The English Teacher


Major Characters


The Headmaster:


The Headmaster is the most obviously inspiration character that Krishna meets. His revolutionary (for 1945) teaching style and the delight he takes in teaching and his students in learning contrasts clearly with Krishna’s experiences in school both as student and teacher. Clearly the Headmaster represents teaching as it is meant to be. Indeed the Headmaster’s key message is actually that teachers can learn more from the students than the other way around – he seems to believe that the innocence, purity and honesty of children is the ideal state in which to live life and that growing up, becoming sensible, polite and duplicitous is little more than a curse which needs to be shaken off. It is this character’s example that Krishna has decided to follow by the end of the novel.


However, once again, the Headmaster also has his flaws. His rapture over children and childhood seems too extreme – children have their downsides (we occasionally see Leela’s petulance and greed) and there are good points to growing up. More importantly the way in which he disowns his wife and children (although perhaps with some reason) is not easily forgiven. As such, once more, Krishna is forced to learn what he can from this character and devise his ideas about what constitutes a ‘good’ life rather than simply following someone else’s lead.



Page No




‘Just Headmaster will do.’ The Headmaster replies when Krishna asks his name.




‘The Headmaster was in raptures over the new arrival.’ and on p.129 ‘The sight of [Leela’s boat[ filled him with mystic ecstasy.’ describing children as ‘the real gods on Earth.’




When summoned for a story; ‘The children who had been playing about, stopped, looked at him and came running I uttering shrieks of joy.’ He teaches in a very modern, even revolutionary, manner through play and by encouraging children to discuss during the bison and tiger story.




‘He leaned over [the] leaves of [Leela’s catalogue] and was lost in the pictures.’




‘His own life seemed to give him as much amusement as he found the company of children inspiring.’




Before eating The Headmaster announces ‘I usually pray and meditate for fifteen minutes before dinner’, ‘He was completely wrapped in his own vision for quite a long while’ and ‘He did not seem to have the slightest feeling of being in a stranger’s house.’




When offered a meal the Headmaster says: ‘I am not very fond of this, but can I say so?’ As such, between the Headmaster and Krishna their develops ‘a tacit understanding to be strictly truthful rather than formal.’




However when asked about where his own children are going he replies ‘I don’t know. I can’t say – perhaps to the gutter, or to some low class den in the neighbourhood. I’ve no control over them.’ and indeed ‘There was a hint of a terrible domestic condition.’ when the Headmaster’s wife challenges him with the statement ‘So you have found the way home after all.’ and they proceed to argue in front of Krishna and Leela.




‘I look ridiculous speaking of my wife in this manner but why should I not? Children have taught me to speak plainly.’




When Leela shows him a toy house, he responds with ‘Oh what a house, what a house. The only house worth having in the whole world.’




He was ‘hustled into a marriage which did not interest him’ and chose the horrible location ‘deliberately’ with no attempt to make things better for his wife and children believing ‘if we have any worth in us the place will change through our presence’ but he has since given up hope of any ‘miraculous transformation’ occurring.




He wants to ‘work off the curse of adulthood.’ and decides that ‘I shall make myself completely at home whenever I like’




When talking about the knowledge of his own death the Headmaster says ‘Man must be a creature of knowledge and certainty.’ His astrologer ‘doesn’t want you to put your head in the sand.’




‘It is nearly the last sheet you know [of his horoscope] he said with a forced laugh.’




‘I am not interested in life after death. To me it is nothing more than a full stop.  Have trained myself to view it with calm.’ ‘I shall once again be resolved into the five elements of which I am composed and my intelligence and memory may not be more than what I see in the air and water.’




In the Headmaster’s defence even Krishna ‘felt like wringing [his wife’s] neck.’ when he went to see if the Headmaster was still alive because she was miserable so early in the day.




Having not died, the Headmaster ‘looked rejuvenated.’ saying that knowing the day of his death was like ‘having cancer’




‘I am going to treat myself as dead and my life as a new birth.’ ‘I have ceased to be my old self.’




‘No more of this wife and family for me.’ He simply gives the wife ‘her monthly upkeep’ and says ‘create a scene if you like … but don’t put me in that scene.