Half a Rupee Worth by R.K. Narayan
In Half a Rupee Worth by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of persistence, greed, corruption, materialism and desperation. 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 realises that Narayan may be exploring the theme of persistence. Subbiah has been working in his shop since his father owned it. When he wanted to pursue a life outside the shop his father refused to let him. This may be important as rather than complaining to his father Subbiah persisted and continued to work in the shop. Something he managed to do every day. It is also noticeable that though Subbiah is disgruntled with the new law (Price and Food Control) he manages to make his shop a Fair Price Grain Depot. Which would further suggest that Subbiah is persistent. Where others might have given up and pursued a different career. Subbiah doesn’t. He persists. However it is noticeable that the reason for Subbiah’s persistence is because he is greedy. He wants more and more of everything. Particularly money and property even though he has more than he needs.
It is through Subbiah’s greed that he becomes corrupt and begins to doctor the forms he has to submit to the government to show he is in compliance with regulations. If anything Subbiah’s greed and corruption become the focus of his life. He continues to give his wife and children material goods while the war continues. Which may be important as most people during the war would have had to make sacrifices. Something that is noticeable with Subbiah’s customers. In today’s terms Subbiah may be called a profiteer. It is also interesting that Subbiah still pays praise to God even though many critics might suggest that he is not living a life that would please God. Subbiah is driven by money and wealth. Something that would be contradictory to the teachings of God. It would also seem that the most important person in Subbiah’s life is himself, then his family. At all stages of the story he is more concerned about making money than he is in helping people. Something that he is well able to do with all the rice and property he has. It is as though Subbiah is blinded by greed and his desire to make more money so that he can buy more material goods and property.
What is also interesting about the story is that Subbiah’s wealthy friends agree with him. That he is being inappropriately treated by the government. This may be important as it highlights that Subbiah’s friends not only have the same opinion as Subbiah but they also have no identification with those who may be struggling during the war. It is as though there is a class system in operation with Subbiah and his friends being at the upper end of the class system and those who are struggling being at the lower end. Neither Subbiah nor his friends appear to be altruistic in nature. Again money appears to be the primary goal even though Subbiah has more money and property than he needs. Narayan also never gives the reader an explanation into why Subbiah is so greedy but he may not have to. By omitting an explanation for Subbiah’s greed Narayan may be suggesting that greed for some people is part of human nature. There does not necessarily have to be a driving factor for an individual to be greedy.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader gets a full insight into just how greedy Subbiah is. He argues with the customer over the price of a seer of rice. The difference is only eight annas. An amount that means nothing to Subbiah but he is not prepared to sell a seer of rice for a half a rupee. No matter how desperate the customer is. For Subbiah everything is business with little consideration for the needs of his customers. The fact that Subbiah goes to one of his godowns and ends up dying because of the heavy sacks of rice falling on top of him and killing him really sums up how greedy and selfish Subbiah is. He argued with the customer outside his shop over eight annas yet he had bags and bags of rice in his godown. One seer sold to the customer for half a rupee would not have hurt Subbiah. Though Subbiah never thought of things like that. Everything for Subbiah was about profit and becoming richer. People were just an avenue to profit for Subbiah. As mentioned his primary concern in life was to make money. The more the better. At no stage does Subbiah give anything back to his community. Something that is noticeable by his arguing with the customer over eight annas. An amount that had no real meaning to Subbiah but meant a lot to the customer. It is Subbiah’s greed at the end of the story which eventually kills him.