The Man-Eater of Malgudi

Dialogues

In R. K. Narayan's 1961 The Man-Eater of Malgudi, Vasu, an eccentric taxidermist invades upon the conservative home of Nataraj, a local printer, in the fictional town of Malgudi. Narayan tells this Postcolonial tale in a comic style creating memorable characters and situations.


About the Author
Born in 1906 in Madras, India, Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan is the author of a series of novels and short stories all taking place in the fictional Indian town Malgudi. Narayan has been recognized with many awards including the National Prize of the Indian Literary Academy in 1958. Novelist Graham Greene was an admirer of his work and has said about Narayan, "Since the death of Evelyn Waugh, Narayan is the novelist I most admire in the English language."

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  Dialogues

Nataraj and Vasu, the Eastern and Western Traditions

These main characters are in constant conflict with one another and illustrate the differences between two cultures and the invasion of one culture upon another. Nataraj is the owner of a small printing press. He rents a room in his home to Vasu only to have it overtaken by Vasu's lifestyle, values, and taxidermist profession.

Padma and Rangi

Rangi is a temple dancer in poor favor with Nataraj's wife and Sastri, his printing assistant. They believe her to be indecent and unethical because of her profession. Her mother Padma had the same profession, yet was in high favor with the townspeople. This difference illustrates the variety of issues presented to women in Postcolonial culture.

Caste System in India

Many Indian novels center around the differences created solely by living under a different caste. Narayan's The Man-Eater of Malgudi illustrates this by Sastri's feelings toward others and in his strict cultural beliefs. Likewise, in Narayan's The Painter of Signs, caste becomes an issue for a couple wishing to marry as well as in Arundhoti Roy's God of Small Things.

 

  Notes

The symbol of the rakshasa in The Man-Eater of Malgudi serves as a symbol of Colonialism imposed upon India. A rakshasa, as Sastri describes, is a "demoniac creature who possessed enormous strength, strange powers, and genius, but recognized no sort of restraints of man or God…Every rakshasa gets swollen with his ego. He thinks he is invincible, beyond every law" (Naryan 72). Like the rakshasa, Vasu, feels no restraint in the town of Malgudi. He makes Nataraj's home his own and shows little respect for what he is given. Rather, he takes over the upstairs apartment with his taxidermist profession breaking sacred the Hindu laws his landlord practices.

"Vasu represents forces associatd with Western modernity, such as individualism, industrialism, and commercialism" (Bery 10). Vasu concerns himself with making a profit through poaching and stuffing the sacred animals of the jungle. For Vasu, taking over Nataraj's home, stuffing his pets for practice, and planning to kill the elephant that Nataraj was instrumental in healing, are all his right in order to make a profit. He exploits his Nataraj to benefit himself. Because Nataraj "is at times attracted by aspects of the outsider's [Vasu] personality, which is very different from that of himself and his townspeople" (Alam 77), it becomes difficult for him to stand up to Vasu and allows Vasu to take advantage of him further.

Narayan has clearly portrayed Vasu, with his Western image, as both Colonialism and rakshsa. Like the rakshsa who, "carries within himself, unknown to himself, a tiny seed of self-destruction, and goes up in thin air at the most unexpected moment" (173-37). The Man-Eater of Malgudi then becomes a story focused on Indian independence.

 

  Links

*** The Imperial Archive

This site created by students in the School of English at the Queen's University of Belfast. There is one page devoted to Indian literature. It contains several links to other useful sites.

*Graham Greene and R. K. Narayan

This site contains a list of Narayan's writings as well as information concerning the friendship between Narayan and novelist Graham Greene.

**Mysore Online

This site contains a short biography and bibliography of Narayan.

  Teaching

The following are a list of possible discussion topics and essay questions:

1. V. S. Naipul states that R. K. Narayan's novels are "religious books, at times religious fables, and intensely Hindu." In what way can Narayan's novel, The Man-Eater of Malgudi be considered a religious work? Can it only be considered a religious novel in a Post Colonial context?

2. In what ways is Nataraj forced to reconsider and reevaluate his life and lifestyle? Do you feel that he does?

3. Narayan presents several ironic situations in The Man-Eater of Malgudi, discuss the use of irony in this novel.

4. What is the relationship between Vasu and Nataraj? Can it be viewed at different levels? Are they always in constant battle, or do they exchange ideas and values at any point? Are they continually conscious of their relationship?

5. What purpose do Rangi and Sastri play in The Man-Eater of Malgudi? Contrast these two characters. In what way does Nataraj's relationship to these characters shed light on his own nature?

6. We learn about Rangi's mother, Padma. Contrast Rangi and her mother. Why is Padma called an "exemplary dedicated woman of the temple," whereas her daughter is not?

7. Talk about how Vasu's viewing of all wildlife as being worth more dead than alive relates to sentiment around the world, especially as regards to poaching of exotic animals for profit.

8. Narayan makes several subtle references to different aspects of Indian culture. One aspect is the concept of time. Discuss some scenes where you see a cultural difference between the characters' concept of time and the American concept of time. How would this difference affect you if you were a visitor to India?

9. Myth and Spirituality are implicit in the Hindu society, the world of Malgudi is full of mythical elements. Do you think this story is structured like a myth? Is so, what roles do the myths play in The Man-Eater of Malgudi?

10. Discuss the elements of humor in the novel. What are its different facets and features?

  Citations

Alam, Fakrul. "Plot and Character in R. K. Narayan's The Man-Eater of Malgudi: A Reassessment." ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 3 (July 1988): 77-92.

Bery, Ashok. "'Changing the Script': R. K. Narayan and Hinduism." ARIEL: A Review of English Literature 2 (April 1997): 7-20.

Gale Literary Databases, Contemporary Authors. 1998.

Narayan, R. K. The Man-Eater of Malgudi. New York: Penguin, 1961.

 

Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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