In Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of disobedience, conflict, control, authority, power, rebellion and independence. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Narayan may be exploring the theme of disobedience.Jul 18, 2018
The protagonist of the story is a 10-year-old boy. He is an unconstrained, indiscreet, wicked but then also an exceptionally honest child. His character is a kid in the fullest feeling of the world. How he grows up, his mischiefs which made his family irritated, his wonder, growing pains and innocence and many aspects are being portrayed in the novel. He lives in a universe of bossy grown-ups. He is a student at Albert Mission School. It is a British established school where importance is given to Christianity and English education.
One of the most watershed moments in the novel is the time when Rajam joins the school and he becomes friend with Swami. That was a life-changing stage for him. But later he breaks his friendship due to some reasons.
Everyone can relate R.K. Narayan’s account of childhood games and friendship. It’s an age where friendship is more important than family and more urgent than school. Also, holidays are heaven on earth during those days. The author effectively sketches those days through Swami and Friends.
The Innocence of Youth is the fundamental theme of Swami and Friends. Swaminathan and his friends are 10-years-old at the beginning of the book, and are prone to all the typical behaviors of young children: they are fascinated with toys; they daydream in class; they take their families for granted, and they disdain schoolwork. Rather than plotting or planning out their adventures with deliberate intention, these boys participate in the risk-taking and spontaneous mischief characteristic of young children. At their youthful age, they are not yet fully equipped to understand the world around them, the class differences that already work to inevitably divide them, or to understand the repercussions of their actions. For example, Swaminathan does not understand why an angry mob gathers after the arrest of the Indian politician Gauri Sankar in Chapter Twelve, and he cannot anticipate the consequences of shattering his headmaster’s windows with a rock. In running away, he does not understand that in doing so he might miss the M.C.C. match and irrevocably damage his friendship with Rajam. These are but a few cases that illustrate the central theme of Swami and Friends, where youthful innocence wrestles with increasing tension against worldly complexity and conflict..
This thesis entitled “Myth of Innocence and Purity of Childhood in R. K. Narayan’s novel Swami and Friends” examines how childhood not only embodies fun and laughter, purity and innocence but also equally self centeredness, snobbery, vanity, callousness, cruelty and jealousy that can be seen among adults. It also assesses the novel critically and brings the hidden realities of childhood days into light that children are also not free from vices. Narayan, with the skillful use of humour, tries to capture the world of children as reflected in the growing up of Swaminathan and his companions, and their adventure and misadventure in the mythical town of ‘Malgudi.’ By providing the realistic glimpse of childhood, Narayan shows that children also have contrary qualities and are not free from multiple human natures as can be found in grown up people. As Narayan he writes in his autobiography—My Days, those children are capable of performing greater cunning activities than grown up and he beautifully puts this belief in Swami and Friends.
The Political and the Personal Under British Colonial Rule
Set in a fictional town in south India circa 1930, Swami and Friends is defined by the pressures and complexities of British colonial rule over India. While the book’s events revolve around common childhood trials and tribulations, the personal experiences of the protagonist and his friends are colored by their political context, even when the characters themselves have little understanding of it. By examining British colonial rule through the lens of an ordinary boy’s relatable…
Education and Oppression
Difficulty within educational settings is one of Swami’s constant conflicts throughout the novel. Rather than simply depicting the ordinary childhood struggles of homework and unfair teachers, Narayan uses these familiar obstacles to enact a smaller version of the colonial oppression that suffuses the book. For Swami, school is a place of both growth and restriction, where rigid rules come into conflict with Swami’s nuanced inner life. Throughout, Narayan’s depictions of Swami’s school days add…
The Fluidity of Identity
Although little more than a year passes over the course of Swami’s story, his identity and those of his friends change and develop many times throughout the novel. By demonstrating how malleable his characters’ essential traits and roles are, Narayan casts doubt on the idea of objectively “true” identity, instead seeming to argue that even core characteristics like goodness and badness can be changed and chosen according to the desires of individuals and groups…
Innocence, Family, and Growing Up
Just as Swami’s story reveals the somewhat illusory nature of personal identity, so too does it slowly strip away conventional notions of childhood innocence. While Swami seems at first to embody the quintessential idea of a carefree child, his growth over the course of the novel shows that even children of his young age are burdened by serious concerns and real-world threats. Narayan demonstrates this gradual loss of innocence in large part through his…
Just as Swami’s story reveals the somewhat illusory nature of personal identity, so too does it slowly strip away conventional notions of childhood innocence. While Swami seems at first to embody the quintessential idea of a carefree child, his growth over the course of the novel shows that even children of his young age are burdened by serious concerns and real-world threats. Narayan demonstrates this gradual loss of innocence in large part through his portrayal of Swami’s relationships with the members of his immediate family, which grow increasingly complicated and less protective over the course of the story.
