Unraveling Existential Crisis: A Study of Syed Waliullah's Tree Without Roots

Mohammed Ahsan

Unraveling Existential Crisis: A Study of Syed Waliullah's Tree Without Roots

 Unraveling Existential Crisis: A Study of Syed Waliullah's Tree Without Roots

Humaera Sultana, Md. Jony Miah

Department of English, Noakhali Science & Technology University, Noakhali, Bangladesh

Abstract: This study explores the existential crises experienced by the major character in the novel Tree Without Roots by Syed Waliullah. The book functions as a literary devicethat allows for the examination of the perplexing inter play of existential concerns within the frameworkofa postmodern societal setting. The story unfolds against the backdrop of post-colonial East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), with a sophisticated analysis of identity, alienation, and the quest for meaning in an ever-changing world. Majeed, the protagonist of the novel, serves as a representation for economically disadvantaged individuals residingin rural areas of Bangladesh, who rely on self-constructed religious affiliations as a means of establishing their presence within society and he experiences marginalization due to his exploitative nature within society, exhibits traits of social isolation and emotional detachment. The primary cause of his isolation and emotional separation from social life may be attributed to a feeling of alienation stemming from societal conditions. This research tries to elucidate the intricacies of identity, choice, and purpose ina swiftly evolving society by delving into the experiences and obstacles faced by Majeed. This experiment employs the qualitative research method as well as existential philosophy. The result of the study demonstrates Majeed's existential quest, examining his cultural estrangement, interpersonal connections, and the symbolic importance he has within the wider framework of the novel.


Syed Waliullah is a renowned Bangladeshi novelist, short story writer, and playwright of 20th century. Waliullah's liter- ary works frequently dipped into the existing social and political issues of his era, and he gained recognition for his perceptive and discerning examination of society. The novel Tree Without Roots is a profound work of literature that explores the complicated personality of Majeed, a postmodern individual struggling with challenges of culture, belong- ing, and self-exploration. This article analyses the complexity of Majeed's character, explaining how he represents the fundamental principles of existentialism and postmodernism within the socio-political environment of post-partition Bengal.

Tree Without Roots (1967) is essentially a reproduction by Waliullah himself, and its Bengali version named Lal Shalu, was published in 1948, just after India and Pakistan's achievement of independence from British colonial domination. This workhas been recognised as an "improved version" or amore sophisticated piece of writingby a respected scholar from Bangladesh (Choudhury IX). Syed Waliullah, being a member of the post-war intellectual community, incorpo rates existentialist perspectives and postmodern aspects into his work. Postmodernism challenges conventional con- cepts of firm and stableidentities, and instead highlights the fluid, dynamic, and socially gener ated aspects of identity. The book, an exemplary workin Bengali literature, skillfully interlaces multiple stories that mirror the turbulent changes in social, political, and cultural domains.

The narrative of Tree Without Roots explores the complexities of identity, meaning, and choice, reflecting the difficulties and ambiguities that are typical traits of a postmodern society. This research aims to analyze many layers of existential- ism present in the work, providing insight into the significant influence of Waliullah's depiction of a society where one's historical roots are forgotten, and the existential exploration of a postmodern individual becomes the main focus. By conducting a thorough examination of Tree Without Roots we want to decipher the intricacies of the postmodern exis- tential dilemma, providing valuable insights into the wider significance of Waliullah's literary investigation.

Literature Review

This section provides an analysis of the literature pertaining to the topic. Md. Shafiul Alam Khan Chowdhury in an article comment "Santiago, the old man of Earnest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, is a portrayal of ever coura- geous human nature while Waliullah's Majeed from Tree Without Roots declares his urge to survive with pride. Majeed could leave his shrine for his safety but he did not because his 'existence' has no meaning without the shrine. Now, it is not only his physical existence but also his beliefs that need to survive. Though he is very much aware of the fact that the mazar is a fake and meaningless entity, he grabs this meaninglessness which can only make his future existence meaningful" (223). "Tree Without Roots is an excellent example of existentialism along with modernist elements. The protagonist is proved to be an existential modern hero by Sayed Waliullah. The aim of this paper is to find out existen- tialist and modernistic elements in the main character Majeed, "The sly impostor who acts like a saviour of the helpless men and women around him and is himself a poor man and has been driven to his fraudulence by the need for a livelihood" (Mahmud 132). Existentialism posits that existence is inherently meaningless; individuals are responsible for giving meaning to their own lives by overcoming feelings of angst and despair (Prodip 115). The similar phenome- non is seen in the novel Tree Without Roots.

