The Painter of Signs

The Painter of Signs, 1976, is one of Narayan's novels which takes place in the fictional Indian town of Malgudi. Although no longer in print, this novel is available through

The Painter of Signs follows the unusual courtship of Raman, a sign painter in Malgudi, and Daisy, a career wise feminist working to make family planning availabe to all of India. She employs Raman to paint signs and murals for various clinics throughout the countryside. During their business travel, Raman becomes infatuated with Daisy who is determined to succeed in her own business before becoming his wife.

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."


East Meets West

Like in The Man-Eater of Malgudi, the town of Malgudi receives a visitor, Daisy, who brings with her values of the Western civilization. She brings not only information on family planning, but also a Western name.

Caste System

India's caste system dictates the social class of each individual. Like El Hadji in Xala, class and marriage go hand in hand. Raman's aunt, his only living relative, is concerned as to which caste Daisy belongs. Unless Daisy's caste is high enough, Raman's aunt will not allow the couple to marry. Like in Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things, love is dictates by caste.

Importance of Children

Many Postcolonial works focus on the importace of children. African novels, such as The Joys of Motherhood and Efuru, focus on motherhood and the abilities or disabilites of their protagonists to bear children. Likewise, many Indian novels, such as Nectar in a Sieve, also focus on motherhood.

Narayan's novel, with the interest focused on family planning and birth control raises questions concerning changes in society and the shift to modern times.


Daisy can easily be considered a symbol of feminism with her ideals and interests. However, her marking independence is different from women in other Postcolonial works such as: Nnu Ego in The Joys of Motherhood, Efuru in Efuru, and Adja Awa Astou in Xala. She is not interested in working within the system already established, but in changing the system. Her ideals are more similar to those of Adja Awa Astou's daughter, Raman in Xala.


Varying Descriptions of Daisy

It seems undecided whether Daisy is to be considered a protagonist or antagonist. As a woman working to spread information on family planning, and living contentedly on her own, she represents ideals different from those of conventional female Indian protagonists awaiting "the only crowing achievement of her life - the begetting of sons" (Krishnaswamy 115).

Some critics view her as a "dangerous, disruptive, and fanatical nun wedded to her goal, out to destroy the Malgudian order of things" (Krishnaswamy 115), or as a "normal, healthy, and highly intelligent girl who wants her share of happiness on earth" (Krishnaswamy 122).

However viewed, Daisy offers something new and different to Malgudi. In addition to what she offers, her character becomes a vehicle to better understanding Malgudi. By constantly traveling around the town and in the countryside, Daisy helps to create the place of Malgudi making it central to somewhere.

Whether liked, or despised, Daisy offers a memorable addition to Malgudi.


***Meghdutam's R. K. Narayan

This site contains useful biographical information on Narayan as well as a chonological list of his writings.

***Identity in Postcolonial Writings

The author of this page examines and compares Narayan's The Painter of Signs to Grace Nichols, Waterpot.

*Neem and Birth Control

This site offers information of the natural spermicide cream, Neem, a popular form of birth control used in India.

*Times of India Online

This site contains a journal article on birth control in India.


This article contains information concerning overpopulation and birth control in India.

**Sterilization and Abortion

This well documented article examines the methods of sterilization and abortion with a worldview including a study of India.



Topics for Discussion:

Birth control in India and in the United States

The relationship between Raman and Daisy

The differences in Daisy and Raman's business styles

Daisy's choosing to leave her family and prospective marriage


Colorado College English Postcolonial Literature

This course syllabus from Colorado College uses The Painter of Signs as an introductory novel to Postcolonial literature from India.

World Lit Syllabus

This course syllabus for Postcolonial literature from Africa, India, and the Carribean is from the English department at Washington State University.

Lost Writings

These poems were part of a class assignment.

Writing poetry can be fun for your class. Use these as an example.



Krishnaswamy, Shantha. "Daisy Paints Her Signs Otherwise," in R. K. Narayan: Contemporary Critical Essays. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1993.

Narayan, R. K. The Painter of Signs. New York: Viking Press, 1976.

Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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Last Updated: 4/01