Hungry Child by R.K. Narayan
In Hungry Child by R. K. Narayan we have the theme of escape, loneliness, innocence, trust, dissatisfaction, gender roles, independence and paralysis. Taken from his Malgudi Days 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 escape. There is a sense that Raman’s purpose at the Expo is to escape from the life he is living. He is yet to get over the fact that Daisy has abandoned him and his work has also been affected due to the weariness his heart feels over Daisy. It is also noticeable that Raman is overly critical of the things he sees at the Expo. This may be a direct result of the dissatisfaction that Raman feels. Triggered again by the loneliness he feels in his life since Daisy left him. It is as though Raman has gone to the Expo to cheer himself up yet at the same time he is unable to forget the position he finds himself in. It is only when Raman claims to be the father of the young boy that things get a little bit brighter for Raman.
What is also interesting about the young boy is how innocent he is. Raman is a complete stranger to the young boy yet the boy gladly follows Raman’s lead. Though some critics might suggest that the boy is just happy to be free of the confinement he felt while in the Central Office. It is more likely that the boy would have been prepared to leave the Central Office with any adult such is his innocence. The boy also shows remarkable trust in Raman though perhaps this is because Raman appears to be bribing the boy with food and rides on some of the attractions at the Expo. Either way what is clear to the reader is the fact that Raman is enjoying his role as a father. He has mapped out the boys education. He knows that he has to make up a story for his neighbours when they see the boy but more importantly there is a spring in Raman’s step. A spring that had been missing since Daisy left him. If anything Raman has great plans for the boy’s future. He also plans on fixing up his home which symbolically mirrors Raman’s life. Just as Raman’s home is in a mess so too is his life.
The role of women in the story is also interesting as Raman considers women to be either home-makers (Raman’s aunt) or child-bearers (Daisy). Raman does not see women as being independent of men. Something that Daisy is. She is a political activist who does not necessarily fall into the category of willing child-bearer. She believes in her fight for the right for women to have no children. Most likely because she knows that once a woman has a child they are bound to the home. Their lives will be taken over by their children while the male in the family continues to have their independence. Similarly when it comes to the fish-woman at the Expo she is viewed upon as an object just as many men (including Raman) would view women. As no more than being objects. Likewise with the clerk in the Central Office. When Raman collects the boy the clerk asks where the child’s mother is. It is as though the rearing of child is the duty of a mother. They are supposed to be by a child’s side. It is possible that Narayan is placing a spotlight on the perceived gender roles that existed at the time the story was written.
The end of the story is also interesting as despite playing the role of father for the day. Things come to an abrupt end for Raman when the young boy sees his family and runs towards them. All the dreams and goals that Raman had toyed with for the day are gone. Something that he is acutely aware of. He is to go back to his home alone and most likely live his life as lonely as he was prior to collecting the boy in the Central Office. Nothing will have changed for Raman expect for how he felt for a few hours when he was in charge of the boy. If anything Raman is to continue to live his life in paralysis. Any chance of happiness that he may have had has faded. It is also interesting that the young boy at the end of the story shows no loyalty to Raman. He may have just been a means to an end. Someone to buy him food and take him on some of the attractions at the Expo. Though the boy said very little throughout the story his actions at the end highlight to the reader that he is happy to have found his family. Even if it means that his father through worry scolds him.