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A critique of K. Jayatilaka's novels

K. Jayatilakage Navakata Vicharaya
Author : Dr. Dhanapala Balage
Published by Tisum Prakasakayo, Pannipitiya, Rs. 225

The Sinhala novel is roughly ten decades old. A close look at the creative writings of this century shows us how this literary genre has more or less followed its counterpart in the West while endeavouring to preserve a national identity in keeping with the traditional aspirations of the people.

Novelists of the calibre of Martin Wickramasinghe, Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Gunadasa Amarasekara, and in later years A. V. Suraweera, and K. Jayatilaka, (only to mention a few) improved its craft in an imaginatively convincing and a conscious tenor enabling to encompass the diverse contemporary social, cultural and political complexities.

Critical writing (inclusive of contingent journalism) on the Sinhala novel has very often assessed the validity or otherwise of this creative activity but unfortunately this exercise was limited to a close circle of erudite men of letters. In this context, it is heartening to see a few younger critics who have had the desired background and the requisite critical approach to examine our contemporary literature. Dr. Dhanapala Balage is one such critic who silently but eloquently appears to be holding the correct reins in critical writing.


I was convinced of this when I first read his Critique on K. Jayatilaka's Novels (K. Jayatilakage Navakata Vicharaya) published in 1977. It has now been updated for the second time to include his critical stance of all Jayatilaka's subsequent novels.

Balage has captured in eight chapters practically all the subtle and penetrating insight of this creativity as understood by him. He clears his ground by examining very carefully the cultural, social and the political background which stimulated Jayatilaka's creations. In his opening chapter he analyses the circumstances under which the present middle class emerged and how the contemporary social and political forces gradually moulded its structure. He shows how and why the traditional village in its modernization became the absorbing themes of Jayatilaka's creativity.

Young generation

Jayatilaka's literary activity proper commences with Parajitayo which portrays in Udeni the emerging young generation lost in the conflicting ideals of the village hierarchy and those of the urban aspirations. Balage sees in Charita Tunak and Pita Maha a creativity emerging from the Sinhala cultural traits.

Delovak Neti Aya is claimed by him as the first full fledged political novel written in Sinhala, a presumption open for discussion. Parajitayo and Aprasanna Katavak epitomize the traditional convictions and the consequent cultural conflicts.

The protest novel against the folk beliefs and customs are clearly defined in discussing the two works Adhistana and Kalo Ayam Te.

He perceives five categories in Jayatilaka's novels. This is obviously an academic exercise as this publication happens to be a dissertation submitted for the Master's Degree to the then Vidyodaya University of Ceylon.

In Charita Tunak and Pita Maha the novelist traces the changing village in the 1956 era. When Charita Tunak was first published, it attracted the attention of the critics not only because it is the result of a creativity emerging from the deep rooted cultural milieu in the village but also a novel effectively executed on human emotions. Isa is the typical character dedicated to his family and whose life is guided by the Buddhist ideals. Ranjit, his brother, represents the first step of middle class thinking penetrating into the village society.

He enjoys the benefit of free education, tastes the power of money and social position and its values are moulded by the emerging middle class. This is the new village we are coming for. Sena the third brother becomes the villain by force of circumstances.

This is the trilogy that can be discerned in many villages subjected to the Western materialistic impact. The Charita Tunak when first published attracted the attention of the discerning critics who grasped the literary validity sustained in the Sinhala novel. Martin Wickramasinghe for example saw in Charita Tunak a parallel of Knut Hamson's 'Growth of the Soil'. Balage takes pains to disprove this opinion.

Traditional village

Pita Maha is the other novel classed into the same category as Charita Tunak, Here the village temple takes a prominent role through Rev. Ratanalankara - the guiding factor in the traditional village. In this novel too like in the Charita Tunak the village trio is obvious in Mahadombe - the village elder, Podidombe - the man do ideals, and Parakramasinghe - the rising middle class.

Balage discusses these two novels in the backdrop of socio-cultural and political resurgence manifested itself during this period. He sees in them a contemporary chronicle, a methodical analysis of events and thus interprets them in the changing context of the village society. All these changes he argues are the results of the post 1956 political transformation. None would deny this obvious finding, but the literary reality and the symbolic relevance is that he has missed the deep meaning conveyed by these two works.

I refer to the overt exposition of the forces that maintain the eternal balance between good and evil. I may be wrong but I continue to see this explicit in the symbolism of goodness in Isa, Mahadombe and Podidombe while Sana and Parakramasinghe stand for evil. Isn't this the perennial conflict which sustains human activity. It will be interesting to know what Jayatilaka, the novelist has to say about this.

