God and the Cobbler by R.K. Narayan
In God and the Cobbler by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of connection, endurance, discontent, struggle, guilt, isolation and disillusion. 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 connection. Throughout the hippie’s journeys in India there is a sense that he is longing for a connection. As readers we are aware that the hippie is a former pilot in the U.S. Army and had responsibility for bombing entire villages in Vietnam. It may be a case that the hippie has turned his back on his past (due to guilt) and is looking for answers to some of the questions that he has. Something that is noticeable by the fact that the hippie questions the cobbler on spiritual matters. What is also interesting is the fact that the hippie due to the cobbler’s appearance thinks that the cobbler is content. However the opposite is true. Life for the cobbler is a burden. He has a family to feed and is reliant on fixing sandals in order to make enough money for his family.
It is also possible that Narayan is placing a spotlight on a generation of westerners who moved to India in the 1960s and 1970s in order to achieve enlightenment. The result being that many did not find what they were looking for. Which is very much the case with the hippie. He has travelled to various parts of India yet he is no nearer understanding what life or in particular his life is about. If anything there is a sense that the hippie is just enduring life. He like the cobbler is discontent. This may be important as without knowing it both men are connected in some way. Both are looking for an easier life. The hippie most likely trying to ease his guilt while the cobbler would prefer to find a more profitable way to feed his family. Though both men are from different sides of the world they are both similar when it comes to their desires. Both long to be content. It is also possible that the hippie is mentally struggling with his actions when he was a pilot. It is for this reason that he has come to India in search of inner peace.
Similarly the cobbler has made mistakes in his life that he regrets and is not proud of. Which would suggest that the cobbler is looking for peace just like the hippie. Though neither man knows the other parts of their story are the same. Narayan highlighting that regardless of where a person may come from they can struggle. It is this sense of struggle which further connects both the hippie and the cobbler. It may also be important that the cobbler thinks that God is too busy to answer his prayers as this might suggest that the cobbler is disillusioned with God. It is not as though the cobbler is looking for much but he still feels as though he is isolated from God. Even though he may not necessarily want to be. This sense of isolation is symbolically noticeable by Narayan positioning the cobbler on the street outside the temple. Though the cobbler may feel as though God is not listening to him it is interesting that he still believes in God. It is as though the cobbler has not given up hope on his life changing. Something that further connections the cobbler to the hippie. He too hopes that things will be better and that he will find enlightenment.
The end of the story is also interesting as Narayan appears to be using the small silver figure of Durga to again connect both the cobbler and the hippie to one another. Even though the cobbler tells the hippie to keep the figure. It is the act of the hippie trying to give the figure to the cobbler which is significant. The reader aware that the hippie most likely does not have much to give. Though what he has he is prepared to give to another human being. This may be important as by being kind to the cobbler the hippie may be on his way to enlightenment. A simple conversation about God on the streets of India may prove to be more valuable to the hippie than any other experience he has had in India. Not only has the cobbler told the hippie that he is discontent but he has also told him of his displeasure with God. Throughout the story the cobbler has been honest. Something that might leave a mark on the hippie’s mind. It is also possible that Narayan is suggesting that rather than following the path of others, as the hippie appears to have done so far, perhaps he should follow his own path. To believe in himself again and to realise that what has happened in his past should not be allowed to dictate his present.