Mother and Son by R.K. Narayan
In Mother and Son by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of guilt, insecurity, worry, independence, gender roles, letting go and paralysis. 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 guilt. Ramu’s mother feels as though she has been too hard on Ramu after they have spoken. She thinks that it is her fault that he is the way he is. This might be important as not only does Ramu’s mother feel guilty but she may also be somewhat insecure within herself. As readers we realise that Ramu’s mother has said nothing wrong. She is only worried or concerned about Ramu and his future. If left to his own devices it does not look like Ramu will make any progress in life. Something that Ramu’s mother is keenly aware of. Hence her asking him to consider marrying her brother’s daughter. It is also interesting that Ramu’s mother feels that should she have remained silent and not given out to her husband he may have lived longer. This may be important as it plays on the theme of guilt and insecurity again. Ramu’s mother blames herself for her husband’s death.
It might also be a case that Narayan is exploring gender roles and the role of women in society. Ramu’s mother appears to do everything for him. He remains idle throughout the story while Narayan highlights to the reader some of the chores that Ramu’s mother performs. It is as though it is the role of the woman to perform household duties. Which in many ways also suggests that the role of women is to be housebound. Looking after the house by cooking and cleaning. There is also a sense that Ramu’s cousin (his uncle’s daughter) is being forced to marry Ramu. Her father wants her to marry Ramu and is even prepared to provide a dowry. This may also be significant as just as Ramu’s mother does not have a choice in how she lives her life neither does Ramu’s cousin. It is as though the female is subservient to the male. Which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that at the time the story was written. Many women lived their lives answerable to the man of the household.
The fact that Ramu’s mother feels guilty over her actions not only highlights how insecure she may feel but it also shows the reader how deeply in love with Ramu she is. He is her son after all even if their relationship may be somewhat hostile at times. The reality is that Ramu’s mother is concerned for Ramu’s future. She knows that she herself will not always be there to provide for him and as such wants him to marry so that when she passes away Ramu will have somebody in his life who is able to make provision for him. Ramu himself may not be well focused nor have a direction to follow in life. He has failed his Intermediate Examinations on four separate occasions and he would prefer to marry a movie star rather than his cousin. If anything Ramu may lack the maturity to be independent of his mother. She is a convenience for Ramu as she provides and does everything for him. Ramu’s mother provides Ramu with security yet ironically she herself is insecure because of the guilt and worry she feels about Ramu’s future.
The end of the story is also interesting as it becomes clear to the reader that Ramu’s mother is unable to let go of Ramu. So over concerned is she about where Ramu might be she ends up walking the streets. Only to find Ramu safely asleep on a bench. Whereas Ramu’s mother has been so wound up with worry and unable to sleep. Ramu on the other hand is carefree. It is also noticeable that Ramu does not fully understand as to why his mother is acting as she is. He does not seem to realise that his mother is worried about him. This may be important as it could further suggest that Ramu is not completely focused on the circumstances he finds himself in. He does not see that his mother is concerned about him as any mother would be. If anything Ramu’s mother is paralysed. That being she will not change. She is to live her life providing for Ramu. While Ramu continues to live his life without any type of focus. Not knowing which direction to take but assured that his mother will always be there for him because she is overwhelmed with guilt and worry. The reader sensing that Ramu’s mother is prepared to sacrifice her own happiness and well-being for a son who in reality should be more responsible and focused on what he wants in life. Ramu has everything handed to him and it appears as though this will not change. Just as his mother will not change.