INTRODUCTION TO THE BACHELOR OF ARTS – III : R.K. NARAYAN

 

UNIT STRUCTURE

1. Learning Objectives
2. Introduction
3.   Context of the novel
4. Characters in the novel
5. Significance of the title
6. Narayan’s Technique
7. Language and style
8. Let us sum up
9. References
10. Possible questions

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

 
After going through this unit, you will be able to:
explain the novel The Bachelor of Arts
describe the context, the title and the language used by the novelist.
Analyze the novel The Bachelor of Arts

INTRODUCTION


This unit is a continuation of the previous unit. In the previous unit, we have given you a chapter wise analysis of the novel The Bachelor of Arts. So in this unit we will acquaint you with its context, characters, importance of the title and Narayan’s use of language and style in the novel The Bachelor of Arts.

The novel The Bachelor of Arts presents before us a realistic and amusing picture of the college and home life of a middle class youth, Chandran , with tinges of pathos and irony So you can see that the title encompasses what the novelist portrays in the novel. In fact, Narayan’s language is also as simple as the language of the newspapers and the common man. It will not be an exaggeration to say that Narayan is remarkable for his simple, lucid and easy language and unaffected and elegant prose style. Let me tell you that precision, clarity and exactness are the basic qualities of his prose style. His characterization also reflects his eye for detail. His characters are life- like and have been drawn from the middle or lower middle class of society.

 
 

CONTEXT OF THE NOVEL


The Bachelor of Arts was first published in 1937 with a preface by Graham Greene. Greene has called Narayan “the novelist I most admire in the English language”. The publication of this novel firmly established Narayan’s success and reputation in the field of fiction. The story of the novel revolves round an undergraduate, H.V.Chandran, who is studying in the final year of B.A. at Albert College. The novelist describes in the novel that crucial state in which this young man passes his final year at the college. This novel is a more mature work than his previous novel Swami and Friends .


CHARACTERS IN THE NOVEL


Narayan’s characterization is always lively and authentic . He understands the psyche of his characters profoundly because he dives deep into their psyche to understand the inner motive. As you can see that R.K.Narayan is more interested in presenting the inner happenings in the minds and in the hearts of his characters. His characters cannot break their limits. Their happiness, unhappiness, triumphs , defeats, morality , immorality etc are not unreal but true to their nature. Narayan is extremely successful at character –drawing in his novels. He draws his characters through suitable descriptions and relevant and effective dialogues . His characters are life like and have been drawn from the middle or lower middle class of society. He possesses a sharp insight to see and explore the minds and actions of his characters who look like creatures of flesh and blood

The theme The Bachelor of Arts revolves round the life story of its protagonist, Chandran. Characters in The Bachelor of Arts can be classified as Chandran’s friends like Natesan, Mohan and Ramu ; his teachers like Gajapathi, Principal Brown , Ragavachar and Dr. Menon and , his family members like his father , mother, brother and uncle . Besides , there are the flower thief , the match maker, the post master , the astrologer and Kailas . His characterization is lively and graphic . All his characters in this novel have been brilliantly drawn against the background of humour marked with tinges of pathos. It is due to this all pervading genial humour that The Bachelor of Arts has proved to be such a charming and amusing work of fiction.

Now let us make some further comments on some important characters that figure in the novel .

