris. The Golden Notebook. London: Flamingo, 1993.
  5. Singh, Khushwant. Train to Pakistan. New Delhi: Times Books Internatonal.1981.
  6. Wilson, Angus. Hemlock and After. London: Faber and Faber. 1979. Bandiste, D. D. Humanist Thought in Contemporary India. Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation. 1999.
  7. Davis, Tony. Humanism. London: Routledge.1997.
  8. Deshpande, H. V. Literature and Literary Criticism: Indian and Western Perspectives. Jaypur : Shruti Publications. 2006.
  9. Faulkner, Peter. Humanism in English Novel. London: Pemberton. 1975.
  10. Tagore, Rabindranath. The Religion of Man. George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1963.

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