In his The Guide R.K. Narayan successfully uses gentle irony along with a humor. His interest in the Indian sensibility results in his exposing the peculiarity of life and his characters. Through exaggeration, force, juxtaposition of appearance and reality, he paints his total vision of life in his The Guide.
In his novel, The Guide there is humor of character, humor of situation, irony, wit and satire.
Laughter is generated in The Guide through farcial situations. The Pyol School with its abusive school master and the boy’s encroachment in the master’s kitchen creates humor. Another farcical situation occurs in the later part of the novel when the swami goes to have some food, finds the pot empty and throws it away in anger. Then coming out he explains to the waiting disciplines and devotees saying, “Empty vessels make much noise” creates laughter. Similarly maternal uncle’s attempt to brow- beat Raju is also farcical. The adjournment lawyer’s defense of Raju’s life in three acts is also comic.
Part of the humor also arises from characterization. In fact all his characters are eccentric or grotesque in some form or the other.
Marco is eccentric. He “dressed like a man about to undertake an expedition with his thick colored glasses, thick jacket and a thick helmet over which was perpetually stretched a green, shiny, water proof cover, giving him the appearance of a space-traveler.”
Equally odd are Raju’s pompous maternal uncle, Gaffur, the taxi-driver and the “Five-rupee” lawyer. All these eccentric characters and caricatures arouse laughter.
Even Raju, who is a complex character, appears grotesque and fantastic at times. Inspite of all his efforts to appear grand, Rosie arrives unexpectedly and sees him in his poverty, Raju’s ambiguous statements and attempts to fleece the tourist create humor.
The entire interior monologue of Raju in the later half of the novel shows him in a comic light; when he realizes that he was expected to fast to bring down the rains. He muses, “Did they expect him to starve for twelve days and stand in knee in deep water eight hours”. He sat up. He regretted having given them the idea. If he had known that it would be applied to him, he might probably have given a different idea: that all villagers should combine to help him eat “bowda” for fifteen days without a break. And then, the saintly man would stand in the river for two minutes a day and it should bring down the rain, sooner or later.
The humor also arises out of Narayan’s use of wit and hyperbole. For example Velan says “your penance is similar to that of Mahatma Gandhi. He has left a discipline in you to save us”. Raju’s comment, “But his aloofness did not save him if he not go to the wedding, the wedding was to bound to come to him”. “The banana worked or miracle. The boy went from house to house, announcing that the saint was back at his post”. These and other such witty statements are woven brilliantly into the texture of the novel and go a long way is generating humor and adding to his comic vision of life.
Satire and Irony
Narayan satires not to preach or ridicule, but to entertain and exposes the follies. His indirect and mild satire of life is achieved by means of irony which arise humor. He satirizes: fake sadhus; the red tapism of government officials; the blind faith of discipline, the “five rupee”adjournment lawyer whose fluency “knocked five years off”; Raju’s power of money which enabled him to “get a train reservation at a moment’s notice, relieve a man summoned to jury work, and reinstate a dismissed official”. He also exposes the attitude of the government to the drought hit villagers- a flurry of activity is created because of the fake swami but nothing is done to help the villagers. Such is the irony of life.
Sainthood is external as Raju grows a beard to look like a swami and thus plays his role perfectly. However Narayan treats his role ironically: while giving a sermon on the Gita he thinks of food: he expects the usual “gift of food” even though there is a drought; he accepts the role of a swami for food, but he becomes a genuine swami by renouncing food. The judge condemns him for forgery and lies, but Velan, his judge pardons him for lies and forgery; he feasts for the people but this gives them an opportunity to “make merry” and “make money.” He aspires to be great but at the end he realizes the significance of his puny attempt. Thus, the author comments at the absurdity and irony of life, at every phase of Raju’s life.
Narayan’s comic and ironic vision of life is visualized through his characterization.
The novelist comically views the tragedy of life. The tragic note dissolves and a comedy is created. This can be seen especially at the end of the novel. Raju’s decision to fast begins the tragic note in the novel, but his ultimate end is a comedy. It is a comedy because of the fast and the publicity it receives, results in merry-making for the villagers. It is a comedy because of the indifference of the villagers. While Raju is dying; even his last sentence makes his role appear illusionary and comic, “it was raining in the hills but he felt it coming up under my feet, up my leg.” Thus the use of comic irony at the end exposes the absurdity of existence, the tragic irony of life, and Narayan’s skill as a comic writer.
To conclude, we can say that Narayan’s humor does not result from distortion, exaggeration or caricature. It results from an observation of the common human weakness, follies and fables. His humor is varied and all pervasive.