CHANDRAN : Chandran, who is the hero of the novel , is an intelligent and ambitious youth . He is studying at Albert College in B.A. college Final class . He is a student of English Literature and History . He is an excellent orator . He is adjudged the best speaker in the debate on the topic “Historians should be slaughtered first “. He possesses the unsurpassed capacity to make interesting and impressive speeches in his college . Also he wins the praise of his teachers . On account of his oratory power he is appointed the secretary of the Historical Association. He conducts very successfully the Inaugural Meeting of the Historical Association. He is an intelligent and laborious student . He makes an intelligent plan for his studies though he has to face many difficulties in studying according to that plan . Yet he pursues and becomes a graduate . Apart from being a diligent student , he is an easy going social young man . He has his own pastimes . He leads an easy going and carefree life . He enjoys the company of Mohan who is a poet and who later becomes a newspaper correspondent . He remains Chandran’s friend for the longest period . Let me tell you that Chnadran’s evening walks on the river bank bring a storm in his life when he sees the 15 year old beautiful Malathi . He is fascinated by her charm and this fascination turns into infatuation. He is impatient to marry the girl and insists on his parent’s arranging this marriage. His mother does not like the idea but he expresses his determination in marrying Malathi. But when this marriage did not materialize he feels dejected and disappointed. So you can see that he leaves Malgudi and goes to Madras out of frustration. His frustration is revealed to Ragavan, his friend. “My heart is dead, Ragavan. I lost everybody I love in this world” he says. His extreme sentimentality and emotional nature leads him to become an ascetic (Sanyasi) when he fails to win his draem – girl Malathi. He suffers so much by wandering aimlessly and remaining on alms and charity. But soon he realizes his mistake of becoming a Sanyasi. His gradual maturity and sobriety is seen when he finally reunites with his parents. The conversation below shows his changed attitude
“Are you still thinking of “Malathi”?
“I have trained my mind not to. She is another man’s wife now”
“Do you love the memory of her still?”
“I donot believe in love. It doesnot exist in my philosophy. There is no such thing as love.”

After his realization he finally decides to settle with Susila , 15 year old daughter of Talapur Advocate . Chandran proved to be a loving husband to Susila. and his conjugal life seemed tobe peaceful and happy .

Throughout the novel it is seen that Chandran’s attitude to different social problems remain unorthodox and non conservative. For instance, in the jasmine thief episode he cross questions the Sanyasi for stealing the flowers from his house. Similarly, he believes that old customs and traditions should not stand in the way of happiness of people.
When his mother doesnot approve that Chandran should marry Malathi or a proposal of marriage should be sent by his parents to Malathi’s parents, Chandran raves :
“To the dust pot with your silly customs.”

So you can see that the character of Chandran is developed dramatically through a series of adventures. He passes through three phases –as student in the last year of his college life, as a romantic lover, and as a, frustrated lover who turned Sanyasi . He returned to the realities of life after a disillusionment about his romantic notion of love and life . R.K.Narayan has shown his progressive growth from immaturity to maturity.

MOHAN : Mohan is Chandran’s friend who is also a poet .He has written poems on a wide variety of topics but is yet to get them published in magazines .He remains an unrecognized poet. He impresses Chandran with his poetical capacity and creative qualities. It is through his poems that he comes in contact with Chandran . Mohan doesnot seem to be a good student. He fails and so he becomes a correspondent of the ‘Daily Messenger’. He lives n a hotel in Mill Street opposite the house of Malathi, Chandran’s dream girl for some time . He is practical and worldly wise . It is Mohan’s practical outlook and matter of fact vision with which he convinces his friend Chandran to marry Susila . Infact Chandran feels happy after acting upon his advice. Mohan’s practical attitude to life is seen in the following words :

: “Money is the greatest god in life. Father and mother and brother donot care for anything but your money. Give them money and they will leave you alone”.

His friendship with Chandran goes to the extent of close intimacy and all thoughout his life he remains a faithful friend to Chandran. On several occasions he advises his friend with his practical wisdom. Again it is Mohan who advises Chandran to try for getting the agency of the ‘Daily Messenger’, a newspaper of Madras , and he gets it after strenuous efforts. He helps him in his work . . He knows fully well what is in the interest of Chandran and that is the reason why he doesnot deliver Chandran’s letter to Malathi in which Chandran wanted to know whether Malathi could wait for two years to marry him . Mohan is also very hardworking and quite a devoted worker as you can see his prosperity in his job of a correspondent. You can also very well see that the character of Mohan has not been drawn in full detail. Still we can say that he is a practical man possessing worldly wisdom and all other qualities which make him a successful man.

