Iswaran by R.K. Narayan
In Iswaran by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of failure, desire, aspirations, self-doubt, fear and control. 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 failure. Iswaran has on several occasions failed his Intermediate Examinations. Despite this he continues to try and pass the exams. The reader sensing that Iswaran is driven by his strong desire to make it to university. It is as though Iswaran will not give up on the aspirations he has to better himself by way of education. However Iswaran is the only one who believes in himself. His parents have tired of his attempts to pass the Intermediate Examinations and as such have in reality given up on Iswaran. It is also noticeable that Iswaran himself falters in his belief that he might have passed his examinations. Something that the reader is aware of by the fact that Iswaran writes a suicide note. Where once Iswaran was sure that he would pass his examinations while he is in the cinema he is eventually over run with self-doubt. It is as though Iswaran comes to the point in whereby the Intermediate Examinations are the most important thing in his life. He feels as though should he fail them again he will never succeed.
It is also interesting that the other boys who are waiting for their results make fun of Iswaran. Which is unhelpful as this makes Iswaran doubt himself even more. Despite trying to spend his day escaping from the fact that the results of the examination are due out. Iswaran is unable to stop thinking about the exams. This may be significant as it suggests the importance of the examinations to Iswaran. He has placed all his hopes in passing the exams. Knowing that by doing so he will have at last answered his critics who have considered him to be failure. It might also be symbolically important that the first results that Iswaran looks at in the Senate House are the results for those who have managed to get a third class grade. Iswaran doubts himself so much that he does not even think that he may have got a higher grade. If anything Iswaran is lacking in confidence. Most likely because no one else has confidence in him.
What is also noticeable about Iswaran is the fact that he is afraid of failing his examinations again. Which may suggest that he has not only lost all hope but that he has placed such an emphasis on going to university. Going to university to Iswaran is an achievement and goal that he cannot see beyond. Which is understandable. Everybody has goals and aspirations that they wish to achieve and it is admirable that Iswaran never gives up on the possibility of going to university. Despite having failed his examinations so many times. It is this drive that sets Iswaran apart from his peers. While others may have given up on going to university after failing their examinations. Iswaran seems to be driven by his strong desire to better himself. To make something of his life. If anything Iswaran for the majority of the story never gives up. Not till he sees the other boys in the cinema. It is at this moment that fear overtakes Iswaran. He knows that the other boys have passed their exams and the self-doubt that Iswaran feels creeps back in. Which may be important as Narayan may be highlighting how difficult examinations and the waiting for results may be for some people. It is as though Iswaran is judging himself based solely on the results of his examinations.
The end of the story is also interesting as Narayan appears to be exploring the theme of control. In many ways by escaping into a fantasy world after seeing that he has achieved an honours grade Iswaran loses control of himself. What begins with playfulness eventually ends up in tragedy. Iswaran blinded by his success in the examinations eventually gets carried away with himself. Losing control of what he is doing and ends up drowning in the Sarayu. In what should be a happy moment for Iswaran and his family only ends up being a moment of sadness. So elated was Iswaran that he passed his examinations he momentarily lost touch with reality and went into the waters of the Sarayu. The fact that Iswaran was so happy or elated may be important as it suggests that the weight of self-doubt that Iswaran had felt for so many years over failing his examinations had finally been lifted. It is as though Iswaran had freed himself from any doubt he might have had about his academic abilities. However rather than starting his B.A. Iswaran’s family have to deal with the tragedy that is his death. They will never know just how happy Iswaran was prior to dying and that he unintentionally killed himself. Having lost control of himself due to the happiness he felt about having finally achieved his goal of going to university.