House Opposite by R.K. Narayan
In House Opposite by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of judgement, discomfort, connection, pity, selfishness and kindness. Taken from his Under the Banyan Tree 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 judgement. The hermit is continually judging the woman in the house opposite in a negative way. Basing his opinion of her on the amount of men who come to her home on a daily basis. Though the hermit can’t prove it he considers that the woman’s house is a house of ill-repute and as such she should not be allowed to live on the same street as him. This may be important as the hermit is not showing any charity to the woman though he himself is a religious man. If anything he is thinking only of his own discomfort rather than how desperate the woman herself may be living the lifestyle she is living. At no stage in the story does the hermit attempt to make a connection with the woman and to discover what her real story may be. If anything the hermit is working off assumptions when it comes to how he interprets the woman.
It is however interesting that the hermit does eventually pity the old woman when he thinks more about her life and sees her closer when she offers him some food. A charitable act that in many ways may upset the hermit as it comes unexpectedly to him. It is easy to silence a critic, which the hermit is, when a person offers their detractor kindness. However it is interesting that this does not stop the hermit from abandoning his home in order that he can pray in peace and receive the benefits of prayer. Something that the hermit is unable to do while living across the street from the woman. It is as though the hermit is prepared to sacrifice his home in order to achieve peace of mind and spiritual guidance. This too may be important as it suggests that the hermit is dedicated to his pursuit of pray and will not let anything get in the way of him achieving spiritual well-being. Though the reader is also aware that the trigger for the hermit’s actions are the words of his old guru. Words he has not forgotten and which he still holds important to his life.
It might also be significant that the woman is only given a voice at the end of the story when she offers the food to the hermit as this could suggest that the hermit (and the narrator) do not necessarily consider the woman to be someone of importance. However she is important enough to disturb and unhinge the hermit. Whether she speaks or remains silent. It is also possible that the woman, if she is a woman of ill-repute, is forced to live the life she is living. Knowing that there is nothing else that she can do. Even if what she is doing is considered to be wrong by the hermit. The very fact that the woman shows kindness to the hermit is also significant as it suggests she unlike the hermit has the ability to connect with others. Though it might be true that the hermit can connect with the local children. However when he encounters an obstacle like the woman he is unable to overcome the obstacle. Despite being what he believes himself to be. That being a tolerant and religious man. The hermit is acting selfishly.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that the hermit is judging not only the woman but also all the men who enter her home. Even though he is unsure of the activities that go on in the house. It is as though the hermit due to his own actions has placed himself on a pedestal. One that he knows others will not be able to stand on due to the commitment and dedication that is required to live one’s life as the hermit lives his life. If anything the hermit may not necessarily be thinking in a charitable way when it comes to others. He appears to judge others without really knowing them or the circumstances that they find themselves in. Which may suggest to some readers that the hermit lacks tolerance and at the same time considers himself to be more worthy than others. Particularly when it comes to the woman and the men who enter her house. Rather than leave his home if the hermit learnt to accept how others lived their life and did not judge them. The hermit would be a happier man and find it easier to connect with God.