Gateman’s Gift by R.K. Narayan
In Gateman’s Gift by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of fear, paralysis, insecurity, suffering, social opinion, pride and identity. Taken from his An Astrologer’s Day and Other Stories 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 fear. Singh lives in fear of opening the registered letter that has been sent to him. So crippling is Singh’s fear that he believes himself to be going mad. Though the logical thing to do would be to open the letter and discover whether the letter holds good or bad news Singh isn’t able to do this. It is also interesting that Singh loses interest in his clay-modelling because of the fear he feels over the letter. This loss of interest is important as it highlights just how overpowering the fear is for Singh. It is also interesting that Singh never thinks about just getting over what may be in the letter if the contents of the letter are of a bad nature. It is as though he would rather not know whether the letter contains good or bad news. If anything there is a sense of paralysis in the story. Singh is unable to move forward as long as he leaves the letter unopened. Rather he believes himself to be going mad based solely on the opinions of others. Which may suggest that Singh may be somewhat insecure about his identity. He doesn’t appear to have the strength to trust his own mind and is swayed by social opinion.
The fact that some of Singh’s clay models are copies of his old work environment may also be important as it suggests that Singh remembers with fondness his time as a Gateman. It may also be significant that Singh fears he may have upset his old boss by bringing the models into the pension office when Singh was collecting his pension. As this suggests that Singh still respects his old boss and does not wish to upset him. Singh’s respect for his old boss is mirrored by his boss’ respect for him. Something that is noticeable when the accountant opens the letter for Singh and the reader realises that Singh’s old boss admires all his clay models. Admires them so much that he has given him an extra one hundred rupees. There is also no doubting that Singh suffers, because of his fear, throughout the story. However Singh’s wife also suffers and after the letter arrives and remains unopened she is careful. So careful that she stays out of Singh’s way.
It might also be a case that Narayan is exploring the theme of pride. Singh is proud of his job as a Gateman. While some critics might suggest that his role is at the lower end of the employment scale. Singh doesn’t look at things like that. He is happy to be able to be part of something. To have some responsibility and to get paid for it too. The village that Singh makes that reminds him of his father’s village also appears to be the one clay model that Singh is most proud of. It is as though the model of the village is part of Singh’s identity. Yet he destroys it in a moment of madness all because of his fear to open the letter. Though it is clear that Singh is not really mad he does through stress do things that would be deemed inappropriate. One of these things is the breaking of the bulb which results in Singh getting arrested. Which the reader suspects is out of character for Singh. At no other stage of the story has Singh been in trouble.
The end of the story is also interesting as Singh despite the praises of his boss, gives up making clay models. It’s difficult to say for certain as to why this might be but it is possible that Singh is equating the clay modelling to the madness he went through. However the reader is aware that the real problem for Singh was the fact that he was afraid to open the letter. Singh believes more in living a structured life than a creative one and appears to associate creativity with madness. Though some critics might suggest that there is a definable link between creativity and madness it is important to remember that prior to the letter arriving Singh was happy making clay models. If anything Singh’s life at the end of the story is still full of fear. No longer is he worried about the letter instead he is afraid to be creative despite the fact that many people have told him how good he is at clay modelling. Which suggests that the paralysis Singh felt when he first received the letter also remains. Singh may have retired from his job and is happy to collect his pension every week but he doesn’t appear to do anything else now that he has stopped clay modelling.