Symbolism in R. K. Narayan Novels

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1. Extraordinary, Sudden Rise in the Hero’s Life

      R.K. Narayan is happy with the ivory inch on which he works. His range is limited like that of Jane Austen. He avoids extraordinary situations and characters. He deals with the average and the commonplace. But his protagonists become extraordinary during their course of life without losing their grip from the commonness of the average. Many of them grow spiritually. The hero is almost in every novel hazy and unsure of his intentions, but a critical event precipitates the crisis of consciousness and the hero emerges clear-headed and strong-willed. The critical even generally means meeting with another person. In The English Teacher this new person is the villager who keeps Krishnan in communion with his dead wife involving him up to the extent that he resigns his job and cuts off himself from the normal life. The meeting of Margayya in The Financial Expert with Dr. Paul, the writer and journalist brings change in the hero of this novel. In The Guide, the fortune of Raju changes when he meets Marco and Rosie in Malgudi and Velan in Mangala village. In all these cases the hero experiences extraordinary change. Extraordinary changes in the hero’s life are symbolic of the sudden interference of Fate in human life.

2. Guilt and Sin cannot be Hidden

      Narayan believes that guilt and sin cannot be hidden. Similarly crime cannot be hidden. Both the criminal acts of Raju are exposed. First, his physical relationship with Rosie, another gentleman’s wife is exposed. Secondly, his forging the signature on the documents sent by Marco is exposed. Thirdly, his hiding Marco’s book from Rosie is also exposed. Similarly is the case with Jagan in The Vendor of Sweets. With the cheque book in his bag Jagan moved to retreat, although away from his son but always within reach. He hadn’t essentially changed, but he had definitely attained a perspective over his own ideas and experiences.

3. Malgudi as the Nucleus of Narayan’s Symbolism

      R.K. Narayan’s symbolism centres round Malgudi which is a microcosm of India. That is why in each novel, a different section of Malgudi is portrayed. In the trilogy, Swami and Friends, The Bachelor of Arts and The English Teacher the area of operation was education and the characters were either teachers or students. In The Dark Room and The Financial Expert and The Vendor of Sweets the protagonists are businessmen. Mr. Sampath and Tire Man-Eater of Malgudi concentrate on publishers. From different professions he moves to different caves and streets of Malgudi, its temple and antique places, its schools and colleges.

4. Narayan’s Symbolism is Based on the Concept of Man’s Puniness

      The last lesson of a novel of Narayan is that man is ordinary. The world may call Krishnan the English teacher or Margayya and Sampath the financial wizards or Raju the Mahatma, but in each case, the lurking irony points out obliquely that their greatness is imaginary; in reality it means nothing. Hence Narayan’s symbolism centres round the concept that man in this universe is puny and insignificant creature.

5. Disharmony, an Ultimate Path to Harmony

      The novelist is in favour of joint family system. He discards separated houses and avoids quarrels of the members of the same family in different novels. For this he makes his characters eat at different places. Raju’s mother serves food at different places to Raju and his maternal uncle to avoid clash between them. After they are mentally alienated Mali and Jagan in The Vendor of Sweets get different kinds of food cooked for themselves and eat separately. Conflicts and disharmony in his novels are paths to peace and reconciliation.

6. Fast, a Symbol of Sacrifice and Detachment from Worldliness

      Fast means indifference to food which is a symbol of material and mundane things. Therefore, when Raju decides to go on fast thoroughly convinced of its need and sanctity, he becomes a Mahatma. Indian life is symbolised through different ways. In The Vendor of Sweets the clash between the father and the son symbolises the cultural clash between the East and the West and is presented through charkha and typewriter. Jagan with the Gita in his hand is well contrasted with his America-trained son Mali with his plans for manufacturing typewriters. For Jagan it was unimaginable to believe how a man could live with a girl without marrying her. In The Guide the attitude of Raju’s uncle to dancing and Raju’s own considerations of Bharata Natyam as an art business are juxtaposed, and again, the attitude of the simple villagers to ancient culture and the educated man Marco’s attitude to Indian heritage can be contrasted. The villagers have faith in their traditional culture whereas the modern educated man like Marco has love for the history of ancient India for the sake of promoting scholarship.

7. Malgudi as a Symbol of Transitional India

      Malgudi is a symbol of the transitional India shedding the age old traditions and accepting the modern Western civilization. Whereas the novelists like Raja Rao, Kamala Markandeya and Ruth Jhabwala are interested in showing the clash between the oriental and the Occidental, R.K. Narayan is happy in showing how the indigenous values are being corroded under the heavy impact of the Western culture.

8. Temple as a Symbol of Peace and Serenity

      In the world, temple is a symbol of serenity and peace. In The English Teacher, The Dark Room and The Financial Expert worship of gods fulfils wishes and brings peace and prosperity. In Mr. Sampath, madness is cured in the spiritual atmosphere of the temple. The mystical potency of the temple is also present in The Guide. Raju stays in a temple at the river bank near village Mangala. It is in this temple that he gives up his old self and assumes a new self and a transformation. The village is a symbol of simplicity.

9. The Sarayu and the Memphi Hills as the Symbols of Continuity and Eternity

      In The Guide the Memphi hills and the Sarayu symbolize the continuity of the universe and the definiteness of fate. It was in the cave that Marco and Rosie fought and fell apart. Rosie is a symbol of life, and the hills are symbols of neutral and indifferent fate. Marco is a symbol of the hardness and harshness of modern civilization. River Sarayu is the symbol of the vastness of Nature. The river Sarayu occurs again and again in other novels of Narayan.

10. Indian Symbols used to Present an Authentic Picture of India

      In the words of an Indian professor, “Narayan being a true Indian novelist has used the temple, river, village caves, snakes and dance to present an authentic picture of Indian life and not to pander to the expectations of the Western man. The Swamis, the snakes, the beggars, Bharat Natyam, and the yoga are used by novelists like Raja Rao to present a handy guide to the tourists of India. In Narayan’s case the use of these symbols is not only a structural necessity, but also necessary for the depiction of genuine India and her authentic sensibility.”

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