Research Methodology

The study utilises a design based on qualitative methods, using a descriptive-qualitative technique for data analysis. The information obtained from discour seanalysis of the text, along with other relevant critical texts, journals, periodi- cals, is assessed from several viewpoints to investigate the convergence of existentialism and postmodernism. This pa- per aims to demonstratehow Syed Waliullah effectively portrays the sense of existential distress and disappointment that was widespread after the 1947 Partition of British India. Waliullah achieves this by using the character of Majeed as a symbolic representation. In the postmodern context, where traditional structures and narratives are dismantled, Majeed's journey reflects the fragmentation and fluidity of identities. Conducting a thorough examination and analysis of the discussions in the text seems to be a productive approach for this work. This study delves into the complexities of a fragmented world as shown throughthe character of Majeed.


Existentialism is a movement in philosophy that includes anxiety, freedom, dread, knowledge of mortality, alienation search for belonging, and absence of freedom. Existentialism posits that individuals experience profound anguish and desolation, since they see a lack of inherent purpose in their existence. Notable existentialist thinkers are Jean-Paul Sartre, Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Each of these intellectuals made significant contributions to the advancement of existentialist philosophy, while also possessing unique concepts and viewpoints withinthe larger existentialist framework.

Existentialism involves inquiries into the essence of a person and the process of self-exploration. The term suggests a disconnection from one's origins or cultural heritage, serving as a metaphor for the existentialstate of the individuals in the society. Majeed, the protagonist of Tree Without Roots, may grapple with issues surrounding his sense of self, as he strives to establish his own identity in a complex and ambiguous environment. He has a significant identity crisis as he struggles with the breakdown of his cultural heritage, which is being ripped apart by the religious and political turmoil of the day. Majeed, who was born into a Muslim family, has challenges in harmonizing his religious and cultural background with the evolving dynamics of the country after partition. While workingas amuezz in at Madhupur Garo Hill, Majeed has been informed about the village of Mahabbatpur from a government officer and after hearing the description of the village, Majeed realises that in order to thrive in life he needs to go there and establish a stable identity. The moment Majeed has arrivedat Mahabbatpur and noticed that every single person in the village was abso- lutely illiterate and uninformed, he has the notion in his heart that the only way he will be able to earn money in the village is by engaging in theshrine business that hehas chosen to start. In spite of the fact that he has been battling for a long time, beginning with his boyhood, with poverty, starvation, and instability, he is now in Mahabbatpur. His life- long goal has been to have a stable financial situation, a wife, and a house. The individual's existential dilemma is intensified by the absence of familiar environments, connections, and a cohesive understanding of one's own identity. The metaphor of the Tree Without Roots symbolizes Majeed's endeavor to establish stability and significance in a world where the fundamental aspects of his identity have been disrupted.

The sense of "anguish, a generalized uneasiness" (Lavine 330) is another indicator of an existential stance. It is a widely held belief that anexistential character would have a feeling of anxiety which may be defined as the fear of the emptiness that is inherent in human life. It would seem that Majeed always expresses signs of uneasiness and anxiety in meaning of life and his existence. In the novel, we find Majeed fighting against the people who willhinder his existence. When Taher Quader and Ratan, together with their father, took a stand against Majeed's activities, their father, who was an elderly man, began arguing against Majeed in the arbitration. After that, Majeed informed them that he would not be concerned with theissues that the family was facing. However, Majeed privately reflected on the fact that ifthis elderly man was still living, he would pose a danger tohis own survival. So, by usinga unique method, Majeed inflicted severe psychological distress onto the elderly gentleman during the arbitration, resulting inhis subsequent expulsion from the village.

