Four Rupees by R.K. Narayan
In Four Rupees by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of uncertainty, confidence, reliance, poverty, bravery, control and contentment. Taken from his Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realizes that Narayan may be exploring the theme of uncertainty. When he sets out on his journey to Market Road, Ranga does not know how his day will go. He has no idea what will happen and how he will get money for his family. This uncertainty continues throughout the story when Ranga firstly decides to go down the well and then tries to back out of his agreement. Not even the four rupees promised may sway Ranga. Who does eventually go down the well and retrieve the brass pot.
What is also noticeable from the beginning of the story is the fact that Ranga is initially confident about the task at hand. Though the initial promise of two rupees sounds like a fortune to Ranga. He is astounded by the offer of four rupees for the job of retrieving the pot. However Ranga still feels like running away because of the danger he faces going down the well. If anything Ranga has tried to out price himself in order to avoid going down the well. He knows it is dangerous and he is at great risk of losing his life. It is as though the bravado and confidence Ranga expressed earlier in the story is lost. He really does not want to go down the well. However he is coaxed or persuaded by the prospect of a meal and the words of those around him. Words that are weighted on one side as Ranga could not really care about the pot.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The fact that Ranga has no plans for his day or does not know how his day will fare out suggests that Ranga is not really in control of his life, he is reliant on others in order to feed his family. He after all is not a wealthy man and cannot dictate the course of his day. He needs for others to provide him with work. Which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that in India there is a class (or caste) system in operation and Ranga is at the bottom of the ladder. Nobody, apart from Ranga’s family, will miss him if he dies in the well. The blood-red lips may highlight the danger that Ranga is facing. Often in literature a writer will use the colour red to highlight danger or peril for a character and that appears to be what Narayan is doing. Similarly the blue sky that Ranga sees as he is being lowered down the well could highlight how innocent Ranga is. If anything he is swayed by the possibility of receiving four rupees. A small fortune to Ranga but nothing to the mistress.
The end of the story is interesting as everybody appears to be content. The mistress has gotten her brass pot back. Ranga, though he argues over eight anna, has received his four rupees (and four annas) and Ranga’s wife cannot believe how lucky Ranga has been. Even if he has returned home late. In reality Ranga has risked his life for four rupees. However he had no option as he is again reliant on others to provide him and his family with an income. There is no doubt that Ranga has been brave but he has also been desperate in order to provide for his family. With the possibility that Ranga will risk his life again when the four rupees runs out. If anything some readers might suggest that Ranga is stuck in a loop. One in whereby he has no real control of his life.