Book Reviews

A Critical Study of Prison Writings

Imprisonment as Creative Art: A Critical Study of Prison Writings
Ed. P.V. Laxmiprasad, Authorspress, New Delhi, 2021, Pp 117, Price Rs 500/ ISBN: 978-93-90588-90-9

The book under review was published by Authors Press, New Delhi in 2021. It is edited by P.V. Laxmiprasad. The critical essays focused on Prison Writings are contributed by eminent personalities. In all the papers, there is diversity in the collection of Prison writings as the writers are drawn from all the continents. They are namely Nawal El Saadwai, Elie Wiesels, Emily Bronte, Henry David Thoreau, Oscar Wilde, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Martin Luther King, Gopanbandhu Das, Harekrushna Mahtab, Nityananada Mohapatra, Sri Aurobindo, and Vattikota Alawaru Swamy.

The contributors have really studied these writers so meticulously that all the elements of their prison experiences have been focused thoroughly. There are eleven well researched papers that carry the typical stamp of their writings. It is to the credit of the critics and their caliber that all their writings have been critically evaluated. The book is dedicated to Nelson Mandela who was behind the prison bars for full 40 years and championed the cause of Negroes in South Africa. In his Preface to the book, Laxmiprasad, the Editor of this volume, brilliantly traced the origins, development and importance of prison Writings as Interdisciplinary subject.

In the first paper, Anju S Nair, the critic, has explored the element from her reading of Nawal El Saadwai’s Memoirs from the Women’s Prison for a brilliant analysis. She observes that Memoirs from the Women’s prison offer both first –hand witnesses to women’s’ resistance to sate violence and fascinating insights into the formation of women’s community. She concludes that Saadwai’s haunting prose makes Memoirs an important work of twentieth century literature. It is recognized as a classic of prison literature that deals with political oppression, intellectual, freedom and personal dignity. In the second paper, Rajani Priya S. takes up Holocaust –The Nightmares of the Innocent Prisoners in Elie Wiesels’ Night for a critical analysis. She writes that Elie Wisel’s Night is an account of the horrific journey of a seventeen-year-old through the most incredulous part of history. He has lived through the horrors of time. These writings focus on the prisoners who are more victims than criminals.  All humanity was lost in the end. “The opposite of love is not hate but indifference” is catchy and appropriate in the context. In the next paper, Sumnathi Shiva Kumar evaluated the ramifications of Prison Writings from her reading of “Veil Unveiled: Anticipating Feminism in Emily Bronte’s The Prisoner – A Dhwani Perspective”. It is actually a longer poem that Sumathi has studied. The poet envisages through the dreams of her captive woman, a time when she can hope for a life of freedom on her own. Here, the suggestiveness of Emily Bronte’s poem, and its significance will remain an enchanting obscurity for critics to unveil. Sumathi has applied Dhwani theory that freedom draws certain curtains with respect to interpretations, a fact that marks the poem a true work of art. In the paper on Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, Asharudeen, the critic, observes that Thoreau depicted strange experience in the Concord jail. It is his advice to disobey the law when it travels towards injustice. If imprisonment is the result of the righteous revolt, there is no shame to undertake prison life, surely it is the right place for a right man in unjust society. In the next paper, Anuranjan observes through his paper on Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis that it is a prose letter of prison paper which contains no formal divisions like paragraphs. Exercise of power at different spheres of society differs in its own enactment. Prison becomes such a space. The coercion of power by the state and immediate responses of prison inmates through distinct gestures are their way of surviving. The act of writing is one among such responses or resistances. Oscar Wilde chose this form of writing to reflect his resistance. To hide from the surveillance of state power, the individual, Oscar Wilde used the productive power of creativity as Foucault said to make his experience less painful.

S. Malathy is another critic who worked on MK Gandhi’s My Experiments with Truth for certain insights. She observes that Gandhi’s prison life had its own role and impact on Gandhi’s life. He used his supreme principle of Truth and Non –violence as forces that won freedom for the country. In the next paper on Jawaharlal Nehru’s Letters from a Father to His Daughter, Janardhan Reddy, the critic, explores how Nehru used those letters to influence and shape the personality of Indira Priyadarshini, his beloved daughter. These letters made her acquire perfect knowledge and understanding of nature, politics and the country. Nehru was a visionary and his vision is reflected through the series of letters he addressed from prison. Sandra Carmel Sophia through her paper on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream”, explores how the vision exemplified the readers. The spirit echoes that all men are treated equal and should enjoy the same rights and privileges. His message of equality, justice and freedom establish him a man of great fame, a master of orator and a brilliant wordsmith. In the next paper on Indian prison writers from the land of Odisha, Devi Dutta Das highlights the different gamut of emotions and experiences. They were freedom fighters from Odisha who wielded their pen to kindle the passion of men and women. She studied three such writers for her paper namely Gopabandhu das, Harekrrushna Mahtab, and Nityananda Mohapatra. Their writings were proved to be weapons of social reform. Palalkurthy Dinakar worked on the writings of Telangana prison Writer by name Vattikota Alwaru Swamy. He observes that his contribution was hailed as a remarkable one in the sense that he championed the cause of the downtrodden sections. He is a story teller, still, his stories made inroads in to the times of day. His anthology Inside Prison expresses his genuine concern for innocent prisoners. His experience in prison has prompted him for legal and jail reforms in order to save the prisoners from untold sufferings and mental torture. R. Karthika Devi has attempted her paper on Sri Aurobindo’s Tales of Prison Life for critical evaluation. Physical imprisonment for Spiritual enlightenment is the main fulcrum through which she presents that “Spirituality is the key of Indian mind” In his resistance, Sri Aurobindo perceived God in everything inside the prison. He sees God in every object of prison. He has identified, realized and shown that spiritual personality hidden at the bottom made him a spiritualist in the end.

In conclusion, the papers of this highly acclaimed critical volume are known for prison writings and the writers who have been taken up for critical study. It becomes a unique contribution for obvious reasons. They focus on world prison writings. Such writings definitely inspire future generations for their sacrifices. Experiences are varied but there is one central element that is Prison life and their experiences. Laxmiprasad’s efforts as Editor of this volume are highly appreciable. The actual experiences of the prison writers proved to be highly research oriented. 


More by :  Dr. D. Uma Shanker

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Views: 436      Comments: 2

Comment Amazing work.
Congratulations to both.

Neha Chikhale
18-Nov-2023 09:45 AM

Comment It is a wonderful review. The editorial expertise added to the elegance and charm of book review. The reviewer has done an excellent review of Prison Writings and those writers. It is worth reading.

18-Nov-2023 09:13 AM

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