A Snake in the Grass by R.K. Narayan
In A Snake in the Grass by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of responsibility, honesty, trust, fear, control and tradition. Taken from his An Astrologer’s Day and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Narayan may be exploring the theme of responsibility. It is made clear to Dasa that he has responsibility to catch the snake. If anything he is being blamed on the snake’s appearance in the garden due to the fact that the garden is overgrown and Dasa has not maintained it. Even though Dasa suggests he had previously asked for a grass-cutter everybody in the story still considers Dasa to be responsible for catching the snake. Dasa is also threatened with being fired should he not find the snake. If anything there is a sense that Dasa may be lazy. There are many ways to cut grass without a grass-cutter yet Dasa is focused only on obtaining a grass-cutter rather than actually exerting himself and cutting the grass another way. As the family in the story do when they are searching for the snake. It is also noticeable that Dasa’s efforts at searching for the snake are half-hearted. He doesn’t really put much effort into his actions. Which again would suggest that Dasa may be lazy.
The fact that Dasa is in bed when the snake arrives and is the only person in the story who is still in bed further suggests that Dasa may be lazy. It is as though Dasa knows what he can and can’t get away with. There is also a sense that Dasa can’t be trusted. Firstly as mentioned he half-heartedly searches for the snake and secondly at the end of the story he claims to have found the snake in a pot yet nobody actually sees the snake in the pot. Leaving one of the boys to question as to whether there were two snakes. When in all likelihood there is only the one snake and Dasa doesn’t have the snake at all. As to why Dasa might like to lie to the family. It is possible that he is conscious of the threat that the family have made towards him about being fired and as such he concocts a story in order to save his job. Which in reality is understandable though at the same time is dishonest. Dasa’s number one priority in the story appears to be maintain the status quo. That being keeping himself in comfortable employment for a family who do not seem to see that Dasa is not only lazy and dishonest but also untrustworthy.
Narayan may also be exploring the theme of tradition. Something that is noticeable through the mother and the beggar’s conversation. This may be important as the mother’s fears are alleviated after she talks to the beggar. So thankful is the mother that she gives the beggar a coin. It is also possible that Narayan may be suggesting that it can be beneficial to an individual to follow tradition. However though the mother might believe that the cobra is a sign of God Subramanya visiting her the reality is that the cobra still needs to be caught as it is venomous. It has the potential to kill an individual regardless of their beliefs. What is also interesting is how easily afraid the mother can get. When her son tells her that a person dies every twenty minutes from a cobra-bite the mother nearly screams with anguish. Though as mentioned the beggar does alleviate the mother’s fears. Whether her words ring true is another thing. The introduction of the snake-charmer also plays on the theme of tradition. Though he is only briefly mentioned in the story his words also help the mother when it comes to her fears and apprehensions over the snake. Though unfortunately he is unable to do anything till the snake can be found. Something that Dasa eventually claims to have done.
It may also be a case that Narayan is exploring the theme of control. The snake-charmer has control over snakes. Dasa is supposed to have control over the garden yet it is growing wild and the family are supposed to have control over Dasa. Though this does not appear to be so in the story. It would appear that Dasa is his own boss. The family trust him to do things like cut the grass or help find the snake but he never fully exerts himself. In reality Das is living the life a master would rather than the life of a servant. He is fully trusted by the family but the reader is already aware that this trust is misguided. Dasa simply can’t be trusted. Something that might be understood by the college-boy who wishes that he had looked inside the pot that Dasa was carrying. Dasa has saved himself from being fired though how long he may remain in the family’s employment is difficult to say. Eventually they must realise just what type of character Dasa is. A lazy, dishonest and untrustworthy man who is taking advantage of his job as a servant to the family.