English 580: World Literature Spring 1998

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Discussion questions/talking points for R.K. Narayan's The Guide

[Pagination is to the Penguin edition, isbn 0-14-018547-x]

1. Raju goes through several transitions in the course of the novel. What kind of person is he at the beginning? Where and when does he begin to change? Why? How many changes does he go through? What kind of person is he at the end?

2. What kind of man is Marco? What is his attitude toward his wife? One critic of the novel believes that Marco purposefully "tricked " Raju into his crime. Do you agree? Why did Marco send a copy of his book to Raju?

3. What kind of woman is Rosie? What changes does she undergo during the novel? Cf., Rosie and Nalini. What about her dancing ability--what are we to understand about that? What symbolic significance is the cobra? Why does she leave Marco? What of her relationship to Raju and his mother?

4. Why doesn't Raju share Marco's book with Nalini? Describe Raju's relationship with Rosie/Nalini. What does he give her? What does he take from her? What should we understand about her from the way she deals with Raju after his crime?

5. What are we to make of Raju's role as swami? Balarama Gupta sees Raju as "a selfish swindler, an adroit actor, and a perfidious megalomanic " [ "A Sinner is a Sinner is a Sinner--A Study of Raju. " Perspectives on R. K. Narayan . Ed. by Atma Ram. Ghaziabad: Vimal Prakashan, 1981, 127-135. Quote appears on p. 135.] Or is Raju actually transformed at the end as C. D. Narasimhaiah asserts " "with all his limitations Raju's is a rich and complex life--achieving integration at last. It is worthwhile studying this singular success of the novelist's creation. It is obviously not very easy to make a saint out of a sinner . . . . " [in "R.K. Narayan's The Guide, " Aspects of Indian Writing in English. Ed. M. K. Naik. Delhi, Macmillan, 1979. Quote appears on page 186.].

6. What is the structure of the novel? What makes it different from straight chronological narration?

7. What of the narrative stances in the novel? What are they? When and why do they change?

8. What exactly are the various meanings of "guide " in the novel? How does the term become layered with additional meanings as we move through the novel?

9. What are to understand about Raju's protestations to the villagers that he is not a holy man? What does he do to convince them he is? What does he do to convince them he is not? What is Narayan's point in portraying the villagers to be so willing to believe in spite of Raju's denials of sufficiency to be a leader?

10. What is a sanyasi? What are they trying to accomplish as individuals? What roles do these people play in society?

11. What undertones are there of Gandhism in the novel? See, for example, page 93, where Velan says, "Your penance is similar to Mahatma Gandhi's. He has left us a disciple in you to save us. "

12. How do we interpret the final scene of the novel? Does Raju die or not--opinions vary. Clues might include Narayan's own commentary in his autobiography My Days where he recounts: "Graham Greene liked the story when I narrated to him in London. While I was hesitating whether to have my hero die at the end of the story, Graham was definite that he should die " (p. 168). What do we make of Raju's final comment that is is "raining in the hills "--how can he know that? A critic analyzing this scene reports that it is a traditional Hindu belief that "gods can be propitiated and rains can be brought about to end a severe drought if somebody sacrifices his life through fasting and prayer " [R. M. Varma, Some Aspects of Indo-English Fiction. New Delhi: Jainsons Publications, 1985, p. 136].

13. Is there an issue of west vs. east in this novel? What of the portrait of the American? Are there other western influences or characters?