A Willing Slave by R.K. Narayan
In A Willing Slave by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of commitment, equality, selfishness, fear, control and independence. Taken from his Malgudi Days 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 commitment. Thayi’s husband for most of her marriage has left her. Yet when he returns she accepts his arrival with open arms. This may be important as Narayan could be suggesting that Thayi is still committed to her husband despite the fact that he has abandoned her for so long. It is also possible that Narayan is highlighting the role of women in a marriage. Thayi leaves her job as a servant to look after her husband despite the fact that he left her. It is as though she feels that she must leave her job and be there for him. Even though her husband has not shown the same commitment to Thayi that she is showing to him. If anything Narayan could be suggesting that the role of a woman at the time the story was written was by their husband’s side. It is also interesting that Thayi’s husband calls Thayi his slave as this would suggest that Thayi’s husband and possibly other men have an expectation for their wives to be subservient to them. At no stage of the story does the reader suspect that Thayi is her husband’s equal at least not in his eyes.
How Thayi is treated by her mistress may also be important. When Thayi is missing for three days rather than being concerned about Thayi’s well-being her mistress is more concerned about why she hasn’t shown up to perform her duties. At all stages the mistress of the house thinks only of herself. Which may suggest that just as Thayi’s husband is acting selfishly so too is her mistress. In fact there is nobody to help Thayi throughout the story. She is disliked by the other servants because of the role she takes on and both her husband and her mistress are only thinking of themselves. It is also noticeable that Thayi is over-worked. Radha takes up all her time and when she is not caring for Radha she is performing duties in which she has not been asked to do. Which would play on the theme of commitment again. Not only is Thayi committed to Radha and her well-being but she is committed to each member of her employer’s family.
It might also be a case that Narayan is exploring the theme of fear and control. The only way that Thayi knows how to keep Radha under control is through fear and her stories of the Old Fellow. Without these stories the reader is aware that Thayi would be unable to manage Radha. Radha is only six and is full of energy while Thayi is getting old and no longer has the same energy she had when she was younger. She is unable to keep up with Radha without instilling fear into her. Though some critics might suggest that Thayi is being cruel. It might be important to remember that Thayi knows no other way. She has no other option but to use fear as a method of controlling Radha. In many ways Thayi herself is also being controlled though not through fear. She is being controlled by the mistress of the house and by her husband. Both exerting some level of control over Thayi. It is also noticeable that Thayi is subservient to this control. At no stage in the story does she make objections towards either her mistress or her husband.
It is also difficult for the reader to judge as to why Thayi would decide upon choosing her husband over her job. Though she is committed to him she seems to lack any sort of independence from her husband. Despite the fact that he abandoned her. It is as though Thayi forgets that her own life was negatively affected when her husband left her. She appears to forgive him without questioning his reason for leaving or his motives for returning. She is totally focused on being there for her husband even though he hasn’t been there for her. Life might have been difficult for Thayi while she was working for her mistress but her life is going to be even harder now that she has decided to leave her job and look after her husband. In many ways Thayi was in control of her environment while she was working for her mistress. She may have been disliked by the other servants but she had some control over them. Just as she had control over Radha. At the end of the story Thayi is giving everything up in order to be there for her husband. Who has been described by Narayan as being proud of his slave (Thayi). If anything life is going to be harder for Thayi. Though she doesn’t seem to realise this.