The Evening Gift by R.K. Narayan
In The Evening Gift by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of dependency, trust, class, conflict, loyalty and selflessness. Taken from his Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories 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 dependency. Sankar’s family are dependent on him. They rely on him to send them money every month to pay off a family loan. They also have requested the sum of one hundred rupees from Sankar in order to pay their mortgage. In many ways Sankar is under pressure to support his family yet he does not really have anybody himself to support him. His employer is an alcoholic and is untrustworthy due to his addiction to alcohol. It is his employer after all who lies to the police about what Sankar was supposed to have done (rob his employer). When the truth is that Sankar’s employer has suffered a black out and does not really know what has happened him. This may be important as Narayan may be highlighting the fact that Sankar cannot trust his employer yet ironically it is Sankar’s employer who is suggesting that Sankar cannot be trusted. Blinded by his alcoholism Sankar’s employer creates a story to tell the police despite having no proof.
The fact that Sankar is not believed by the police inspector may also be significant as it is possible that Narayan is suggesting that for many servants (and not only Sankar) they were considered to be a social class beneath their employer and as such could not be believed over their master or mistress. At no stage in the story does the police inspector take into consideration that Sankar’s employer is an active alcoholic and as such is untrustworthy. It is also interesting that Sankar himself does not raise the issue of whether his employer can be trusted. It is as though Sankar is accepting of what will happen him. To fight the charges against him may be pointless due to the class system that prevailed at the time the story was written. Sankar may be only too aware of the fact that due to his lowly position as a servant he does not have any rights. If he is to fight his employer’s charges he knows that he will not be believed.
It is also noticeable that Sankar is in conflict with himself. At first he refuses his employer’s offer of severance though does eventually accept the money. This may be important as Sankar in many ways is changing the destiny of his life by giving up his employment and returning to his village. He is only too well aware that when he returns to his village he might be somewhat happier for a period of time however he will also be living in poverty. It is as though Sankar has no other option or at least he cannot see any other option for himself but to take the one hundred and twenty rupees from his employer. If anything Sankar knows that he is limited in the options he has. It is either a matter of continuing to work for his employer or to help his family and end his employment with his employer. Which is not a nice position for Sankar to be in. Hence the discomfort he feels when first offered the money by his employer as severance pay. Sankar is in a difficult position and he appears to know this. The only one who is really suffering in the story is Sankar. He is torn between family and employer.
What is also interesting about the story is the loyalty that Sankar shows both his family and his employer. It is a loyalty for which he is never thanked for. Every month Sankar sends money to his family and when he is notified of his family’s need for the one hundred rupees it is noticeable that this request is at the forefront of Sankar’s mind. He never forgets his family. Similarly when it comes to his employment Sankar is on the receiving end of verbal abuse but never reacts to it. He takes everything in his stride and accepts that the conditions he finds himself in are part and parcel of his employment. Throughout the story Sankar acts selflessly putting either his family or his employer before himself. Which is admirable though Sankar does pay a price for his selflessness. He loses his job and is unable to provide his family with the one hundred rupees they need. It is also possible that Narayan is suggesting that despite a person’s kindness towards others (Sankar’s family and employer) an individual will still end up on the losing end due to the negative qualities of others (employer’s alcoholism). Rather than putting others first as Sankar does Narayan may be suggesting that each individual has to put themselves first though at the same time develop the ability to help others without hindering themselves.