Engine Trouble by R.K. Narayan
In Engine Trouble by R.K Narayan we have the theme of practicality, hope, luck, responsibility and authority. Taken from his An Astrologer’s Day and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Narayan may be exploring the theme of practicality. The narrator has no use for a road engine and all the narrator can do is hope that somebody will either buy the road engine off him or that he might be able to give it away to somebody. It serves no practical purpose and is costing the narrator money in rent. Similarly the narrator’s marriage is beginning to suffer because of the problems that the road engine is bringing the narrator. To make matters worse those in authority (Municipal Chief) want the road engine moved which causes further headaches for the narrator. He has to hire an elephant and fifty men but while attempting to move the road engine, the road engine hits a wall. If anything there are traces of irony in the story. At first the narrator felt lucky to have won the road engine and in many ways personalised the engine. However as mentioned the road engine has caused the narrator nothing but problems. Which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that luck can be a double edged sword and the reality may be that rather than being lucky an individual like the narrator may experience nothing but bad luck.
The fact that the narrator personalises the road engine may also be important as by doing so he may be filling a void in his own life. It may be a case that the road engine represents a shift (upwards) in class for the narrator or at least he hopes it might. He has an object that is unique however nobody is interested in owning it. The road engine is simply not practical. So problematic is ownership of the road engine that the narrator advises his wife to contact her father to take her back to her village. While the narrator himself hopes to run away from his troubles. Which is not necessarily the most responsible of actions. Where once the narrator had huge admiration for the road engine. This is no longer the case. It is also ironic that the road engine, which is meant to move, does very little moving in the story. This may be because nobody knows how to drive the road engine.
The narrator’s second piece of luck comes through the Swami. However due to the restrictions imposed on the Swami by the magistrate things do not work out as planned for the narrator. For the second time the narrator has been frustrated by those in authority. Which may be Narayan’s way of highlighting to the reader that those in authority may have too much power or influence over people. There’s no disputing that the narrator’s life would be a lot easier if those in authority did not interfere with his plans. It is those in authority who are dictating the law though they may not necessarily have valid reasons for their directives. Which again may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. Rather than blind adherence to authority it is possible that Narayan is suggesting that at times those in authority need to be questioned. As the Swami attempts to do to the police inspector. Though he doesn’t actually get anywhere with the police inspector.
The end of the story is also interesting as Narayan continues to explore the theme of luck and it is as though the phrase ‘third time lucky’ rings true for the narrator. Due to the earthquake the narrator’s problems with the road engine have been resolved. To help matters the narrator has also been paid for any losses he may have incurred while trying to move or get rid of the road engine. Through good fortune (earthquake) the narrator has found someone that actually wants the road engine. It is stuck at the bottom of a well which suits the man who owns the well. Though the road engine never served the purpose it was meant to serve it is still serving some purpose to somebody. Which may be important as Narayan could be suggesting that everything has its purpose for somebody. It may not necessarily be the purpose something was built for but nonetheless it has a purpose. It is also noticeable that the worry that the narrator showed throughout the story while he was trying to get rid of the road engine is gone. At the end of the story the narrator is a happy man who is able to ‘heave a sigh of great relief.’ It may also be a case that what man cannot fix. The narrator and the road engine. Nature will remedy. On this occasion in the form of an earthquake. The narrator can live his life again without the concerns that were brought upon him by his winning of the road engine. Life can return to normal for the narrator.