Does Mukundan in Anita Nair's novel "The Better Man" become a better man?

Seminar Paper, 2008

18 Pages, Grade: 2,7



0. Introduction

1. The definition of “The Better Man”

2. Mukundan’s betterment
2.1 Facing his trauma
2.2 Achuthan Nair influencing his son’s life
2.3 The signs of Mukundan’s betterment
2.1 A temporary regression leads to true happiness

3. The reasons why that novel is a psychological novel of formation

4. Conclusion16


0. Introduction

Monica Ali’s psychological novel of formation is a collection of different kinds of emotional strains and traumas. Each character is afflicted with emotional problems, especially the main character Mukundan Nair who is tortured by his mother’s death even after many decades. Bhasi has experienced a sad love story but he has managed to recover from that, has started a family and has become a healer.

First of all, I will give a definition to the question: what is “The Better Man”? Then, I will explain explain Mukundan’s betterment. Whereas Mukundan’s friend Bhasi has been able to sever his connections with the past, Mukundan is absolutely unable to refrain from his past. In chapter 2, I will explain Mukundan’s transformation by analysing the confrontation with his trauma and naming the signs of Mukundan’s betterment. However, there is also a time in which Mukundan behaves very selfishly. That selfishness, though, is the factor which ultimately contributes to Mukundan’s emotional recovery.

It is worth mentioning that Mukundan becomes able to establish a deep friendship and a good relationship. For the first time in his life he is deeply in love with a woman and it is not merely an affair basing on superficiality and sexual intercourse. In that context, the the reader will find an explanation in 2.3 of how even a short period of disturbed narcissism can serve as a mainspring with regard to a psychological cure. And the last chapter will deal with the question, if Nair’s work is a psychological novel of formation novel[1] ?

1. The definition of “The Better Man”

Admittedly, I wondered during the whole reading process about the background of the title. First of all, I was thinking about if Bhasi might not be the better man? In the further course of the reading process, though, I decided that Mukundan undergoes the most important metamorphosis in the novel. Furthermore, particularly with regard to his great psychological change, Mukundan is the one who contributes to the fact that Nair’s novel is a psychological novel of formation.[2]

An important question is indeed: what is “The Better Man”? Has “The Better Man” merely been betterered within a certain period of time? That approach might be applicable to both Bhasi and Mukundan. Or does the comparative “better” in “The Better Man” point out that one person is better than another one? That question rather applies to Mukundan who has been evolving into a better man than his father. As both approaches are applicable to Mukundan and as Mukundan is the character I will mainly focus on, both approaches are analysed within this term paper.

Expanding one’s emotional and psychological potential and learning how to stand by oneself, play an important role during the whole novel. Furthermore, with regard to Mukundan and Bhasi, the novel underlines that it is important to take the responsibility for oneself and for others. Almost until the end of the storyline, Mukundan is neither able to feel responsible for oneself nor for the human beings he loves (Bhasi and Anjana). Mukundan does not even realise that he has betrayed both his beloved and his friend, i.e. he has made serious mistakes. In order to be a better man, though, one has to be capable of admitting one’s mistakes and apologising for them. Honesty is also an important trait of character because it takes a long time for Mundian to be eventually honest to himself and to others. When Bhasi wants Mukundan to tell him about his traumatic experiences and his sufferings, Mukundan does not tell him about them, immediately. In order to become a better man, it is important that one gets an access to one’s own feelings. Being anti-authorian is also important to be a better man.

The chapter “A better man than his father” lists some ways of behaviour and traits of character, Mukundan – “The Better Man” should have. Firstly, “The Better Man” realises his faults, he succeeds to transform his psyche, i.e. overcomes traumatic experiences and moreover he is even able to apologise for his faults in the past.

2. Mukundan’s betterment

2.1 Facing his trauma

Mukundan knows that he has been suffering from his mother’s death for years. „He is haunted by a sense of failure for having abandoned his mother.”[3] He is even tortured by nightmares concerning his mother’s death. Krishnan Nair calls attention to that fact, that the mother’s death was not Mukundan’s fault several times. The 58-year-old still assumes that he has made a big mistake by not helping his mother and that she consequently hates him.[4] Mukundan says to Krishnan Nair that he might have prevented her death. Krishnan Nair argues: “Your mother could have prevented what was happening to her. The heartbreak. The humiliation. But she chose to remain a victim. So don’t go about feeling guilty for what happened to her.”[5] Mukundan has never tried to overcome that trauma and he is almot 60 yeas old when he eventually takes great pains in the betterment of his psychological constitution. Krishnan Nair could say the same to Mukundan, as Mukundan considers himself as a victim of his father’s callousness, as well. At that point, though, Krishnan Nair does not seem to sense the severeness of Mukundan’s trauma. Soon, Krishnan plays the past down by saying to Mukundan: “You were young. Just a boy pretending to be a grown-up. Your father is a formidable man.”[6]

