Father’s Help by R.K. Narayan
In Father’s Help by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of honesty, pity, aggression, imagination, guilt, stubbornness and fear. 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 pity. Swami as he is walking to school begins to feel sorry for Samuel. He believes that he will lose his job and go to prison even though he doesn’t know exactly what is in the letter his father has written. It is also noticeable that Swami is not being honest when it comes to Samuel. The story he told his father about Samuel is untrue and is based on hearsay from a generation of pupils who have been taught by Samuel. Despite this Swami is adamant that he will justify his father’s letter though again he does not know what his father has written. If anything Swami has allowed his imagination run wild when he has described Samuel to his father. Though it is true that Swami is caned by Samuel later on in the story this is more a case of Swami provoking Samuel in order that Samuel is expelled from his job and to justify bringing the letter to the headmaster.
The fact that Swami pities Samuel may be important as it suggests that Swami is battling with guilt. However rather than admit that he himself is in the wrong he does everything he can to provoke Samuel. If Swami had stayed silent in Samuel’s class he would not have been caned. He was given sufficient warning by Samuel yet he continued to obstruct the class by shouting. This may be important as it suggests that Swami is stubborn. Though he knows the path he is travelling is the wrong path he still nonetheless does everything he can to provoke Samuel. It might also be important to remember that Samuel didn’t have to hit Swami with the cane. He had other options. He could have told Swami to stand in the corner of the classroom or to leave the room. So in some ways Swami may feel justified by the fact that he has been caned by Samuel.
It is also noticeable that Swami has not done his homework. This could be important as it can suggest that Swami is not dedicated to his studies. He would much rather stay at home than go to school. It is also noticeable that when Swami lies to his mother about having a headache she immediately believes him yet his father knows that Swami is lying. It is as though there is a battle of wits between father and son. A battle that Swami eventually loses because he knows that he is lying about not only having a headache but about Samuel too. If anything Swami is like many young boys who don’t want to go to school. He will lie to his parents in order to stay at home. Making up a story that will suit his needs. However just as Swami is stubborn so too is his father who knows that Swami is lying to him hence him writing a letter to the headmaster even though he knows that Swami will not give the headmaster the letter.
In reality there are two guilty parties in the story. Both Swami and Samuel have done something wrong. Swami has lied and provoked Samuel and Samuel has reacted to Swami’s provocation and hit Swami with the cane. If Swami had not lied to his parents and had acted appropriately in class he would not have been caned. Though at the same time he would not have been able to justify his father’s letter. Similarly by being caned Swami loses any sense of pity that he has for Samuel. In Swami’s eyes Samuel’s actions justify him being expelled from his job and imprisoned. It is also noticeable that throughout the story that Swami has been somewhat in fear. He fears his father and he fears Samuel. Yet neither man is to be feared. Without knowing it Swami has been taught a lesson by his father. Swami’s father knew that Swami was exaggerating Samuel’s engagement with the other pupils in Swami’s class. If anything Swami has been tested by his father. However some critics might suggest that things might have been different if the headmaster was still in his office when Swami went to deliver the letter. If Swami had not been awash with guilt while walking to school and had not first of all provoked Samuel and handed the letter to the headmaster when he first arrived at school. Swami’s day may have been different. Instead he had to suffer caning from Samuel to prove to the headmaster that the contents of his father’s letter were true. Though it is unlikely that Swami will be caned again as he may very well have learnt his lesson. By lying to his father about Samuel Swami has ironically received the treatment (caning) that he was afraid of and that he had told his father other pupils had received. Though he had no proof.