The Missing Mail by R.K. Narayan
In The Missing Mail by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of tradition, desperation, power, control, humanity and honesty. Taken from his An Astrologer’s Day 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 tradition. Kamakshi is to be married yet she is not allowed to choose her own husband. That task falls on to her father who is under pressure from his own father to find a husband for Kamakshi. This may be important as Narayan’s intentions may be to highlight to the reader the system of marriage that existed (and possibly still exists) at the time the story was written. Young women were not allowed to choose their own husbands with the responsibility falling on the young woman’s father. There is also a sense of desperation in the story. Something that becomes clear when Ramanujam begins to panic about finding a husband for Kamakshi. It is also noticeable that Thanappa wields a lot of power through his role as postman. He knows everybody’s business and while some critics might suggest he is being nosey Thanappa himself most likely considers that he is being helpful or friendly. Thanappa also seems to live for his job as a postman. The luxury it affords him sits comfortably with Thanappa. He is able to talk to everyone and get to know them a little better.
In reality Thanappa likes to be part of the community. He likes to know how people are doing or how they might be feeling. Though again he appears to read an awful lot of other people’s mail which some critics might suggest is an invasion of privacy. There doesn’t appear to be any distinct line drawn as to what Thanappa can do and want he can’t do when it comes to the mail. Which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that the role of the post man is a powerful role. Thanappa also has an ability to console those who might not have received the letter they were expecting. This may be significant as it suggests that Thanappa has a degree of understanding or humanity when it comes to other people’s disappointment. Similarly when he holds back the news of Ramanujam’s uncle’s death the reader suspects that there is no malice involved. Thanappa’s motivation has been to ensure that Kamakshi’s wedding is not ruined.
However Thanappa by holding back the letter is exerting a level of control and power which may be undeserving to him. He is after all just the local postman. If Ramanujam had been aware of his uncle’s death he would have called off the marriage. Thanappa by holding back the letter and telegram has not only exerted control over what will happen but he has also changed the direction that Ramanujam would have taken. However it is difficult for the reader to be angry with Thanappa due to the friendliness he has shown those on his mail route. Thanappa appears to wish the best for everyone so engrained is in in the society he delivers mail to. The reader doubting that Thanappa is deliberately malicious when it comes to holding back Ramanujam’s mail. Though it is possible that some critics will suggest that Thanappa has abused his authority. Something he himself might realise when he tells Ramanujam that he will be sacked should Ramanujam tells his superiors about what he has done.
It might also be a case that Narayan is exploring the theme of honesty. There was no reason for Thanappa to tell Ramanujam that he had held back the mail. Ramanujam would have been none the wiser. However there still are consequences even though Ramanujam has no intention of reporting Thanappa to his superiors. Narayan in the final sentence of the story has Thanappa ‘disappearing around a bend.’ This line may be symbolically important as Thanappa is disappearing which is contrary to his regular appearances he makes with those on his mail route. It is as if he has nowhere to go or at least Narayan does not direct Thanappa to a specific place. Also by using the word ‘bend’ rather than a street name Narayan may be suggesting that Thanappa himself may be aware that he has done something wrong. Narayan could have easily named the street that Thanappa was walking onto but declines. Which suggests that the relationship that Thanappa had with those on his delivery route may be over. Thanappa also understands and accepts that Ramanujam is angry. He understands that Ramanujam has every right to be angry. It is as though Thanappa has stepped over an invisible line when it comes to the delivery of the post. He has taken matters into his own hands much to the dislike of Ramanujam. Though his intentions were good and honest Thanappa has not performed his duties as he has been instructed to do. He has attempted to control a situation, Kamakshi’s wedding, and no matter how good his intentions may have been he has failed to do the right thing as a post man. However it is difficult to punish Thanappa because he is a good natured man who like everybody else is prone to making mistakes.