The Watchman by R.K. Narayan
In The Watchman by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of independence, tradition, desperation, loss, hope and connection. Taken from his Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories collection the reader realises after reading the story that Narayan may be exploring the theme of independence. The watchman has no understanding as to why the girl would wish to study in university and make her own way in life. He sees nothing wrong with the girl marrying a man and having a family. This may be significant as it suggests that there is no connection between both the watchman and the girl. They live in two separate worlds or traditions. However they do have one thing in common and that is the fact that they have lost family members when they were young and as such life became somewhat of a struggle for both the watchman and the girl. Unfortunately this connection is not strong enough or understood by the girl to bring her closer to the watchman and his attempts to stop her from killing herself. Which may be the point that Narayan may be attempting to make. Without a strong bond or connection an individual may not necessarily be able to successfully help another individual.
There is also no doubting that the watchman is a diligent worker ensuring that all he observes is in order. Hence him talking to the girl and attempting to persuade her to go home. This too may be important as it suggests that the watchman though unable to connect with the girl is able to connect with his environment. To understand the best he can the world around him when he is qualified to do so. The girl herself has options but is adamant on studying in university. So strong is her desire to be independent of others. Whereas the watchman may feel as though he has reached the pinnacle when it comes to his career and is happy in the position that he finds himself in. It is as though the watchman may have lost his drive to succeed or go further in life whereas the girl has set herself a goal which may or may not be achievable. She is dependent on others whereas the watchman is independent of others. He already has a job that he is happy with and which provides for his family.
The fact that the watchman does not learn anything about the girl when he gazes at her letter the following morning could be symbolically important as it is possible Narayan is further suggesting that there is no connection between the watchman and the girl. It is also possible that the girl did not go through with her plan and that she went back home as the watchman had instructed her to do. It is also interesting that the watchman does not feel any guilt about what may or may not have happened the girl as this could suggest that the watchman is distancing himself from the girl’s actions or lack of actions. He is carrying on with his life as he sees fit. Believing that he could have done no more for the girl than what he has already done. Which may differ from the opinion of critics who might suggest that the watchman could have taken the girl home and explained her position to her step-mother. Maybe then the girl might not have felt so desperate about her life and the direction it was taking. Perhaps then the watchman would have been happier about the girl’s fate and the drastic course of action which she planned on taking.
The end of the story is also interesting as Narayan appears to be further exploring the theme of connection. The watchman believes that he sees the girl. Who by now is a woman and is relieved that she did not drown. However any engagement that the watchman attempts to make with the woman is ignored by the woman. One reason for this may be because the woman feels as though the watchman did not understand her or the predicament she was in. As to whether the woman became a doctor and reached her goal of independence is difficult to say as the watchman. Who may have had many questions to ask the woman. Does not get the opportunity to ask these questions. He is rebuffed by the woman. If indeed the woman is the girl from many years ago. It is interesting as to why she might wish to visit the same spot in which she intended to drown herself. It is possible she is doing so to remind herself of the lowest ebb she felt as a girl or woman and is reinforcing in her mind the importance of independence. To carry on no matter how difficult one might find it and to succeed in one’s ambitions.