The Axe by R.K. Narayan
In The Axe by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of independence, pride, dedication, prosperity, loss, control, change and acceptance. 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 independence. After Velan has been slapped by his father he abandons his father and sets out to find work for himself. Eventually becoming a gardener. This may be important as Velan is displaying an independent streak. He is showing his father that he can make it on his own. That he does not need to be guided by his father. The old man who employs Velan is also interesting as he allows Velan to have complete control of the garden which would further suggest that Velan has a degree of independence in his life. Though he is answerable to the old man. The old man does not get in Velan’s way. He leaves him to his own devices. It is also interesting that despite claiming his father’s property on his father’s death. Velan does not leave the garden preferring to stay in his hut by the garden. This may be important as it suggests that Velan is dedicated to the garden. Something that is also noticeable by the fact that Velan also talks to each plant and flower. Urging them on in growth. If anything Velan’s world is dedicated or devoted to the garden.
It might also be a case that Narayan is comparing Velan’s father to the old man who owns the garden. Both men treat Velan differently. Where Velan’s father has treated Velan inappropriately the relationship between the old man who owns the garden and Velan is good. It is possible that Narayan is suggesting that should a person (the old man) treat another person (Velan) correctly than that person (Velan) will prosper. Which appears to be the case for Velan. Since moving to his hut by the garden. Velan’s life has prospered and he is happy. In many ways the growth of the garden and the blooming of the flowers matches the prosperity and happiness in Velan’s life. He has managed to get married and have children. Something that may not have been possible should he have stayed working with his father. Narayan might also be exploring the theme of loss. Despite having gotten married Velan has lost his wife and eight of his children. All dying before Velan. However it is noticeable that despite this loss Velan has persevered. He has not been beaten by circumstances. He again has continued to prosper just as the garden has.
What is also interesting about Velan is that despite his age he never gives up. This along with the fact that he is answerable to a different master may be important as Narayan may be again highlighting how dedicated Velan is regardless of the circumstances he finds himself in. It is also obvious to the reader that Velan takes great pride in the work he has done in the garden. He has taken a patch of land and changed what was an eyesore into a thing of beauty. Again through hard work, dedication and devotion. It is also clear to the reader that Velan does not like some of his new masters. They have no interest in the house or the garden. Despite this Velan still tries his best to keep the garden as tidy and well-preserved as possible. In reality the garden is Velan’s whole world. He knows no other life. Though some critics might suggest that Velan has lived a limited life due to his dedication to the garden. It is important to remember that the garden brings joy to Velan. He is at his happiest when he is in the garden. Velan has never strived for complexity in his life. He is a simple man who likes simple things.
The end of the story is also interesting as Narayan may be exploring the theme of control. When Velan hears the axe hitting against the margosa tree he knows that his life is about to change. He is no longer in control of his environment for the first time since he was eighteen. This alone is something that would be difficult for someone to accept but what makes it worse in many ways is the fact that Venal had no opportunity to prepare himself for the events that were about to happen. Nobody had told Velan of the new owner’s wishes nor the reader expects had anybody told Venal that new owners had bought the house and garden. If anything Venal is ignorant of what is happening though he does know that the life he had lived working in the garden is over. Change is difficult for anybody but even more difficult for someone as old as Venal. Even though Venal accepts what is happening the reader senses as though he is leaving the garden as a broken man. All the effort he has put in over the years will have been in vain now that the new owners plan on building houses in the garden.