Realism in R. K. Narayan's Novel The Guide

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1. Definition of Realism

      Realism in the novel has been defined in various ways. Some scholars call it ‘the fidelity observed in the transcription of life as it is’. Percy Lubbock defines it as verisimilitude to life because literal transcription of life is well nigh impossible. Green calls it ‘a plausible interpretation of life’. R. K. Narayan is also a realist, but he does not portray the photographic reality; he rather represents reality which is artistic. In this he differs from the French realists and naturalists who were interested in the stark and naked realism of life. Narayan depicts the realism which is something more than reportage; he grabs the Indian mind fully with all its superstitious comprehension of life, gullibility, an appreciation of psuedo-scientific things.

2. Real Situations

      An important feature of the realism of The Guide is the selectivity of facts. Realism has been alloyed with romance. The selection has been done on the strength of the individual situation and character. That is why the novelist devoted a great deal of attention to the boyhood of Raju, his manners and his life in Malgudi. The novelist has an eye on the manners and activities and dresses of the people moving over the canvas of the novel. Their individual traits and habits have been depicted with certain relevant details. The situations and events and locale are as real as the characters.

3. Marco is Presented Realistically

      Marco has been presented very realistically. He is very particular about the vouchers but is not particular about his wife’s interest and hobbies. His scholarship and his research in the caves, his behaviour with his wife and his treatment of Raju are also realistic. In the end he gets a kind of sadistic pleasure in sending his wife’s lover to jail.

4. The Picture of Raju as a Lover and Swami is Realistic

      The picture of Raju, both as a lover of Rosie and as an accepted Swami, is realistic. Raju is somewhat a realistic and practical man. But his over-commercialized instinct makes him a man of low surface reality. Raju the shopkeeper, Raju the Guide are the real pictures of Raju’s growth. Rosie as a daughter of a dancing woman, never speaks about her mother. She invariably perks up whenever a suggestion regarding dancing is made. Dancing is her main humour and her main hobby. So the novelist has also tried to show the reality of the human attitudes. Velan’s attitude in life is governed by the servile superstition. He does not change; he remains one and the same. Even after Raju’s confessions, there is no change in Velan’s attitude.

5. A Realistic Portrayal of Contemporary Scenes and Sights

      Contemporary references to railways, urbanization, opening of postal services in the villages, Raju’s talk of educating the village children, development of touring spots, villagers’ ovation and reception and hospitality of Raju who is not in reality a Swami or saint, all are proofs of the realism of the novel. The snap shots of realistic scenes are there in the novel. Verisimilitude is one of the qualities of R.K. Narayan in the description of scenes. He convinces us with the reality of the situation and the scene. The novel is full of various interesting scenes. The childhood of Raju has been described with realistic touch. So has been the life of Malgudi and Mangala village. The scenes of Rosie-Marco-Raju relationship have been described with the realistic pen:

6. Realistic Characters

      The characters in the novel The Guide, are described realistically. Not only in the events but also in characters there is a touch of realism. The characters are brought to life with the realistic appurtenances of the man. For example, mark the following description of Marco: “He dresses like a man about to undertake an expedition—with his thick coloured glasses, thick jacket, and a thick helmet over which was perpetually stretched a green, shining, water-proof cover giving him the appearance of a space-traveller.”

7. No Sordid and Brutal Realism

      Yet The Guide is without rugged, sordid and brutal realism. It has only the polished pebbles of realism. The type of realism we find in Somerset Maugham’s Liza of Lambeth or Arthur’s Child of Jago is absent from Narayan. So is absent sexy realism of Zola and Lawrence. It is the artist’s reality in which Narayan is interested. The highly selective mind of Narayan, like Virginia Woolf’s, rejects the clumsy facts of life. That is why he seeks to find out a romantic setting for his realistic descriptions. His Malgudi is realism incarnated; it is a mini India. His realism is different from C.E.M. Joad’s definition of realism: “realism in literature implies an attempt to state life as it is, to divest it of romance, fantasy and sentimentality.” It is alloyed with romance, fantasy and sentimentality according to the demands of his characters and situations. Gaffur and Rosie are a little sentimental beings. His is indeed a plausible interpretation of life.

8. Realistic Language and Narration

      Narayan’s strength also lies in his realistic language and narrative. Reality of mood and attitude besides the reality of character and situation has been preserved. Yet Narayan is not a scientist in fiction, nor is he a writer of scientific fiction like H.G. Welk. He can create wonderful illusions of reality. Marco-Rosie, Rosie-Raju are only a few. The ‘karishma’ (miracle) of the fake Swami (Raju) over the village girl, who gives her consent for marriage, is one of the high acts of realistic comedy of human life in an Indian village. In his scenes of village as well as urban life R. K. Narayan is not only real but also true and faithful.

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