The Martyr’s Corner by R.K. Narayan
In The Martyr’s Corner by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of diligence, dedication, compassion, poverty, struggle, paralysis, corruption, security and resilience. Taken from his Lawley Road 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 diligence. Though others think that Rama only works for one hour a day selling his goods the reality is very much different. Rama spends from eight in the morning to ten in the evening preparing his goods for sale. This may be important as not only does it show that Rama is hard working or diligent but he is also dedicated. There is also a sense that Rama is canny. He knows where to pitch his goods for sale. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Rama sits outside the cinema waiting for potential customers. There is also a sense that Rama is compassionate towards others. He feels for people particularly the young boys who polish shoes on the street. He knows that they are half-starved and doesn’t like seeing customers swindle the young boys. If anything Ram is a good natured man. Kind to others and kind to his customers. It is as though he does not like to see anybody wronged.
Narayan also appears to be giving the reader an insight into life on the streets of India. Not only does Rama get to know each individual customer and their occupation but the reader is also given an insight into each characters position on the street. One of the most striking things about this insight is the poverty that exists. None of the characters mentioned, particularly the boys who polish shoes, have much. Everybody appears to live hand to mouth. Which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be deliberately highlighting the poverty that exists so as to show the reader that there are those who live in India who may not necessarily live comfortable lives. If anything people appear to be struggling on a daily basis. With no possibility of change in sight. It is as though a whole group of individuals live their life in paralysis. Doing the same thing every day with no change or prospects for the future. With the reader suspecting that those who live and work on the streets are forgotten and not part of society.
It may also be a case that Narayan is exploring the theme of corruption. Rama gives some of his goods to the passing policemen and the occasional worker from the department of health. In order that they do not harass him and tell him that he has to move on or that he has to ensure that his goods are sold and displayed in a certain way. This may be important as by bribing the policemen or the occasional health worker Narayan may be placing a spotlight on the workings of street life in India and the power that those in authority have and which they may abuse for their own gain. Rama has to pay those in authority because if he doesn’t he is unable to make any sort of living. It is also noticeable that Rama’s wife is supportive of Rama. She acts as banker while he does the work. She saves the five rupees that Rama makes each day and the reader suspects that it is Rama’s wife’s intention that their life will improve through Rama’s actions. There will be some form of change for Rama and his wife. However the change that occurs is not what either Rama or his wife expected.
The end of the story is also interesting as Narayan seems to be exploring the theme of security. After a man is killed at the same spot that Rama sells his goods. Rama’s sales go down. He is forced to move two hundred yards away out of sight of his previous customers. This may be significant as not only is Narayan exploring the lack of financial security that has fallen on Rama but he is again delving into the theme of struggle. Rama is struggling to make ends meet. Something that is clear to the reader when Rama takes home only two annas where previously he had been earning five rupees. However despite the fall in income Rama is able to adapt. He finds a job in a restaurant and begins work as a waiter. This too is important as it shows just how resilient Rama actually is. His business may have come to an end but he still manages to provide for his family. Rama’s remarks to the rude customer may also have some significance as they highlight to the reader the fact that Rama despite losing his business is still very much focused on the future. He does not allow his past to defeat him. Where some men may have given up. Rama continues to move forward. Even if he is no longer his own boss.