A Hero by R.K. Narayan
In A Hero by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of fear, insecurity, control, powerlessness, bravery and independence. Taken from his Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Narayan may be exploring the theme of fear. Though Swami has agreed to sleep in his father’s office it is clear to the reader that he is afraid. He would much prefer the security of sleeping by his grandmother’s side. However Swami’s father is attempting to impose his will on Swami. The reader left suspecting that Swami’s father thinks that Swami needs to grow up and sleep alone without the comfort of sleeping by his grandmother’s side. If anything Swami’s father is not only hoping that he is able to teach Swami a lesson about growing up but he may also be hoping that Swami will develop the independence that he thinks Swami should have. In reality Swami’s father considers Swami to be mollycoddled by both his mother and his grandmother. Which leaves the reader suspecting that Swami’s father considers both women to be a negative influence on Swami’s development. This may be important as Narayan may in reality be pitting Swami’s father’s authority against that of his mother and grandmother.
Something which may leave some readers to suspect that Swami’s father is attempting to control not only Swami’s environment but his wife and mother’s environment too. It is also interesting that Swami despite promising to sleep in his father’s office tries his best to avoid doing so as this would further highlight the fear that Swami feels about sleeping in his father’s office. It appears to be an alien environment to Swami which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. Symbolically he might be suggesting that the office is the domain of his father. It is a place where his father’s rules must be obeyed. Just as Swami must obey his father when he is issued with the challenge (or command) by his father. Swami is absolutely powerless when it comes to his father. He must obey him regardless of how Swami might feel. Something which would again play on the theme of control. There is only one master in Swami’s home and that is his father. Everybody is answerable to him. Whether they like it or not.
The fact that Swami bites the burglar’s ankle may also be important as though Swami doesn’t really know what he is doing he still nonetheless is displaying an element of bravery. He might be driven by fear but he still takes action. Just as the boy did with the tiger. Swami’s actions also elevate him to the status of hero though some readers may suggest that Swami may have been fortunate. Should he have known what was really happening it is unlikely that Swami would have come out from underneath the bench. Regardless of this Swami is hailed as a hero. Though he may be no more than an accidental hero. Something that does not really bother Swami. He is happy enough to take the adulation he receives from others. As far as Swami is concerned it is better to be seen as a hero than not to be seen at all. He enjoys the praise that he gets from others and the reader suspects that Swami’s ego is being soothed by all the praise. Though again whether it is deserved might be disputed by some readers.
It is also interesting that Swami decides against sleeping in his father’s office again. This may be important as Narayan could be suggesting that Swami though he showed bravery and overcame his fear also knows what is best for him. That is to continue sleeping by his grandmother’s side. Rather than growing up Swami prefers his previous life. It is a place that he feels safe. It might also be significant that Swami though he helped the police capture the burglar remains afraid of his father. Something that becomes clear to the reader by the fact that Swami goes to bed before his father arrives home. Swami knows that his father will tell him to sleep in his office again even though Swami is against the idea. If anything Swami’s father remains in control till Swami’s mother intervenes. Where previously she had placed the blame on Swami being mollycoddled on Swami’s grandmother. She now tells Swami’s father to leave Swami alone. This too could be significant as for the first time in the story a female character is not submissive to the male. Thanks to his mother Swami is allowed to continue to be a child. The reader left suspecting that though Swami liked the praise he received for helping catch the burglar it is not an experience he would like to go through again. For Swami he can grow up some other day.