Majeed's experiences may be shaped by the wider socio-political backdrop portrayed in the novel. This context can enhance the existential ambiance, exemplifying the influence of external influences on individual existences. Majeed could potentially serveas a symbolic embodiment in the story, embodying specific concepts or viewpoints. The figure may serve as a representation ofthe struggle faced by individuals torn between traditional values and modern ways, so emphasizing the wider existential challenges confronted by the society portrayed inthe narrative. Majeed constantly has a fear that his heavenly blessings could abruptly cease. Amidst his distress, he frequently contemplates the possi- bility of being interrogated by the locals regarding his insincerity, and even the potential for his authority to be cha 1- lenged by an individual. Unexpectedly, a Pir infiltrates his territory with the intention of challenginghis rule. When the Pir of Awalpur is endangering Majeed, he goes to Awalpur totake action. Majeed harbors envy towards the Pir's wide spread acclaim and strategically devises multiple schemes to undermine his popularity, so solidifying his own standing within the village and its surrounding areas. Upon learning that the landowner KhalekBepari has directed water from the Pir of Awalpur through Dhalamia in order to conceive a child with his senior wife, Majeed perceives this as a po- tential danger to his own existence. If there is a Mullah present in this village, and the village Chairman assigns him the task of fetching water from a different location, it would be considered dishonorable for him to refuse. Majeed proac- tively elucidates the corruption of the Pir of Awalpur to Khalek.

Once again, Akkash, a well-educated young man hailing from Mohabbatpur, proposes the establishment ofa school in the village council. Majeed, on the other hand, believes that if the villagers become educated, his shrine business will no longer thrive, leading to his demise. Utilizing the method, he informs the villagers of his intention to construct a mosque in the designated area, rather than a school. By preventing the villagers from receiving an education, he effec- tively ensures his own existence.

Another character who threatens Majeed's existence is his younger wife Jamila who never listens to him and does not recite namaz-kalam according to his words. Even when everyone was busy chanting, Jamila spent time on her own. In her behavior, Majeed thinks that if the people of the village see this, they will say that Majeed's wife does not obey him, then how will the people of the village obey? So, he punishes Jamila harder and harder so that she cannot go against Majeed. Therefore, Majeed was making every effort to maintain his existence.

Existentialism often addresses the feelings of loneliness and alienation that people may encounter. Majeed's alienation from his roots, community, and culture throughout the novel may be seen as a sign of his existential solitude and it has been amplified due to thefact that he lives in a village whereheis constantly reminded that heis a "stranger" (Waliullah 129). Majeed is very lonely, even with two wives and a stronglandowner as a friend. Furthermore, not even his wives are allowed to know his secrets. Accordingto Waliullah, Majeed believes that "we are alone, all of us, every man is alone in this cruel and friendless, intolerant, pitiless world" (Waliullah 59). In the opening of part four of the story, Majeed repeatedly refers to Khaleque as a 'friend'. It demonstrates how Majeed yearned for companionable companionship and was shocked to learn that Khaleque had never thought of him as a friend. It intensifies his feelings of loneliness and ab and onment morethan ever before in his life.

The existence of Majeed is hindered by a natural disaster. The ending of the novel addresses a catastrophic hailstorm that inflicts significant harm to the crops and residences of the villagers. After the hailstorm ceases, Majeed refrains from inspecting the condition of the mazar or the crops in the fields. Instead, he promptly seeks out the landowner Khaleque because "the main source of his livelihood was nothis land and his crops, but faith, and faith, he knew, though not easily destroved by natural calamitiesas material wealth, if once destroyed may never be restored" (Waliullah 113). Majeed believes that if Khaleque has unwavering trust in him, it would inspire others to do the same. Majeed avoided leaving his shrine despite the potential risks to his existence as he believed that his existence would be rendered devoid of purpose in the absence of the shrine. Presently, it is essential for both his corporeal presence and his convictions to endure. Despite being fully aware of the fact that the mazar is a counterfeit and devoid of significance, he seizes onto this lack of meaning as the sole means to provide purpose to his future life. Majeed's current situationaligns with the fundamental premise of existentialist philosophy, which states that "Existence precedes essence" (Lavine 330). Existentialism acknowledges the intrinsic "absurdity" (Lavine 331) of existence and the difficulties humans have in seek- ing significance in an apparently in different universe. The characters inthenovel may encounter events that exemplify the absurdity ofhuman life. Majeed converts a deteriorated grave into a sacr ed shrine (mazar) by using the ignorance and simplicity of the inhabitants. The villagers refrain from inquiring about the justification of religious speech of Majeed. Rather, their perception of God centres on the mazar. This scenario engenders an absurdity inside the novel. No one questions the reasonableness of Amena, Majeed's wife, circling around the mazar. They do not actively pursue religious explanation of this practice. These things are completely absurd in the novel.

