Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Significance of Aesthetic Description in the Perspective of the Narrator

“It was translated to him word for word, and the enclosure, a cheque for one hundred rupees, was handed to him. A big crowd gathered to watch this scene. Singh pressed the letter to his eyes. He beat his brow, and wailed: ‘Tell me, sir, am I mad or not?'” (Narayan 34)

“There they stood facing each other on the floor of the compartment Rajam Iyer was seized by a sense of inferiority. The newcomer stood nine clean inches over him. He began to feel ridiculous, short and fat, wearing a loose dhot and a green coat, while the newcomer towered above him in his grease-spotted khaki suit” (Narayan 57)

Notes: Variations in the third person narrator – Hemingway-esque exteriority vs. omniscient, psychological perspective. Minimalist description vs. expansive, aesthetic detail. The connection between aesthetic detail and interiority  – would a perspective lacking the psychological component be as effective in maintaining its exteriority with the incorporation of more vivid aesthetic detail? If the first excerpt included an image about Singh’s “grease-spotted” clothing, how would it change the perspective of the narrator? Are aesthetic descriptions based on visual objectivity or do they contain subjective visions?

R. K. Narayan, “Malgudi Days” – “Father’s Help” & “The Doctor’s Word”

“When the doctor resumed his seat the patient asked in the faintest whisper possible, ‘Is that someone crying?’ The doctor advised, ‘Don’t exert yourself. You mustn’t talk.’ He felt the pulse. It was already agitated by the exertion. The patient asked, ‘Am I going? Don’t hide it from me.’ The doctor made a deprecating noise and sat back in his chair. He had never faced a situation like this. It was not in his nature to whitewash. People attached great value to his word because of that. He stole a look at the other. The patient motioned a finger to draw him nearer and whispered, ‘I must know how long I am going to last. I must sign the will. It is all ready. Ask my wife for the despatch box. You must sign as a witness.’”

–R.K. Narayan, “The Doctor’s Word”

“Swami went to school feeling that he was the worst perjurer on earth. His conscience bothered him: he wasn’t at all sure if he had been accurate in his description of Samuel. He could not decide how much of what he had said was imagined and how much of it was real. He stopped for a moment on the roadside to make up his mind about Samuel: he was not such a bad man after all. Personally he was much more genial than the rest; often he cracked a joke or two centering around Swami’s inactions, and Swami took it as a mark of Samuel’s personal regard for him. But there was no doubt that he treated people badly . . . His cane skinned people’s hands. Swami cast his mind about for an instance of this. There was none within his knowledge. Years and years ago he was reputed to have skinned the knuckles of a boy in First Standard and made him smear the blood on his face. No one had actually seen it. But year after year the story persisted among the boys . . . Swami’s head was dizzy with confusion in regard to Samuel’s character—whether he was good or bad, whether he deserved the allegations in the letter or not . . . Swami felt an impulse to run home and beg his father to take back the letter. But Father was an obstinate man.”

–Narayan, “Father’s Help”

Notes: assignment of blame/guilt; perception of other people; over-thinking; “whitewashing” information; reality vs. delusion; lies to others; lies to the self; value and respect; respect and fear; cynicism; assumptions; “things left unsaid”

“An Astrologer’s Day” and “The Doctor’s Word”

“…He knew no more of what was going to happen to others than he knew what was going to happen to himself next minute. He was as much a stranger to the stars as were his innocent customers. Yet he said things which  pleased and astonished everyone” (Narayan 2).

“He never believed that agreeable words ever saved lives. He did not think it was any of his business to provide unnecessary  dope when as a matter of course Nature would tell them the truth in a few hours. However, when he glimpsed the faintest sign of hope, he rolled up his sleeve and stepped into the arena…” (Narayan 17).

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Notes: Both these stories, and many of the others, share similar character types and story themes. The first quote from “An Astrologer’s Day” and the second from “The Doctor’s Word” portray main characters who are very self-aware of their commonality; they know they are not all-knowing or perfect in their professions, but will put on an act of professionalism when rupees are involved. There is a theme of a higher power (the stars and Nature) that rules over everyone, and the main characters work as mediums for this higher power, but understand they are beneath it.

Oh the Irony…

“[Swami] asked the peon, ‘Where is the headmaster?’ ‘Why do you want him?’ ‘My father has sent a letter for him.’ ‘He has taken the afternoon off and won’t come back for a week. You can give the letter to the assistant headmaster. He will be here now.’ ‘Who is he?’ ‘Your  teacher, Samuel. He will be here in a second.’ Swaminathan fled from the place” (72).

