Use of Irony in The Novel The Guide

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1. Use of Sweet and Genial Irony of Character and Ideas

      Narayan is a master of irony. In The Guide he uses irony both on the level of character, situation and ideas and his total view is of reality. In his comic mode of presentation, he uses irony as his major technique. But his irony is hardly ever bitter. It is sweet and genial. Narayan’s statement that Raju was sitting on the granite slab beside the ancient shrine, cut off from the main flow of life burdened with the feeling of alienation, is, a classic example of his irony. It is verbal irony of a very high order. Raju is called Swami by Velan unwittingly, but see the irony of situation that it becomes a suitable name for Raju and he dies as a Swami. Rosie deliberately chooses a name, Nalini, before starting out on the career of a dancer and this pseudonym is another example of Narayan’s subtle use of irony. Similarly Raju thinks that after coming out of the jail he has discarded his past like his beard in the barber’s shop. Only after two days when Velan looks reverentially on his face he feels his chin and regrets its smoothness. A beard is necessary for playing successfully the role of a Swami, so he grows it in course of time. Like the beard itself, his past continues stored up in his mind, although manifest many a time on his face betraying his real feelings. He maintains composure.

      In the beginning of his arrival at the shrine near village Mangala Raju is hungry; he is in dire need of food. At the end of the novel, too, when he is about to die he needs food and gets none. Hunger gives him the status of a Mahatma. Many officers and government machinery move over there but fail to recognize Raju, the jaff-bird, is another example of irony.

2. Irony in Case of Rosie

      In the novel characters get the same as they reject. It is inexplicable why Rosie, the daughter of a Devdasi, who wanted to escape the stigma of her community ultimately remained the same. The only difference was that she was not a Devdasi, a dancer for those who visited the temple, but was the dancer for all. Not only this, she could not forget her husband although he had given her the cruelest wounds by calling her names and denouncing her art. She gets back neither Marco nor Raju. Ultimately she comes back from where she had left, that is Madras, and settles down there, far away from her husband and her lover.

3. Irony in Case of Raju

      Released from the jail Raju wanted to hide his face and live obscure life, circumstances conspired so much against him that he was put in the limelight. In the first part of the novel he did not believe in God and religion, but in the last part of his life he himself becomes a religious soul, a saint. It is through his self-assertion and possessive nature that he loses Rosie and gets jail, yet it is again by these virtues applied selflessly that he attains sainthood and martyr status.

      There is both implicit and explicit irony in Raju’s personality. In multiple capacity as guide, as lover and as saint, he tries to express his personality. He is always aware of the masks he is putting on, yet he is unable to take them off. It is while narrating the story of Raju in the third person that the novelist exploits best irony along with humour, self-criticism and introspection.

      Raju is shown as if faced with the question of making a choice between to be and not to be at a time when he has no choice at all. The irony of alternatives becomes poignant at two, when Raju receives Marco’s book and the document, the other when the villagers would not leave him alone. In the first case he prefers manouvering to honest dealing. He is a slave of passion and is so possessive that he does not want Rosie to know even about the publication of Marco’s book. But ironically Rosie comes to know about Marco’s book and Raju’s forgery.

      Even Raju’s confession proves futile; he wants to get rid of his new role as a saint, yet the circumstances force him to continue in the same role. He wanted to cry to the people to get out. He was not the man to save them. No power on earth could save them if they were doomed. Why did they bother him with all that fasting and austerity? But he had his back to the wall and there was no further retreat he knew, it would not help. They might enjoy it as a joke. He had to accept the irony of the situation: Velan sitting hunched up and emaciated, was tremendously excited and straining himself in order to make Raju’s penance a success: ‘Providing the great man concerned with every comfort — except of course food.’ With a vindictiveness Raju decided not to eat for the next ten days. Irony is this that the people do not know whether his decision to go on fast is voluntary or involuntary.

4. Irony in the Contrast between Raju and Marco

      There is a great deal of irony in the contrast of two characters, Marco and Raju, the scholar and the guide. Marco is an intellectual, a pure scholar like Rosie who is a pure dancer. He has raised Rosie in physical comforts and worldly pleasures. He has raised Rosie’s status by marrying her. He has taken a bold step in doing so. He knows that Rosie has committed adultery, yet he remains cool and after a great deal of thought abandons her. He acknowledges Raju’s help. He is an honest man. On the other hand, Raju is a hypocrite and dishonest person who is of a possessive instinct. He possesses someone else’s wife, then he tries to grab other’s money and valuables. He is of a secretive nature. He is an ordinary guide and a shopkeeper who wants to rise to the heights of rich men. He has neither education nor status. He is a rogue who misguides another gentieman’s wife.

      Marco attains his stature of a great scholar and Raju attains sainthood. But the irony is quite obvious. Marco for all his scholarship is known only to a few people whereas Raju receives ovation from all and sundry. The scholar gets nothing but isolation, the rogue gets more than what he deserves. Though a difficult question to answer whether or not the writer has any obvious sympathy for Raju, yet this much can be said with reassuring guess that the writer’s tone and vote seem to fall in favour of Raju. Marco is painted like a stone or a machine whereas Raju is portrayed like a warm young man.

5. Irony in Mangala Village

      Another instance of irony of situation is in Mangala village. The area is drought-affected. People have no food and water. But the same place on account of Raju’s fast becomes a place where people start pouring in and all facilities from tea-stalls to efficient postal system are made available. What facilities they were getting due to the Swami’s fast could not be available to them ordinarily. More poignant is the suggestion that government officials, doctors, journalists and photographers would disappear never to come back to report the misery of local people after the collapse of Raju, the Swami.

      The villagers talking among themselves say, Appearances are sometimes misleading. This is an exact statement and fits to Raju. What greater irony can be than the fact that that single man (Velan) is responsible for the whole predicament of Raju during his last phase.

6. Narayan’s Irony is Free from the Touch of Criticism

      Besides being sweet and genial, Narayan’s irony is also free from the touch of criticism. He avoids social criticism. Though there are references in The Guide to five year plans, extension of postal services to villages, extension of Railway, Indian government’s efforts at educating the masses to eradicate mosquitoes through films, the general backwardness of the country, red tapism and business of government officials and deep-rooted traditions of the country, yet these are evoked and exploited to create the illusion of contemporaneity. The novelist has avoided any direct criticism of the social ills or the political evils. By using the irony of understatement and sly references, he has highlighted the commonness of the common man and emphasized his uncommon significance. The tragic irony is that these ordinary, puny mortals of Malgudi aspire to reach the peak of success forgetting the actuality of their situations. This is the source of the comic and the ironic in his fiction.

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