The concept of death has utmost relevance and significance in existentialism. The majority of existentialists believe death is the embodiment of nonexistence. As to Jean Paul Sartre's perspective, "Death is as absurd as birth" (Lavine 332). Esteemed philosopher Martin Heidegger, known for his work on existentialism, posits death as the only means of liberating ourselves from the dread of mortality and the insignificance of existence. The novel Tree Without Roots utilizes death as a trigger to prompt philosophical contemplation. The characters ponder the significance of life, the transience of human existence, and the pointlessness of some endeavors. Majeed thinks, "Men are born, grew up, and suffer, prey to greed, lust, desire and disease, and then they die. They die like the swarming insects that fly and swim and crawl on this earth" (Waliullah 59). Majeed undergoes a metaphorical demise as he is forcibly removed from his accustomed environment, customs, and sense of self. Loss of roots engenders a feeling of detachment and estrangement, represent- ing a manifestation of existential demise. The issue of death is also intricately connected to a pervading feeling of deso- lation and futility. Majeed is confronted with an unpredictable future, and the breakdown of his familiar environment intensifies his sense of existential hopelessness.

Tara Mian, one of the book's minor characters, possesses a strong existentialist personality. Despite their frequent argu- ments, he never doubted his wife. Their dull, routine lives provided a certain recreationa lelement to their arguments. However, if his conviction is challenged, he loses all sense of purpose in life. Because he no longer values his former life, he becomes disinterested in his current existence. He feels as though there is no purpose to anything in this world. His desire to end his life is sparked by the knowledge that it is pointless without him. Another unfortunate target of Majeed's animosity, Amena makes the deliberate decision to transform her life. If she had no desire to have children of her own, she could easily lead a comfortable life. But in the end, her failure stems from her choice to raise her social standing by having a child within her family. A perceptive coservationcan guaranteeus that Majeed and the twosup- porting characters are comparable in their pursuit of a fulfilling existence.

Postmodernism is a sophisticated and diverse intellectual movement that originated in the middle of the 20th century, mainly in the disciplines of philosophy, art, literature, and cultural studies. The old views that have been held about truth, identity, and the nature of reality are called into question by this divergence from modernity. Postmodernism is characterised by a skepticism towards grand narratives, a rejection of absolute truths, and focus on the notion that reality isshaped by society. Postmodern thinking places great emphasis on the concept of identity, asserting that iden- tities are not static or inherent, but rather shaped by language, society, and power relations.

Postmodernism challenges the validity oflarge-scale narratives and all-encompassing ideologies. Waliullah utilizes a postmodern storytelling method to accurately reflect the fragmented nature of Majeed's reality. The story is a compila- tion of several viewpoints, where the concept of truth becomes difficult to grasp, and the distinctions between reality and delusion become indistinct. Majeed's narrative in corporates several voices, each presentinga portion of the whole tale, highlighting the subjective and relative nature of reality. Consequently, the tale of Tree Without Roots is often seen as untrustworthy. Salman Rushdie's use of the "Errata" in Midnight's Children is a noteworthy example of an unreliable narrative device that has significant importancein fictional literature. Rushdie utilizes the technique of an unreliable narrativeby using the protagonist Saleem Sinai, whois characterized by making deceptive or wrong assertions related to historical or cultural elements. Additionally, Rushdie incorporates elements of m agical realism, further contributing to the intricatenature of Saleem's unreliability. Postmodern theorists, under the influence of intellectuals such as Jean Baudrillard, contend that our existence is situated in a hyperreal realm where the distinctions between actuality and depiction have become indistinct. This has ramifications for one's sense of self, as people navigate a world that is filled with images, media, and simulations that influence their identity. In the book Tree Without Roots, Majeed is aware that the existence of the Mazar of Saint Shah Sadeque' is a falsehood propagated among the uninformed residents of Ma- habbat pur. He comprehends the harshness of artificial, unresolved societal and religious judgments against a person's emotional and bodily requirements. Despite grappling with internal turmoil between morality and immorality, he is unwilling to publicly confess his misdeeds in order to protect his reputation and ensure his survival. In the postmodern era, epic narrativeslacka foundation, and even Majeed's identity is not authentic, but rather everything exists ina state of hyperreality.

