Tag Archives: Short Story

The axe and the tree – Short story genre and Modernism

The dull noise of a blade meeting a tough surface reached his ears. He got up and rushed out. He saw four men hacking the massive trunk of the old margosa tree. He let out a scream: ‘Stop that!’ He took his staff and rushed at those who were hacking. They easily avoided the blow he aimed. ‘What is the matter?’ they asked.
Velan wept. ‘This is my child. I planted it. I saw it grow. I loved it. don’t cut it down…’
‘But it is the company’s orders. What can we do? We shall be dismissed if we don’t obey, and someone else will do it.’
Velan stood thinking for a while and said, ‘Will you at least do me this good turn? Give me a little time. I will bundle up my clothes and go away. After I am gone do what you like.’ They laid down their axes and waited.
Presently Velan came out of his hut with a bundle on his head. He looked at the tree-cutters and said, ‘You are very kind to an old man. You are very kind to wait.’ He looked at the margosa and wiped his eyes. ‘Brothers, don’t start cutting till I am really gone far, far away.’
The tree-cutters squatted on the ground and watched the old man go. Nearly half an hour later, his voice came from a distance, half-indistinctly: ‘Don’t cut yet. I am still within hearing. Please wait till I am gone farther.’ (107)

The axe, in R.K. Narayan, Malgudi Days, Penguin Classics Edition, 2006

Notes: The short story genre is a very fascinating exercise in style. The author manages to set a solid relationship between the reader and the character(s) of the story, within a few pages only. It is interesting to consider this genre in a modernist perspective, as an experimentation and a break of conventions, but still a rigorous practice in its formal effects and its use of epiphany.