KAILAS : The character of Kailas has not been drawn in detail . But you can see that Narayan with his penetrating insight and facile pen paints the character of Kailas in such a way as to make him appear in the novel as complete and fully authentic. Kailas is seen only on one occasion in the novel. He meets Chandran in a hotel of Madras . He is very hospitable , but on the otherhand he is a reckless youth. He is a whiskered youth who has come to Madras with two hundred rupees to have a good time . This dissipated youth has been presented as a prolifigate and reckless . He takes Chandran to different places in Madras and pays for everything . He squanders away what he has with him . He believes that , “A man must spend forty years in making money and forty years in spending it ”and he acts on this principle . He is an embodiment of all that is reckless . He is a drunkard and given to excessive spending . He keeps two wives and yet comes to Madras for visiting prostitutes. You can see that he is born with all vices. Thus, in Kailas ‘s character R.K. Narayan has presented another type which is opposite to Chandran.He perhaps wishes to prove that a saint and a sinner can live in the same society .
CHANDRAN ‘S MOTHER : Chandran’s mother is a typical Indian housewife. She is a Godfearing and a saintly lady who keeps herself busy with prayers. As she turns the prayer beads , she utters the name of Sri Rama but at the same time her mind remains occupied with thoughts of her husband , home , children and relatives .She offers prayer to gods in her puja room and prostrates before them . She also has respect for religious persons and devotees of God . Basically she is a highly religious minded lady . Let me tell you that she is also a lady of conservative ideas . She does not approve of Chandran’s marriage with Malathi. According to her, marriage of a boy and a girl should be settled only if horoscopes tally. The proposal for marriage should always come from the bride’s side and not from the bridegroom’s side, because the bridegroom’s party is always superior to the bride’s. Apart from being a conservative lady, she is also conscious of riches and status. It is not an exaggeration to say that she suffers from a snobbery on account of her status and money. That is why she wants her son to get married to a rich girl who can afford to bring handsome dowry. Therefore she says :
“We have a status and a prestige to keep . We can’t lower ourselves unduly”.

From these words we can judge her as a typical conservative mother of certain affluence in Indian society .

But despite her orthodox nature and conservative thinking, she has got some qualities. She is a noble, kind, and gentle lady whose whole mission in life is to make her children, husband and the family happy.

CHECK YOUR PROGRESS


1. Who is the hero of the novel The Bachelor Of Arts ?
2. Who is Kailas ? How is he different Chandran ?
3. In what way do you find Chandran’s mother a typical Indian housewife?



LET US KNOW

Mr. Narayan is the hero of his own early books - the unforgettable ten-year old ‘Swami’, a lovable, mischievous young boy, from his imaginary locale. Most of his books in this phase were based on the life and the environment in Mysore.



SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TITLE


The Bachelor of Arts” may rightly be called a novel of youth. The title of the novel is an appropriate one. It is self explanatory and most suitable as it suggests to the reader a true and life like picture portrayed in bright and dark shades of activities. Chandran’s story is a mixture of life, his love and romantic notion of life, his ambition, his whims and finally his achievement as a Bachelor of Arts, a degree that puts a mark of distinction on him as a well educated young man of his proud parents. The story of the novel begins when Chandran is studying in the final year of B.A. at Albert College. The novelist describes in the novel that crucial state in which this young man passes his final year at the college and his first year in the world. The academic pursuits as well as the extracurricular activities of a B.A. student have been given an authentic description in the first part of the book . The hero remains busy with these activities and plans to go to England after doing his B.A.. In the second part of the book the hero ‘s infatuation for a beautiful 15 year old girl Malathi has been described with a sure psychological touch –how the hero falls in love at first sight, how he shows his impatience to marry the girl though his love has not been reciprocated by the girl, and how his ambition and plans are finally shattered. All this creates a feeling of despair in the mind of the hero. He does not wish to live at home and desires a change, so he leaves for Madras which has been described in third part of the book. He wanders aimlessly in various parts of South India in order to forget Malathi and get mental peace which eludes him. In the end, he becomes a Sanyasi and travels long distances on foot and remains on alms. He grows very weak and looks haggard. He is unable to get any peace of mind. The life of Sanyasi doesnot suit him and ultimately he returns home . In the fourth part of the novel the hero’s life as an agent of “ the daily Messenger ‘ has been depicted . To get the agency of this newspaper he has to face a tough competition but turns up victorious with the help of his uncle and finds himself settled down in his life . At last he marries Susila , the beautiful daughter of a Talapur advocate and thus leads his conjugal and domestic life happily. You can see that in this way, the whole story begins with his college days where he is a bright student of the B.A. Class and ends in his finally getting settled in life with a beautiful wife. The title of the novel touches one aspect of Chandran’s life - his college days .