Krishnan Nair also sets Mukundan thinking by talking to him, at all, and also by uttering: “It’s all in your mind. If you want to look around you and see mountains, forests, and oceans, you will. Or else, you will see little mounds of earth, sparse bushes and piddling streams.”[7] Krishnan wants to point out to Mukundan that everything depends upon the point of view and that Mukundan mostly tends to perceive what he wants to perceive. The title of that chapter is called “The Mountain That Was As Flat As a Field on Top” which is a metaphor for that Mukundan does not see the peak of a mountain to which he could climb, i.e. he has no aims.

Bhasi is eventually the one who sets Mukundan thinking about his past and his trauma. In addition to that, Bhasi is the one who finally influences Mukundan to transform. Mukundan has to walk a long path in order to recover from his traumatic past. Even if Bhasi helps him to overcome his trauma, it takes Mukundan several months until he is finally healed. Bhasi functions as a catalyst, for he is the one who gets Mukundan finally making the best of his past and changing his frame of mind. Mukundan has never gained a good access to his own feelings, what is underlined by his depression and feeling of emptiness.

2.2 Achuthan Nair influencing his son’s life

Mukundan’s father is very authorian and hardly empathetic but Krishnan Nair is right when he says to Mukundan: “He [Mukundan’s father] was callous, brutal and tyrant. But he also had the courage of his convictions. When he believd in something, he let nothing come between him and his purpose.”[8] Achuthan Nair stands by his statements and his deeds. For example, Achuthan betrays his wife and he does not feel ashamed of that, i.e. takes full responsibility for it. He even accepts being hated by Mukundan and being despised by his bastard daughter. Furtheremore, Achuthan even shatters his son’s dreams and hopes to become a famous writer. Achuthan commands his son to: “[…] banish that thought from your mind.”[9] In order to threaten his son and to hold a mirror up to Mukundan what will happen if je continues to write, Achuthan says: “No son of mine is going to waste his life trying to be a writer. Do you understand?”[10] By asking the rhetoric question “Do you understand?” Achuthan underlindes his authority as well as his weakness as he sees no other possibility as threatening his son with casting him out. Achuthan Nair asks Mukundan his rhetoric question a second time: “What do you understand?”[11] Mukundan – in his weakness – answers in the affirmative, i.e. he is awed by his father and ceases to write, immediately. Achuthan humbles his son by “tearing the sheets into several pieces”.[12] That experience was such shattering to Mukundan that he has never been writing anything but letters and official reports.[13] Consequently, Mukundan does not want to keep the memories alive, all the time. Achuthan has been influencing his son’s entire life which is, for example, stressed by: “When he [Mukundan] began to live alone and no longer had to fear his father’s wrath, Mukundan still could not bear to read a book. It caused too many inexplicable emotions to surface.”[14] One can conclude that his father’s prohibition not to become a writer, is a horrible trauma to Mukundan.


[1] One finds different terms for the novel of formation. As it is actually a German invention, many academics have adopted the German term “Bildungsroman” or “Entwicklungsroman” or they have translated the German term. One finds “novel of formation” or “novel of education. In that context, it is important to know that the term “Bildungsroman” is either equated with the term “Entwicklungsroman” or it is regarded as a Unterbegriff of. In my term paper I use the term “novel of formation”.

[2] That topic will be analysed in chapter 4.

[3] „Synopsis of „The Better Man“ on Monica Ali’s webpage.

[4] Chapter III “The Croggy Face of Steadfastness”, p. 44.

[5] Compare to: 3

[6] Chapter III “The Croggy Face of Steadfastness”, p. 45

[7] Chapter IV “The Mountain That Was As Flat As a Field on Top, p. 52

[8] Chapter XXVIII “A Paying of Dues”, p. 343

[9] Chapter II “The Reluctant Native”, p. 16.

[10] Compare to: 4

[11] Compare to: 4

[12] Compare to: 4

[13] Chapter II “The Reluctant Native”, p. 18

[14] compare to: 8

Excerpt out of 18 pages


Does Mukundan in Anita Nair's novel "The Better Man" become a better man?
University of Hamburg  (IAA)
1b Literatturseminar: Indian Female Gaze
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ISBN (Book)
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Does, Mukundan, Anita, Nair, Better, Literatturseminar, Indian, Female, Gaze, Anita Nair
Quote paper
Nadine Richters (Author), 2008, Does Mukundan in Anita Nair's novel "The Better Man" become a better man?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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