The Cobbler and the Machine by Mulk Raj Anand
In The Cobbler and the Machine by Mulk Raj Anand we have the theme of tradition, gratitude, modernity, enthusiasm, poverty and guilt. Taken from his Selected Short stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and the reader realises from the beginning of the story that Anand may be exploring the theme of tradition. Saudagar sees no use for a sewing machine preferring to carry out his craft as it has always been carried out, traditionally. However as the story progresses Saudagar is persuaded by the narrator to get a sewing machine. Believing that he will not only earn more money but that his life will be easier. However things do not work out for Saudagar. Throughout Saudagar is trying to pay off the money he borrowed for the sewing machine. Something that has to be done but the effects on the narrator are great. He is still waiting for his boots to be made as a sign of gratitude to the narrator. Although this never happens. It might also be important to remember that with the sewing machine comes modernity and Saudagar cannot keep apace. His work load is heavier but he still seems unable to pay off the debt of the swing machine.
There is also no doubting that the narrator is enthusiastic about Saudagar getting a sewing machine and if anything pushes him to do so. This may be significant as by the end of the story the narrator blames himself for Saudagar’s death. Having worked him to the ground while also waiting for his own new pair of boots. It is as though the narrator loses interest in Saudagar because he has not made him his boots. Angered by this the narrator stops visiting Saudagar. If anything the narrator’s mother’s quoting of a proverb about cobblers not being trusted rings true for the narrator. Though still he doesn’t not fully let go and persistently asks Saudagar about his new boots. Where others would walk away immediately the narrator does not. Instead he walks barefoot rather than have his mother buy him cheap Indian shoes. This may be important as it could suggest that the narrator still has faith in Saudagar or at least appears to till the end of the story.
In many ways the narrator wants Saudagar to succeed. That is till his own emotions of hatred take over and he feels as though he has been taken for a fool. Something which would have never been Saudagar’s intentions. Saudagar had no option but to pay his loan back and only took on paying work. Though some critics might suggest that Saudagar is being selfish this may not be the case. He was looking after paying customers so that he could eventually own the sewing machine outright and then help the narrator. Material for the boots and shoes that Saudagar had to be paid for and it is possible that Saudagar is living hand to mouth. There is no mention of him doing anything but working hard in order to pay off his debts. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Saudagar had thrown himself into his work and hopes to be able to turn a profit the quicker the better. So that he can make the narrator’s boots. Though this is not pleasing to the narrator. If anything some might suggest that the narrator is acting a little impatiently for his boots. It is imperative that Saudagar makes a profit before he can decide upon making free boots for the narrator.
The end of the story is also interesting as feelings of guilt begin to seep into the narrator’s mind. As to whether he blames the sewing machine for Saudagar’s hasty death is unclear. However he does feel guilty about the pressure he put Saudagar under to make him his boots. What should have been an exciting and progressive time for Saudagar and the narrator has turned into a nightmare. Saudagar is dead form overwork and the narrator particularly blames himself for this. It is as though the narrator is thinking that should he have not influenced Saudagar’s decision making when it came to getting a sewing machine, Saudagar might still be alive. As for walking barefoot it is no longer something that bothers the narrator. He would much prefer to have his friend alive than to see him die suddenly. It might also be a case that the narrator was as overwhelmed by the new sewing machine just as much as Saudagar. Modern technology took over both persons lives with drastic consequences. Consequences that neither person could have foreseen and would not have occurred should Saudagar stuck to the traditional way of making shoes.