Dr. I. Satyasree


R. K. Narayan occupies a prominent place among the galaxy of Indian Writers in English. He is a renowned author, who gave a new meaning and shape to Indian writing in English. He added richness and variety to the bulk of Indian Writing in English and is regarded as one of the great writers of the 21st century.


Narayan’s parents had a liberal outlook and they were against orthodoxy. They believed in the importance of education and the value of learning. He says, “Next to religion, education was the most compulsive force in a family like ours.” Therefore, Narayan attaches great importance to education; especially to girl child and women’s education. This paper is an extract of my Doctoral Thesis “A Study of R. K. Narayan’s Women Characters in the Context of Indian Culture.” In this paper, an analysis is made regarding Narayan’s views on women’s education keeping his fiction as the background.


There was a realization towards the end of 18th century that women are not inferior beings. People began to believe that the Three E s - Education, Emancipation and Empowerment will make Indian women strong, and self-sufficient. Education leads to emancipation and emancipation leads to empowerment. This empowerment will lead to greater economic independence. Great thinkers like Gandhiji, Vivekananda and Sarojini Naidu became the champions of women’s education. They worked tirelessly for the emancipation of Indian women.


Swami Vivekananda, a great social thinker, emphasized on all-round development of women. Education is the only means to achieve this goal. He stressed that education is the right means for the emancipation and upliftment of Indian women. He strongly advocated that women should be given freedom of self-expression in home as well as in the society. The light of knowledge can be acquired only through education. Darkness of mind leads to fear and this fear leads to superstition. There is no place for either fear or superstition in an enlightened mind. Swamiji asked Indian women to light the lamp of knowledge within themselves. He emphasized on the four values that proceed from education “knowledge, strength and fearlessness, compassion and large-heartedness and practical efficiency.” Education is the key that unlocks the mind and enriches the soul of a woman. It opens up new avenues to her and also emancipates her.


Social reformers in India realized that all the problems of women would be solved largely by themselves, as soon as they received education on the right lines. Narayan, even in the early days of his writing career, grasped this aspect astutely and therefore talks in favour of women’s education in his fiction. The Sanskrit quotation, ‘sa vidya ya vimuktaya’ prescribes that it is ‘education that emancipates us.’ So, Narayan has recognized the significance of education very early in his life and made his characters speak for him, especially his female characters are portrayed in such a way that they stand and speak in favour of women’s education.


In R. K. Narayan’s novel The Dark Room (1938), Savitri, the protagonist, laments for not being educated Savitri understands her dependent position and thinks, “If I had gone to a college and studied, I might have become a teacher or something. It was very foolish of me not to have gone on with my education.” These lines clearly reveal Narayan’s outlook about women’s education. Savitri does not want her daughters miss what she missed in her life. She yearns to give her daughters the light of education so that they become self-reliant and independent. Savitri further aspires to make her daughters study up to B. A. so that they need not depend for their salvage on marriage. Savitri’s aspiration does not stop here. She thinks resolutely, “Yes Kamala and Sumati must take their University course and become independent.”


Narayan presents Savitri’s predicament clearly in these lines, where she thinks that her two daughters should receive not just B.A but should go on to take their University Examination. In 1938, which incidentally was the year of publication of this novel, a woman aspiring to take up a postgraduate degree was a rare phenomenon. Very few elite women stepped out of the confines of the four walls of their home and pursued University education. In such contemporary situation also, Narayan, who subscribes to women’s education, boldly wrote about it in his fiction. Narayan’s progressive outlook for women is revealed in his novels quite evidently. In his classic novel, The Guide (1958) too, Narayan presents Rosie as an educated woman. Rosie is a post graduate in Economics and is shown as a woman who aspires for higher education. Rosie’s mother, who belongs to the devdasi family, recognizes the significance of education and puts Rosie in a school. She does not want Rosie to suffer the same plight which she underwent because of lack of education. Marco marries Rosie because of her higher education. Education elevates her status in the society.


Daisy is yet another female protagonist in the novel The Painter of Signs (1976), who aspires for education and a career. She is a Family Planning Officer and dedicates her life for the cause of population control. Sarasa, in Talkative Man (1986), is portrayed as an educated and career woman, who is bold and assertive. Bala, in Grandmother’s Tale, thinks on the same lines as Savitri. Narayan, in his fiction, starting from The Darkroom in 1938 to his last novel Grandmother’s Tale in 1992, presents women characters, who yearn for education.


Therefore, we find Narayan to be an advocate of women’s education and he truly subscribes to this progressive outlook which reflects in his fiction quite evidently. Time and again, Narayan shows that education is a prerequisite for a woman to become bold, assertive, strong and independent. He did not merely create submissive, dependent women, who behave like appendages to men. Education brings the required awareness among women about their rights and duties and this realization leads to their empowerment. So, Narayan has empowered his women characters right from the very beginning of his novelistic career by creating strong characters like Savitri, Bharati, Rosie, Daisy, Sarasa and Bala, who recognize the importance of women’s education and work doggedly in this direction to reach their goal in life. He uses these women characters as his mouth pieces to express his strong views and to demonstrate that he is in favour of women’s education.