Message Through Aesthetic Art in The Guide

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      Narayan is a pure artist who writes for the sake of art. But he does not ignore life altogether. The message of novel is not didactic or philosophic in the technical sense. It is the result of his observation of life, and is natural and not an imposed one. His purpose seems to be to analyse human nature and human relationships. He is the novelist of human conduct. In contrast to Hardy’s, his vision is essentially comic and optimistic. He recommends normal life and normal human relations which are permanent source of joy. Life must be lived despite its many shortcomings.

      In The Guide Raju comes into conflict with traditional morality as he seeks to realise his aspirations. The result is, the accepted order is disturbed, and there is chaos and disorder. He seduces Rosie and thus is guilty of immorality and corruption. When she comes to live with him, conventional morality is violated, and there is displeasure all around. The neighbours are annoyed, and his widowed mother is obliged to leave the home of her husband and go away with her brother. Raju does not attend to his work, has to give up the railway stall and soon is in financial trouble. He is unable to pay his debts and has to face prosecution in the law courts. His violation of conventional norms creates chaos and disorder in his own life and in the life of his social environment.

      Raju is an egotist, an individualist, a self-seeker who exploits Rosie both sexually and commercially. They earn fabulous amounts but he wastes it all in drinking, gambling and extravagant living. He is too possessive and self-centred and forges Rosie’s signature to get a box of jewellery. It is a criminal act, and it soon lands him in jail. It is a violation of ordinary norms of human conduct, and his example shows that crime does not pay. It is, as if, Raju were being held up as an example of the disorder which follows quick upon the heels of any violation of the accepted order. We must not act as Raju acted; we must not be over-possessive, so self-centred, and so extravagant and jealous.

      Real salvation or happiness lies not in acting as an impostor as Raju does. He plays the role of Swami, exploits the credulity of the simple people of Mangala. He lives on them as a parasite, and expects food from them even when they themselves are victims of famine and drought. But he is not happy internally. Happiness comes to him only when he begins to act as a selfless man and gets a measure of self-awareness. It is only when he undertakes the fast that he identifies himself with the community. “For the first time in his life he was making an effort; for the first time he was learning the thrill of full application outside money and love; for the first time he was doing a thing in which he was not personally interested. He felt a new strength to go through the ordeal.”

      It is now that spiritual regeneration takes place. Raju rises above his self, recognised the claims of humanity and learns to live and die for others. He may die, but his very death is his spiritual rebirth. Raju has matured, has achieved self-realisation and self-fulfillment and has taken a new birth. His example shows that salvation and regeneration, the realisation of one’s highest aspirations, comes not through self-seeking but through self-negation and self-effacement. One must learn to live and die for others, before really noble and worthwhile achievement becomes possible.

      Narayan’s vision is essentially comic. His comedies are comedies of sadness; he is the practitioner of the serious comedy, a very difficult art form. He has achieved in his comedies what is generally achieved in the tragedies. The theme of his comedies is essentially tragic. A tragedy is concerned with inner illumination, with spiritual cleansing and regeneration. It results in a better apprehension of the mystery of life. All this Narayan does through his comedies. In The Guide, “We see Raju maturing before us by stages over a length of time. His self-awareness is hard-earned but not in the way in which a tragic character earns it, self-wrung, self-strung. The cleansing takes place no doubt but not in the heroic strain. For the central character is a kind of anti-hero. Narayan’s common man with potential for the uncommon, nowhere does he reach anything like tragic height of a Lear, although Raju’s self-awareness and the sense of social and spiritual fulfilment that results from it in the end is something that extorts our admiration. Only his fortunes and his progress are set in a lower key—the province of the comic mode.” (Narasimhiah).

      R.K. Narayan has used the comic mode to present reality of the highest kind. The study of the novel is therefore, fruitful and uplifting. It answers the question—“How to live.”

University Questions

Write an essay on Narayan’s message in The Guide.
The aesthetic aspects of art are in greater preponderance in the novel than the didactic message. Discuss.

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