Cat Within by R.K. Narayan
In Cat Within by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of superstition, tradition, desperation, honesty, fear, selfishness and acceptance. Taken from his Malgudi Days collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that that Narayan may be exploring the theme of fear. The landlord is afraid of the banging that is coming from the shop. Though the reader is aware that the noise is being made by a cat the landlord is so desperate to have the noise stopped that one of his tenants contacts the exorcist that lives in the building. The introduction of the exorcist is important as it is through his character that Narayan may be exploring the theme of superstition. The landlord and others believes in the work that the exorcist performs whereas the reader themselves in light of what happens would have their doubts. Each character in the story believes what the exorcist is saying. He is well respected in society though there is a sense that the exorcist is preying on people’s fears. Those who visit the exorcist believe in his ability to ward off bad spirits. However if anything his actions throughout the story appear to be futile. Which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that those who consider themselves to be exorcists may be no more than charlatans.
The reason that an exorcist may be successful is because of the strong belief that others have in an exorcist’s abilities. If anything people may be so desperate that they believe they have been saved or cured by an exorcist. When the reality may be that the individual is prepared to believe in anything in order to feel better. It just happens that traditionally the person employed to remove the bad spirits is an exorcist. In the story the exorcist himself also seems to be afraid. Something that some readers might find interesting as this would further suggest that the exorcist being employed by the landlord is no more than a charlatan. His methods also are somewhat dubious. Though they appear to be acceptable by all who see the exorcist banging on the aluminium pot. At no stage does anybody think logically. Apart from the suggestion to light up the shop to actually see what the banging may be. This too may be important as it would further play on the theme of superstition. People allowing their minds race to implausible conclusions (bad spirits).
The theme of honesty is explored when the exorcist begins to ask the landlord questions. The landlord is hesitant to answer some of the questions as he feels as though he will only be exposing himself to others. That others will get an insight into the landlord which he may not necessarily wish to share. Already the reader is aware that the landlord’s tenants live in slum like conditions and most likely the most important thing to the landlord is to acquire as much money as he can. Hence twenty people living in such a small amount of space. Also the landlord has not been prepared to spend money on electrifying his property which may suggest that the landlord is mean. His main concern is not the well-being of his tenants but rather his mind is focused on money. If anything the landlord might be considered to be selfish. Which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that housing at the time the story was written was of such a poor standard due to landlords attempting to make as much money as they could. Putting as many people into as little space as possible in order to make more money.
The end of the story is also interesting. The exorcist though he becomes aware that the noise is coming from the cat still expects to be paid for his services. Playing on superstition he suggests what was within the cat is unknown and that the cat itself may not have been an ordinary cat. Something that many readers will find difficult to believe. Throughout the story the exorcist has adhered to the principles he believes in and which others believe in too. However the reader is fully aware that if the landlord had not been so mean and had electricity in his shop. He would have quickly seen and realised what was happening. The reader also feels as though the whole engagement with the exorcist has been more to do with tradition than anything else. Electricity means modernity and that might be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that it would be more appropriate to look at the events of the evening with modern eyes which have been lighted by electricity than to rely on the traditional method of using an exorcist when the reality was there were no bad spirits.