Themes of R. K. Narayan's Novel The Guide

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1. Man’s Commonness in an Uncommon World as the General theme

      The general theme of the novel is man’s commonness in an uncommon world. The novelist has tried to show how insignificant the man is before the forces of Nature, Fate and Society. At the same time he has tried to present his major dieme on the stature of morals that immorality and over commercialized instinct of man do pay in the long run and are responsible for his downfall.

2. A Number of Themes Such as Possessiveness and Sacrifice, Roguery and Sainthood Mixed Together

      But the novel has a mixture of themes. Romance and reality, materialism and spiritualism, greed and detachment, possessiveness and sacrifice, marriage and sex, art and scholarship, roguery and sainthood, ignorance and scholarship, the rural and the urban, the true and false have been blended together as the themes of the novel. To some the major theme of the novel appears to be the love-affair of Rosie and Raju, to others Raju’s sainthood and martyrdom, and still to some others the major theme of the novel appears to be loneliness, for at the end of the novel we find all the major characters isolated and lonely and separated. Raju dies all alone despite so much crowd and ovation for the cause of the villagers; Marco leads a secluded life as a scholar, and Rosie is forced to live as a dancer and lastly settles down in Madras all alone.

3. A Perfect and Artistic Fusion of Different Threads of Theme

      An important feature of the novel is that all these themes are fused and blended so artistically in one rope that no thread seems to hang out distinctly; they are not in contrast or opposition to each other but are in unison with each other. The background and the theme are one whole; they are fused.

4. Malgudi as a Major Theme

      Some critics may further suggest that Malgudi is the theme of the novel, for it is against die background of Malgudi and village Mangla that the novelist draws up the whole thing. The Malgudi station with all its hustle and bustle and the changing fortunes of the law, with all its surroundings and natural scenery, Memphi hills and the forests, has been drawn preserving the reality of the place. The modernized parts of Malgudi are disturbed mentally and spiritually. Its people are materially minded and hypocritical whereas the people of the village are simple, straightforward and God-fearing. Since Malgudi is gradually putting on modern colours, it is losing its serenity. The Memphi hills and the Sarayu symbolise the continuity of the universe and the definiteness of fate. It was in the cave that Marco and Rosie fought and fell apart. She, being a living symbol of life, and the hills being symbols of neutral and indifferent fate rejected her like hard-hearted Marco to the civilized part of the city. Since she did not attain spiritual maturity, despite perfection in her art, she moved from city to city giving performances, and finally settled in Madras. In fact, Narayan’s India is symbolised by Malgudi.

5. Romance or Rosie as a Minor Thence of the Novel

      Another minor theme of the novel is Rosie herself. Her romance with Raju is presented for a very long period in the novel. It is only Rosie who provides the bright colours to the novel and makes it more palatable. It is through her that the novelist provides a treatment to sex and love. The pattern of love is formed between the wife and another man, a stranger in the form of the railway guide. The romance has the secret moments of joy, first physical and then spiritual, the amorous bondage between the two partners. The two strangers merge, but soon they begin to disintegrate. When the overcommercialized spirit of Raju creates doubts into Rosie’s mind, their love begins to disintegrate. The sense of guilt starts gnawing at the heart of the erring wife, and the best tolerated infidelity of wife smolders in the mind of the husband.

      Rosie has been introduced in the novel in a very dramatic manner. “There was a girl who had come all the way from Madras and who asked the moment she set foot in Malgudi, can you show me a cobra — a king cobra it must be, which can dance to the music of a flute.”

“Why ?” I asked.

“I want to see one. That’s all,” she said. Her husband said, “We have other things to think of, Rosie. This can wait.”

      This shows that Rosie is mentally free even after marriage, and her relations with her husband are already strained. A brave and delightful person could capture her, and Raju does it in no time. But the writer’s interest is not in the bedroom-fineness like Somerset Maugham and D.H. Lawrence, but in the social forces which drive the hero to a crisis. The inner spiritual disturbance of Rosie, a psychic life becomes clear at the stage when she starts thinking of her husband; it begins by her asking for the book written by him.

      The romantic theme of love is not the integral part of the theme. It is an ornament for the theme. The romance seems to be coming from outside and not within. It is not innate but grafted one on the theme of the novel. Like Zola the novelist shows the powers of acquiring information, his ability to cohere and analyse the whole pattern of society. But Zola’s spirit is somewhat deeper in comparison to Narayan’s. There is hardly anything sordid or brutal in it, neither in the background nor in the theme of the novel. Love is restricted to the company of the man and woman and the doors are shut against its variety. Love is the primary condition of the theme, but it is not of primary consideration for the gradual progression of the novel. The philosophic conclusion is that immoral love does not pay in a society which is of adverse frame. The guilty love has its tragic end. Love clings like a leech and fed up with its juices leaves the victim.

6. A Compromise between Moral and Aesthetic Values

      To conclude, the novel is a compromise between didactic and aesthetic values from the thematic point of view. The novelist tries to present certain morals in a very delightful manner: the bad consequence of immorality, the gullibility of the masses in paying homage to the fake Swamis and the evil of commercialisation have been suggested in an indirect manner. The purpose is to teach and delight, to instruct and amuse. The morals, however, are not exposed with blatant directness but with reticent suggestiveness. The conclusions have not been given by the artist, we them at the end of the novel.

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