But here I must mention that while drawing the picture of the activities and experiences , plans and ambitions of the graduate hero , the novelist has also touched upon the various social and religious customs and traditions of a typical South Indian family which is deeply rooted in old traditions, blind superstitions, class snobberies etc. The title is appropriate to the extent that it gives us an idea of the hero’s education. But the novel also deals with many other issues, giving a faithful picture of the colonial Indian society.


CHECK YOUR PROGRESS


1. Do you think the title of the novel is justified?
Say true or False :
2. “The first part of the novel describes in detail the youthful world of college life”
3. Chandran got sick of the life of a Sanyasi.
4. How were the marriages settled among the traditional Indian families in the past ? Mention Chandran’s example in this respect.

 

LET US KNOW

R.K. Narayan was famous all over the world for his humourous and realistic novels. Remember the Malgudi Days, and that music Ta-na-na-na-na starts playing in our head. Every one of Narayan’s readers knows what Narayan-land is called: Malgudi described as small-town India like any other town with ordinary people, ordinary needs and simple life. In most of his works, the setting is Malgudi.


NARAYAN’S TECHNIQUE



Among his contemporaries R.K.Narayan is perhaps technically most perfect . He has an easy way of storytelling . He has the capacity to explore the psychology of human behaviour . His plots are simple and uncontrived and characterization realistic . His technique is marked by his preference for a smooth –running story . In this respect we can compare him with the two other most prominent novelists of his times : Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao . He is more precise in story telling while Anand uses elaborate method of description. Raja Rao appears to be more philosophical . Besides, Narayan relies more on keen observation and small details. We donot find evocative description in his novel .

We can notice all these qualities in “The Bachelor of Arts “”. The portrayal of the characters in the book follows his general practice not to present any great heroes or heroines but insignificant local people . But there is a variety of characters who are true to life . Besides Chandran who plays a variety of roles as an undergraduate student son, lover , sanyasi and finally settling happily as a family man, there are other characters like Chandran’s father, Malathi, his mother, friend Mohan and the profligate Kailas – Chandran is a typical lover who, with English education would not mind breaking away the tradition of marrying according to the old custom . He also goes through some conflict which is beautifully presented in the novel.

The plot construction of the novel is also not at all loose. All the actions in the story are arranged with a neat coherence. The plot in “The Bachelor of Arts” is episodic in nature. Its actions and events are arranged in three stages :

a) Chandra’s love for Malathi and his decision to marry her
b) His wanderings as a sanyasi
c) His return to parent’s home and his marriage with Sushila

All these make it truly cohesive with a beginning , a middle and an end . We do not find any loose end among the three parts which are coherently linked with one another .
Thus, while reading the novel you will discover the fact that his novel is really easy to read with a neat plot structure and realistic presentation of characters.