At the start of the novel, Swami is almost wholly dependent on his family. He blithely takes them for granted while also calling on them to support his whims and desires, and their firm but kind presence grounds the seeming innocence that Swami enjoys in the early chapters. Swami’s mother and father, though strict at times, offer him safety and resources to pursue his academic and social goals. Even when Swami meets Rajam, whom he views as a role model, he still requires his father’s room and his mother’s cooking in order to host Swami at his home. Thanks to his parents’ help, the visit goes well, and Swami feels independent in his friendship with Rajam even as he relies on his family to support it. Swami’s Granny, whom he considers unsightly and senile but nevertheless loveable, also offers him unquestioning comfort. She affirms Swami’s stories even when they are implausible, and although she tells him stories from the family’s past, Swami dismisses her words as “old unnecessary stories.” Swami views his relationship with his grandmother as simply “snug and safe,” but Narayan makes clear that this perception relies on Swami’s ability to ignore the more complex, challenging stories that his grandmother wishes to tell. In describing the conflict between Swami and his headmaster at the mission school, Narayan hints again at the deeper reality that underlies Swami’s outwardly innocent reliance on his family. After Swami brings in his father’s letter complaining about Ebenezer’s treatment of Swami, the Mission School Headmaster scolds Ebenezer but then tells Swami that he was “foolish to go to [his] father about this matter.” The headmaster requests that Swami turn to him instead of his father about future problems, foreshadowing the novel’s later events in which Swami’s father is powerless to protect him.
As the novel progresses, Swami’s feeling of security with his family begins to erode, as both he and the reader discover evidence that his innocent trust in his own safety may have been an illusion all along. When Swami’s mother gives birth to an unnamed baby boy, Swami is initially indifferent to his new brother, calling him “hardly anything.” But as time passes, Swami realizes that the baby is now the center of the household. Although Swami soon comes to love his brother, he is also forced to admit that he is no longer the sole focus of his parents’ and grandmother’s love and attention. Around the same time, Swami notices that his father has changed to become “fussy and difficult.” His father begins to take a more active role in making Swami study for his exams, and Swami resents the realization that his father’s role is not only to protect him but also to pressure him toward growth. In the middle of the novel, Swami enters into a conflict with the son of a coachman who tricks Swami into giving him money. This episode in particular illustrates the tension between Swami’s youthful innocence and his dawning knowledge of the genuine danger of the world around him. The episode begins with Swami’s intense desire to get a hoop, a childish wish based only on a love for simple play. However, that innocent impulse soon transforms into a violent conflict with the coachman’s son; Mani beats Swami in an attempt to get the boy’s attention and then, when they confront him, his neighbors throw rocks and chase them off with dogs. Most significantly of all, Swami encounters the son again while visiting his father’s luxurious club, but finds that his father is oblivious to the danger. He decides to “seek protection” by telling his father, but quickly reverses his choice, deciding that “his father had better not know anything about the coachman’s son, however serious the situation might be.” As Swami moves away from his father’s protection, Narayan demonstrates more forcefully that Swami’s family is not truly the refuge that it initially appears to be.
By the novel’s conclusion, Swami has experienced the genuine danger of the world around him and, at the same time, come to realize the limitations of his family’s ability to comfort him and keep him safe. Through this process Narayan shows that Swami shares in the universal realities common to all coming-of-age stories, even within the unique sociopolitical context of India under English colonial rule.
After Swami and his friends form their cricket team, Swami discovers that his grandmother does not know what cricket is. Although he is upset by her “appalling ignorance,” he is nonetheless patient with her because he remembers his recent, irrational fear that “she was going to die in a few minutes” because he refused to bring her a lemon. Swami’s shift toward caring for his grandmother and her feelings marks a reversal of his previous belief that his family are the ones responsible for him. When Swami goes missing, a chapter from his father’s perspective reveals that he is completely powerless to find Swami and, given that Swami actually ran away, save him from himself. His father’s desolation and inability to alter the situation underscores the fact that Swami must now take responsibility for himself, rather than relying innocently on his family. When Swami is rescued by Mr. Nair, he is initially confused and calls the man Father. He is unable to understand his situation, thinking: “Who was this man? Was he Father? If he was not, why was he there? Even if he was, why was he there? Who was he?” This internal breakdown of Swami’s ability to comprehend his father’s role in his life represents a moment of profound growth in Swami’s self-efficacy and maturity. Later, he laments that he forgot to say goodbye to the Officer, hinting at the core truth that one cannot appreciate childhood simplicity until it is gone. Swami still lives with his family at the novel’s end, but he has lost the illusion that his life there is innocent or free of worry.