The theory of combined and uneven development has provided a new interpretive framework for studies of the novel in recent years, opening up connections between the central premise that capitalism produces an “amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms” and modernist experiments with narrative time. This article locates antidevelopmental narratives in the uneven culture of the peripheral metropolis, focusing on two twentieth-century urban novels: Lao She's Rickshaw (1936–37) and Mulk Raj Anand's Coolie (1936). Tracing the journeys of migrant workers engaged in informal labor in Peking (Beijing) and Bombay (Mumbai), respectively, the novels juxtapose the visual cultures of colonial modernization with everyday, arresting experiences of poverty and precarity on the city streets. In staging the untimely deaths of their rickshaw-pulling protagonists, they not only interrupt individual developmental trajectories but also challenge the progressive telos underpinning discourses of “imperial maturity” in their respective cities. Central to this challenge is the rickshaw itself, as both a symbol of uneven development and a vehicle that literally and metaphorically drags the protagonists back, bringing an abrupt end to the journey to maturity and, consequently, to the narrative arc of the bildungsroman. In this way, the novels' proto-postcolonial formal interventions are grounded in the visible unevenness of their urban settings.

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