Narayan, R. K. (1941). Malgudi days. (p. 72). New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Notes: The ending of this short story really peaked my interest because it was a surprise and ironic ending.  I was certainly not expecting for the assistant headmaster to be Samuel, and being surprised really can peak a reader’s interest. After this point, I expected to be surprised in the other readings and found myself trying to solve this puzzle of sorts before I finished reading each short story.

Out of Business

“His heart quailed as he opened the page announcing the prize-winners. Someone in Baluchistan, someone in Dacca, and someone in Ceyol had hit upon the right set of words; not Rama Rao. It took three hours for Rama Rao to recover from this shock. The only way to exist seemed to be to plunge into the next week’s puzzle; that would keep him buoyed up with hope for a few days more.”

Notes: I found this quote amusing yet slightly saddening at the same time. Rama places so much of his time and effort into the crossword puzzle in hopes of winning some money for his family. His reaction to finding out he is not a winner is almost comical.

 

Comedy

“This was a quieter outing. He strode on at an even pace, breathing deeply, with the clay helmet on, out of which peeped his gray hair, his arms locked behind, his fingers clutching the fateful letter, his face tilted towards the sky” (Narayan 32).

Notes- I think the character being so overpowered by fear is meant to be sort of funny to the reader.

Narayan, R.K. “Gateman’s Gift.” Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. 26-33. Print.

In Light of Finals Week

“He was soon out of Ellaman Street. His feet ploughed through the sands of the riverbank. He came to the river steps, removed his coat briskly and went down the steps. ‘Oh God,’ he muttered with folded hands, looking up at his stars. ‘If I can’t pass an examination even with a tenth attempt, what is the use of my living and disgracing the world?'” (57).

Narayan, R.K.Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.
Notes: This passage right here reminded me of how finals week has just about descended on us. And how we all at one point or another, regardless of whether we’re religious or not, turn our heads up and ask some higher power for all the help we can get. But Iswaran isn’t exactly asking for help, but rather to be smited out of disgrace.  And the ending turns out a bit ironic, because his prayers are somewhat answered. Yes he passes,  which was the basic idea of why he was calling out to God in the first place, and then he literally passes away. But because he didn’t straight out say, “Oh God please help me”, it seems as though whoever answered his prayer took what he said literally. The entire story was interesting because of the miscommunication for help, and of the exact wording Iswaran chose.

Attila

“He hung his heavy tail down so loosely and looked so miserable that the burglar stroked his head, at which he revived. The burglar opened the gate and went out, and the dog followed him. Attila’s greatest ambition in life was to wander in the streets freely. Now things seemed to be shaping up ideally.

Attila liked his new friend so much that he wouldn’t leave him alone for a moment. He lay before Ranga when he sat down to eat, sat on the edge of the of his mat when he slept in his hut, waited patiently on the edge of the pond when Ranga went there now and then for a wash, slept on the roadside when Ranga was at work” (Narayan 100).

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Notes: This passage is intriguing since the focal point is a dog. The dog Attila was constantly personified such as when he was described as having an ambition “to wander in the streets freely.” The author also utilizes free indirect discourse to place readers inside the dog’s head when the passage reads, “Now things seemed to be shaping up ideally.” One of the ironies within the short story was the dog’s purpose was  supposed to protect the house from intruders, and he not only allows the burglar in but gets attached to him.

The Doctor’s Words

“I will bet on it.  He will live to be ninety.  He has turned the corner.  How he has survived this attack will be puzzle to me all my life,” replied the doctor (25)

Narayan, R.K.  (1984)   Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin Group.

Notes: It is strange how the doctor is unaware of how Gopal survived the heart attack since Narayan makes it very clear that it is the doctor’s words which help Gopal survive.  The doctor is aware that Gopal is going to die.  However, when Gopal constantly pleads with the doctor to let him know the truth, the doctor lies to Gopal by assuring him that he will become hale and hearty.  He lies to Gopal since he doesn’t want to Gopal to lose “that thousandth part of a chance [he had] of survival” (Narayan, 25).  The interesting fact is when the doctor visits Gopal the next day, “[Gopal] had turned the corner” since he was awake and well (Narayan, 25).  Gopal’s sudden improvement in health proves the fact that it is the doctor’s lie which gave him the hope for survival.  If the doctor had lied to in order to give Gopal the hope for survival, how can it not have come across his mind that his words had a placebo effect on Gopal?  Is the doctor trying to be modest or is he really clueless as to how Gopal survived?

Bleeding Hearts

Venkat Rao’s heart bled when he saw his child sleeping in her pink frock, hair combed, and face powdered, dressed and ready to be taken out .

R.K. Narayan, Malgudi Days (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1947), 147. SAKAI.

Notes: It is strange that the author says that his “heart bled” because hearts naturally bleed. Does this intentional word choice emphasize the pathos of the moment? But the sincerity of the moment is subverted by the character’s indecisiveness.