LANGUAGE AND STYLE



Narayan is one of three pioneers of Indian writing in English. He is remarkable not only for his outstanding and grand qualities of humour and characterization in presenting the Indian life in his fiction but also for his simple and easy language, and unaffected and elegant prose style. He has used the language of common man in his novel .His plots demand an easy style and a language that is simple and natural . He usually avoids compounded sentences. You can see that in this novel his writing style is simple, unpretentious and witty, with a unique flavour as if he were writing in the native tongue. As you know that many of Narayan’s works are rooted in everyday life so you can also feel that in The Bachelor Of Arts. In this novel, you can see that words and phrases that are used are clear and self explanatory .His vocabulary has a very modest range . Let me tell you that precision, clarity and exactness are the basic qualities that is seen in this novel. He is also not shy of invoking Hindu tales or traditional Indian folklore to emphasize a point. You can also see that in the language of this novel syntax comes closer to the pattern of the normal conversation of an educated Indian. It will be, however , wrong to say that his style is completely devoid of irony and satire . Though apparently transparent, there are levels of irony in his easy style. Do you know what is irony ? Let me tell you. It is the difference between what is said and what is intended to be said. The irony to be found in the The Bachelor of Arts is in the presentation of the relationship between Chnadran and Malathi. Chandran falls in love with her after seeing her playing with her brother on the bank of the river. She is unaware of Chandran’s growing emotional involvement. Later his language is changed into that of a philosopher when he turns into a Sanyasi aftre failing to marry Malathi.

CHECK YOUR PROGRESS


1. What kind of style is used by Narayan in his novels?
2. What are the three parts in The Bachelor of Arts and what is Chandran’s role in each part?
3. Narayan’s characterization is realistic. True /False



LET US KNOW

Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao are two great Indian novelists in English and contemporaries of R.K.Narayan.

LET US SUM UP



In the previous unit, we have given you a summary of the novel . So in this unit we have discussed Narayan’s characterization, along with the significance of the title of the novel in The Bachelor Of Arts and his technique, language and style. Narayan’s characterization is always realistic. The characters are familiar and true to life. He understands their motive and presents them in a simple manner. The characters in The Bachelor of Arts can be classified into different categories : students and friends, lover, father and mother and Sanyasi. There are teachers like Gajapathi, Principal Brown, Ragavachar and Dr. Menon, the common folk like the flower thief, the match maker, the post master, the astrologer and Kailas.R.K. Narayan’s language in the novel is quite simple. His writing style is simple, unpretentious and witty as if he were writing in the native tongue. As far as the title is concerned it is quite significant because it depicts the life of an undergraduate H.V.Chandran who is studying in the final year of B.A. at Albert College. This is a crucial stage in the life of Chandran because he enters the first year of the world. This unit also discusses the narrative technique adopted by the novelist. Narayan’s plots are not complicated and style precise. On reading the novel you will discover all these qualities of R.k.Narayan as one of the greatest novelists India has produced who has given an authentic account of the traditional Indian life.

FURTHER READINGS



1) R.A.Singh. Critical Essays on R.K.Narayan ‘s Novels. 2002. Book Enclave : Jaipur
2) Krishna Kant Singh. Social Perspectives In R.K.Narayan’s Novels. 2002. Book Enclave : Jaipur
3) Amar Nath Prasad . Critical Response to R.K.Narayan. 2003 Swarup & Sons : New Delhi
4) R.K.Narayan.The Bachelor of Arts.1956.Indian Thought Publications : Chennai

 

POSSIBLE QUESTIONS


1. Comment on the characterization of R.K.Narayan , with reference to the character of Chandran .
2. How does Chandran’s mother react to his decision to marry Malathi ?What are the obstacles to the marriage ?
3. Do you think the title of the novel The Bachelor Of Arts is appropriate ? Justify your answer .
4. Comment on R.K.Narayan’s use of language and his style .
5. Who is the hero of the novel ?How does he interact with the other characters .
6. Briefly discuss Chandran’s activities as an undergraduate student at Albert College?
7. Why does Chandran become a Sanyasi ?Why does he return to his parents ?
8. Who is Mohan ?Discuss his role as Chandran’s friend.
9. Comment on Narayan’s depiction of the Indian traditional values and customs in the novel.

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