Characterisation in The Novels of R. K. Narayan

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Full of Variety, Life and Vitality

      Narayan’s characterisation is realistic and lifelike. He is satisfied with his ‘ivory-inch’, and like Jane Austen portrays only a limited type of people. That is to say that he portrays only those characters who are known to him. His characters are drawn with a convincing psychological consistency. These characters are full of life and vitality. They are thoroughly human in their likes and dislikes. Krishnan the philosophic minded lecturer in English with all his idealism stands in sharp contrast with the worldly minded Ramani, who found his happiness in a mistress. Mr. Sampath, the happy-go-lucky opportunist serves as a contrast to Raju, the guide. Savitri, the proud but staunch Hindu wife is quite different from modern and independent minded Rosie.

Common Heroes

      Narayan’s heroes are never drawn on a heroic scale. They are the unheroic heroes. They do not control the events, but the events control them. In the case of Narayan’s heroes, character is destiny as well as destiny is character. Many of his heroes are compelled by the force of circumstances to leave their homes. Raju goes from town to town, and after a brief span of jail settles down on the bank of the Sarayu near Mangala village. Chandan, the Bachelor of Arts, intensely in love with Malathi, at last runs away from home. Mr. Sampath, the cunning shark, is impelled by luck and leaves Malgudi for ever. The English Teacher after-his wife’s death also leaves his home to take interest in spirits. Mali goes to America.

Realistic Characterization

      Narayan portrays his characters realistically. He also gives details of their traits, manners, habits and dress. He also gives their background. Narayan always grasps the psychological essential which gives his characters their reality. Mr. Sampath may not be as full of life as Mr. Pickwick or Mr. Micawber, but we understand him. We know his psychological make-up and we know just how he will behave and why. This psychological grip enables Narayan to draw complex character better. A character like Raju or Sampath is full of complexities. He is not only a sinner, he is also a saint. If he can cheat, he has his moments of generosity too.

Neither Saints nor Sinners

      In Narayan’s novels we do not have pure villains and pure saints. We have an alloy of good and bad in his major characters. Mr. Sampath and Margayya and Raju and Rosie all have their weaknesses as well as virtues. In fact, they are more sinned against than sinning. This is another proof of his realistic characterization, for in life we have neither purely good nor entirely bad people.

Rustic Characters

      Narayan’s rustic characters too are as good and significant as the rustic characters of Hardy. His minor characters play an important role in the novel. For example, without Velan of Mangla village it could have been impossible to develop the action of the novel in the existing manner. Characterization in ‘The Guide’ The characterization in The Guide is of a simple form. It lacks subtlety. The novelist tries to unfold the nature of his characters through their acts and speeches. Rosie is a round character; she changes. Raju changes only in form but not in essence. Narayan does not portray three dimensional characters in The Guide; all his characters are two-dimensional (Rosie) or one-dimentional. All the characters in the novel have their flaws. Marco and Rosie suffer from maladjustment; Raju is greedy and dishonest; his mother and maternal uncle are traditions bound; Velan is superstitious; Gaffur and Joseph are dry and wooden. But the novelist does not pass his judgment on his characters. Like an ideal artist he lets them act in the fitness of their individual virtue or evil. Women characters are very few, but the character of Rosie has been portrayed in detail. She is a tragic character.

The Concept of the Hero

      The hero of the novel, that is Raju, fulfills Aristotelian expectations. He is prominent, not by virtue of his being a prominent person, but from the point of view of his significant presence in the novel. He never leaves the stage, and many dramatic things happen to him. He grows in economic stature; he has a foible responsibility for his tragedy; the social climate goes against him. But at the same time is a bit different hero from the one conceived by Aristotle. He is not of high birth; he is not of royal blood. This is because of Narayan’s modern outlook. He believes that a hero should belong to the common strata of society. Like Dickens’s heroes, the heroes of Narayan are also common people. Narayan here is like other Indo-Anglian writers of novel who regard the common man as the hero of their work. Narayan’s heroes rise from the average to the extraordinary status.

The Concept of the Heroine

      The heroine in The Guide is also typically Indian. She is dominated by the hero both emotionally and economically. She is unlike Becky Sharp of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair or the heroine of Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Most heroines shine in the pages of fiction because of their sexual role or appeal. But Rosie is of a different ilk. She indulges in sex momentarily; but later on she devotes her life for the sake of art and culture. She is a typical Indian woman who is dominated by man both emotionally and financially.

Absence of Traditional Villains

      Similarly the traditional villain in the novel is absent. The hero himself commits certain acts of villainy, but he is open to correction or penance.

Objective Characterization

      Narayan’s characters are not only real, they are also objective. Narayan tries to keep them as much free from autobiographical touches as possible. Precision and not abundance is Narayan’s keynote of characterization. He gives only a few details of his characters. His characters are not mere types; they are individuals to a degree. He knows their foibles and social set-up. His characters move in the local atmosphere of Malgudi. He develops his characters very well.

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