The first political novel according to him is Delovak Neti Aya. He utilises all his research formulas to substantiate his case in including a long essay analysing the political novel in the West especially in the Untied States and the United Kingdom. Through this essay he tries hard to evolve a definition of the political novel which appears to apply very well to this novel.

Parajitayo and Aprasanna Katavak are both in the third category of culture conflict novel. Both have commonplace characters which became the raw material for many subsequent young writers. Balage narrates the significant incidents in the lives of Udeni and that of Chalini in Parajitayo to support his theory how the novel depicts the class struggle.

Adhistana and Kalo Ayam Te both revolve on the traditional behavioursim and customs, the fourth classification identified by the author. Adhistana is based on the traditional concept of virginity while Kalo Ayam Te heavily leans on the permissive society in the village.


We now come to the area of urbanisation and the village cultural and traditional base. This is the fifth and the last codification in this critique analysing the two novels Punchi Rala and Maya Maliga.

Punch Rala epitomises the undying village unity of the ancestral family lineage of the Sinhala cultural homogeneity. The relationship between Punchi Rala and Podina, the parents and the children Nandana and Suvimalee with their spouses dealing with and leading the poverty stricken life is impressively focused by Jayatilaka with such brevity and sympathy that is rarely, found in any other contemporary Sinhala novel. Such poignant situations are many which cannot be presented here.

However I wish to refer to one incident. Due to personal rifts between the parents (Punchirala and Podina) and Nandana the son, the latter marries Renuka in secrecy Punchirala and Podina hearing this wedlock flew into a rage.

However, on the following week Nandana and Renuka wanted to visit the parents and the Sinhala cultural milieu provides for it despite the violent reaction burst out seven days ago. Punchirala normalises the situation.

Maya Maliga, the next novel in this grouping is a modernised folkloristic fable confronting (If I may say so), the realistic novel by which Jayatilaka discusses the eternal problem of the rich and the poor. This theme is further developed in the Matu Sambandayi, a tale between an aristocratic family and a liberalist family whose sons Devendra and Upul ultimately flow into the democratic stream. Upul in particular represents the emerging younger generation.

Balage identifies a second stage in Jaytilaka's political novel in Rajapaksa Valavva and Varnaya Candaya and Manapaya.

The syndrome fashioning the two novels is the conglomeration of the new generation, the majority of which includes the Radala, Govi, Rajaka, castes and the poverty stricken class. They aspire for a new world and a new Lanka by discarding and demeaning the hierarchical and imperial bondages perpetuated by their parents.

However the author is doubtful whether Jayatilaka has succeeded in delineating succinctly as to what happened in the 1956 political upheaval. In the Rajapaksa Valavva, Mahendra Rajapaksa and Jayawickrama exemplify the aristocratic and the emerging rich families respectively. The inferiority complex plagued caste-wise is occasionally over emphasized. The aristocrat and the new rich maintain and cultivate their social stature through immense political manuvering.

The next novel in this group is Varnaya, Chandaya and Manapaya The novelist's concern here is the degeneration of knowledge and the paucity of academic pursuits. He bemoans the ever increasing murders, robberies and the tragedies committed by the violent underworld.

His penetrating analysis of the political scene is an excellent insight into the depraved society.

It is in this context that Piyaratna, the man of letters in the novel excels in this craft who become involved in party politics but just scrapes through to the Parliament thanks to the Manapaya device.

Piya Saha Puttu is the second phase of the novelist's dissection of the contemporary sociological milieu. He excels in his craft and Balage ascribes four valid factors leading to this success. They are:

1. Inspiration and the discipline gained through the Western novel.

2. The story telling techniques, the expressive language and the deep perception of the indigenous Buddhist literature.

3. The deep comprehension of the Sinhala village and its culture.

4. The training and the absorption of the contemporary political scene with its endless conflicts.

Punchiralage Maranaya is a sequel to Punchirala referred to earlier. Here Jayatilaka discusses the fast changing filial understanding leading to selfishness and individual socio-economical aspirations. The Middle East sojourns for new money beginning to plague the village is implicit in the circumstances leading to the disposition of Nandana's house resulting in chaos after Punchirala's death.

Jayatilaka ventures to introduce a novel format for the novel in Manahkalpita Vartavak Hevat Ardha Navakatavak, an 'imaginary report or partial novel'. However, it virtually transforms itself to the story genre in admonishing us on religion, philosophy and social welfare.

Mahallekuge Prema Katavak is the last novel discussed in this treaties by which an aged writer exposes himself having forbidden relations with a young girl. It is ultimately conceded that such behaviour is tantamount committing suicide.

Balage could have further enhanced the validity of his well done research if he included firstly, a bibliography of Jaytilaka's creative writings and secondly an index of the subject matter both of which are necessary requisites for academic research publications.

- Dr. S.G. Samarasinghe

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