Out of Business by R.K. Narayan
In Out of Business by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of control, struggle, defeat, desperation, depression, identity, hope and unity. Taken from his An Astrologer’s Day 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 control. Rama relies on others doing well, the banks and the Gramophone Company. He lives his life precariously even though this may not have been his intention. He is reliant on both the banks and the Gramophone Company to be successful in order for him to be successful and when the banks collapse so too does the Gramophone Company. The downside for Ram is that he now has no job and he has to down-size. Aspirations he might have had to improve his life materialistically have faded. If anything life becomes a struggle for Rama and his family. Something that is noticeable by the amount of job applications that Rama sends out without any luck. The fact that Rama sends out so many job applications may also be important as it suggests that Rama is not prepared to accept defeat. He continues to persevere to the best of his ability. A trait that many readers and critics might find admirable. However it might be important to remember that Rama does get disheartened after each rejection he receives from potential employers.
Narayan may also be exploring the theme of desperation. Rama spends a lot of his time doing crosswords puzzles hoping that he will win some money. He becomes so preoccupied with the crossword puzzles that he spends his time at the newsagents’ checking to see if he has won. This may be important as it suggests that due to his circumstances Rama has become desperate. He is putting all his faith in the hope that he might win a prize from the crossword puzzles. It is as though the only hope that Rama feels he has, is winning on the crossword puzzles. It is also noticeable that Rama’s preoccupation with the crossword puzzles is taking a toll on his family life. So disastrous is Rama’s preoccupation that money for household expenses is being spent on crossword puzzles. It is as though Rama is blindly leading himself into an alternative world that is devoid of reality. Rama’s circumstances and those of his family are dire yet he continues to spend money he doesn’t have on the crossword puzzles. Though again the reader is aware of just how desperate Rama is.
There is also no doubting that the continual failures that Rama encounters with the crossword puzzles leads to him feeling depressed. So depressed is Rama that he contemplates suicide. He can see no other option. He has spent money he could not afford to spend on crossword puzzles and has not been successful. It is as though Rama views his life as being a failure. Not even the thought of his family can lift Rama’s spirits. It is also possible that Rama has lost his identity since he lost his job. No longer is he as sure of who he is which may not help the depression that Rama feels. For Rama the most important thing is ‘total extinction.’ However things do not go as planned for Rama. There has been a derailment of a train causing a three hour delay. This may be important because in this moment Rama gets a new lease of life. It is as though he has an epiphany or moment of realisation. Understanding that how he has lived his life (doing the crossword puzzles) is the wrong way to live. He begins to realise that there is something else worth living for and that something is his family.
The end of the story is also interesting as there is as sense of unity between Rama and his family. No longer is Rama interested in spending money he doesn’t have on crossword puzzles. Rather with the money he will receive from the sale of his home he intends to find work in Madras. Where previously Rama had lost focus he now realises that his family are the most important thing in his life. It is as though the sale of Rama’s home has brought a new sense of hope into his life. It is also noticeable that Rama for the first time in a long time is at one with himself. It is as though he remembers what his priorities are and the responsibilities that he has. Something that was missing when Rama was spending money on the crossword puzzles. Money that he did not necessarily have to spend. At the end of the story the reader can’t help but feel as though Rama and his family’s life will improve for the better. Though Rama had chased good fortune by buying the crossword puzzles. It is the sale of his home that has brought him the luck that he needs to get himself back on his feet.