Postmodernism questions the notion of a unified and unchanging sense of self. On the contrary, itproposes that humans possess several, disjointed identities that may undergo transformation throughout time and in diverse social environ- ments. In Syed Waliullah's Tree Without Roots, Majeed's life is characterized by frequent transitions between rural and urban environments, contacts with a wide range of individuals, and contradictory cultural influences, all of which lead to a fractured sense of identity. In his seminal1996 article "Cultural Identity and Diaspora," Stuart Hall provides concise definitions of culturalidentity and elucidates that "Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But, like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation" (Hall 225). From this perspective, culturaliden- tity is not a static essence that is deeply anchored in the past. Cultural identities experience continuous metamorphosis across time, as they are "subject to the continuous 'play' of history, culture, and power" (Hall 225). Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children has a revolving door in the identity transformation of the protagonist Saleem Sinai. In his statement, Saleem Sinai asserts that "I, Saleem Sinai, later variously called Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Buddha and even Piece-of-the-Moon, had become heavily embroiled in Fate-at the best of times a dangerous sort of involve- ment" (Rushdie 3). Saleem is experiencing an identity problem since he does not have a single name and stable roots and goes by many monikers. Similar to this, Majeed is a whole person who experiences transformations throughout the story. Majeed, whois a rootless, financially helpless and religiously corrupt person at the beginning of the novel, turns into a socially and economically strongand deeply rooted religious guru at the end of the novel. In the opening of the story, Majeed presents himself as a rescuer to the people of Mahabbatpur and gains their trust. Progressively, he is capable of communicating to the villagers that he is the one who can lead them towards spiritual redemption. Further- more, he acquires tangible assets throughthe sale of religious belief and attains wealth in a short span of time. Besides, he marries twice, satisfying his lustful appetites. Thus, at the end of the novel, we have a very powerful Majeed in terms of social, economic, and religious aspects. Additionally, he has a pervasive feeling of insecurity and loneliness through- out the whole of the narrative. Therefore, Majeed's sense of identity is not static rather influenced by several factors, resultingin a feeling of being out of place.

Postmodern literature often engages in chronological experimentation, breaking the traditional linear structure of tales. The narrative approach also incorporates tempor al alterations, oscillating between the past and the present. This enables the author to provide a thorough perspective on the individuals' lives, relationships, and the historical events that in- fluence their fates. The narrativebecomes challenging and disjointed due to Majeed's deviations and shifts inboth tem- poral and spatial dimensions. Majeed's narrativeis presented in a non-linear fashion, including flashbacks and temporal changes. The temporal dislocationin this context defies conventional storytellingnorms, presentinga narrative that is more fractured and dynamic. Hence, the continuous, nonlinear displacement of time and space results in the complete fragmentation of Majeed's identity.


Waliullah intended to look into the lives of those living in remote areas, distant from metropolitan environments, with the specific aim of examining how an enigmatic person can employ religion to manipulate a superstitious population and control them like puppets. He opts to focus on a scenario characterised by diligent but uneducated individuals who rely on the unpredictable forces of nature and become victims of the cunning tactics used by both societal and religious figures. Majeed's journey is characterised by a non-linear progression, consisting of disconnected scenes that together depict a civilization undergoing significant change. The objective of this research is to integrate the existential crisis experienced by Majeed, a postmodern individual, with his profound inner turmoil. The present research seeks to ex- plore the complex relationship between individual identity, societal disintegration, and the quest for meaning in a post- modern environment by examining the existential crisis of Majeed as portrayed in "Tree Without Roots." This research provides a detailed examination of Waliullah's story, adding to the current discussion on existentialism in literature and offering vital insights into the complex nature of the human experience in a swiftly changing world.

Author Contributions: We declare that this study was conducted by the authors named in this article: HS and MJM designed the study. HS carried out the literature search and writing of the manuscript. MJM supervises the work. Fi- nally, HS and MJM revised and corrected the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript. Approval: All authors have read and agreed to publish the manuscript.

Funding: No fund was received
Institutional Review Board Statement: Not applicable.
Informed Consent Statement: Not applicable.
Data Availability Statement: Not applicable
Acknowledgments: Not Mentioned.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declareno conflict of interest


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[3] Choudhury, Sirajul Islam. Tree Without Roots. Dhaka: Writers. Ink, 2005. Print.
[4] Choudhury, Safiul Alam. "Existentialism in Tree Without Roots". Crossings: ULAB Journal of English Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, Fall 2010-Fall 20115
[5] Hull, Stuart. Cultural Identity and Diaspora. Theorizing Diaspora: A Reader. Eds. Jana, Evans Braziel and Anita Man- nur. Malden: Blackwell, 2003. Print.
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[8] Rushdie, Salman. Midnight's Children: London: Vintage, 1981. Print. [9] Waliullah, Syed. Tee Without Roots. Dhaka: Writers. Ink, 2005. Print.

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