Forty-Five a Month by R.K. Narayan
In Forty-Five a Month by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of innocence, dedication, guilt, frustration, selfishness and powerlessness. 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 Narayan may be exploring the theme of innocence. Shanta has no clue when it comes to what time it is. This along with the fact that she has difficulty reading the clock in the classroom suggests that Shanta may be somewhat innocent. She is still a young girl who has yet to learn some of the simpler things in life. Shanta’s innocence is also noticeable by the fact that she gets lost when she tries to walk to her father’s (Venkat’s) office. She believes it may be at the end of the road because that is the route Venkat takes to work. Narayan also appears to be exploring the theme of dedication. Shanta is dedicated to Venkat. She knows that she has to be ready by five and is. Similarly Venkat though he disapproves of staying late in work is nonetheless somewhat dedicated to his job. Something that becomes clearer to the reader at the end of the story when Venkat gets a raise of five rupees and suggests he may not be there for Shanta.
The fact that Venkat suggests he may not be there for Shanta is also interesting as while he is in work he is thinking about her and the loss she may feel in life because there is nobody there for her. If anything Venkat is filled with guilt. Hence him writing his resignation. However this guilt is long forgotten about when Venkat receives the raise. It is possible that Narayan is highlighting just how easily an individual can be bought. Where once Venkat was filled with guilt. This is no longer the case when he receives a pay rise. It is also possible that Narayan is suggesting or highlighting how difficult it may be for a parent to be there for their child particularly when they are so easily bought. Which Venkat appears to be. For the sake of a pay rise he is prepared to forgo time he might spend with Shanta. Though some critics may suggest that Venkat is stuck between a rock and a hard place it is also possible that others will feel that Shanta has been let down by her father. That her father is acting selfishly.
However it might be important to remember that necessity might dictate that Venkat acts selfishly. He is not a wealthy man and the five rupees means a lot to him. It is also noticeable that prior to getting the raise of five rupees. Venkat is frustrated. He wants to be there for Shanta though feels powerless when it comes to the manager in the office. If anything Venkat is trying to be there for Shanta and also be there for his employer. It is a difficult path to walk and this may be the reason as to why Venkat decides to resign from his position. He is drawn to his daughter rather than to his employer. However as mentioned Venkat on discovery that he is to get a pay raise decides that work is more important than being there for Shanta. At no stage does the reader feel as though Venkat is getting the balance between his work life and home life right. He either sways in one direction or the other yet cannot seem to tackle the challenge of being there for his employer and at the same time being there for Shanta.
The end of the story is also interesting as Venkat in many ways is leaving the rearing of Shanta to her mother. This may be important as Narayan may be suggesting that there is a generation of men who are tied more to work than they are to family. Putting work first rather than family first. Though again Venkat is in a difficult position. If anything Narayan leaves the reader thinking as to what they might do if they were in Venkat’s position. If he leaves his job and focuses on Shanta his family will starve. Which is an impractical road to take. Yet if he stays in work he is letting Shanta down and placing responsibility for her upbringing solely in the hands of her mother. Which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that there is an uneven balance again for a generation of men between their work life and their home life. As to who is responsible is difficult to say as Venkat does have a choice even if it is a difficult choice to make. At the end of the story it is easy to judge Venkat as being selfish. However the reader also has to put themselves in his shoes.