‘Finding out about oneself is the main theme of The English Teacher.’ How far do you agree with this statement?


Inarguably, a major theme of The English Teacher is finding out about oneself and the process of self development which is illustrated clearly by Narayan through his literary construct: Krishna. Initially, Narayan portrays Krishna as a character who is unsatisfied with his job, constantly troubled by ‘some sort of vague disaffection, a self-rebellion’ within his job as an English teacher in Albert Mission College. His daily routine of ‘speaking, walking, talking’ and ‘admonishing, cajoling and browbeating’ conveys the monotony of his routine which lacks any variation of excitement, a monotony emphasised by the triads which create a sense of repetition. In addition, Krishna describes his job of helping the students to ‘mug up Shakespeare and Milton and secure high marks’ as a ‘pain’ inflicted on him and for it he was ‘kindly paid…a hundred rupees’ and ‘dubbed (almost unwillingly) a lecturer’. However, Krishna’s dissatisfaction with his job is most effectively conveyed through his confession that if he was paid ‘the same one hundred rupees for stringing beads together or tearing up paper bits every day for a few hours’ he would be doing it with ‘equal fervor’, revealing the extent to which he seems to dread his job.


However, throughout the novel, Krishna is seen to slowly develop as a teacher, realizing that although he was not a ‘poet’ as he had styled himself earlier in the novel, he does have a love for teaching, albeit not within Albert Mission College under the British system but with the Headmaster in a system which embraces the ‘game-way’ of learning. His development is fully expressed when he decides to retire from his position at the Albert Mission College ‘not with a feeling of sacrifice for national cause, but with a very selfish purpose’ to seek ‘a great inner peace’ which he feels unable to attain unless he ‘withdraw[s] from the adult world and adult work into the world of children’ where there is a ‘vast storehouse of peace and harmony.’ In contrast to the initial Krishna who believed that ‘one works for the money’, by the end of the novel the reader can see that he has developed and found fulfillment in the fact that he is able to give to the children at his new school ‘their delight and enlightenment, but in a different measure and in a different manner’ to the way in which he did at the Albert Mission College.


Additionally, throughout the novel, Krishna’s also develops his ability to connect with other characters, hence realizing that he is a more family orientated man instead of the single man that is introduced by Narayan at the start. Initially, Krishna is depicted as a single, and very much independent, man who lives alone in the school hostel and is quite distant from his family. He expresses fear at the thought of living together, admitting that living with a ‘little child of seven months…somehow seemed to terrify me’ and he was ‘not prepared to accept it totally.’ His distant relationship with his family, especially with his child is also conveyed through their first meeting where he ‘could hardly take notice of the child, although for [his] wife’s sake, [he] had to pinch it’s cheek’ although he found that ‘there was nothing compelling nor indispensible about it’. Krishna’s emotional detachment from his child is furthermore emphasised through the objectifying of his daughter as he addresses her as an ‘it’ instead of in a more endearing or personal way.


However, once Krishna and his family do begin living together Narayan presents us with an endearing moment of him playing with water with Leela as ‘she shrieked as water splashed about’ and Krishna gently ‘[put] her safely away’ which beautifully encapsulates Krishna’s caring response to Leela’s joy. In addition, Narayan also conveys a development in Krishna’s relationship with Susila as she ‘waited there [in their little garden] for [Krishna]’ to come home and then ‘spent an hour or more, sitting there and gossiping’ together on the veranda where Susila ‘listened eagerly to all the things [Krishna] told her about [his] college, work and life’. His development into a family man is also effectively conveyed through his effective fatherhood after Susila’s death where he constantly ‘felt a thrill of pride’ and described the care of Leela as ‘a noble and exciting occupation’. However, Narayan most successfully conveys Krishna’s deepening sense of love for his family through his devastation after Susila’s death when he initially states that ‘nothing else will worry or interest me in life hereafter’ but eventually comes to accept her death and his grief is ultimately over shadowed by his joy at being able to communicate with his wife later which allows them to share ‘a moment of rare, immutable joy’ while waiting the sun rise over the ‘eastern rim of the earth’.


Lastly, the theme of finding out about oneself is also conveyed through Krishna’s development into a more spiritual man as a result of Susila’s indirect teachings and his encounters with the Medium. Initially, upon the sight of Susila’s daily worship, Krishna is ‘amused’ and jokes about Susila ‘becoming a yogi’ which suggests his lack of understanding about her devotions and the more spiritual aspect of Indian culture. Indeed, he even admits that Susila’s spiritual life was to him a ‘deep secret life’. However, slowly, Krishna begins to acknowledge the presence of a ‘God’ stating that ‘God has given [him] some novel situations in life’ and he believes that ‘God intends me to learn these things and do them efficiently’. The increasing reference to ‘God’ in Krishna’s speech is evidently a display of his spiritual development. Eventually, at the end of the novel, his spiritual development reaches its apotheosis when Krishna is finally able to see Susila, his dead wife, a climactic moment that is foreshadowed by his resignation from a job of greater monetary benefits at Albert Mission College to one where he is able to ‘satisf[y] [his] innermost aspirations’, a clear movement from the middle stages of the Hindu life cycle where the householder seeks to build a home and satisfy their earthly desires to the final stages which focus on the renunciation of worldly things in the search for fulfillment.


However, while finding out about oneself is clearly a significant theme, it may be argued that a more important theme is the theme of the re-evaluation of Indian culture as Krishna begins to realize that the British approach to aspects of life such as education, work and medicine are not the only valid approaches and may not even be the best way to do things. The readers gradually see Krishna develop a disliking towards the British system of education, criticizing its production of a race of ‘cultural morons’ who are ‘strangers to [their] culture and camp followers of another culture, feeding on leavings and garbage.’ Towards the end of the novel Krishna even criticizes his position as a teacher, admitting that ‘it is a fraud [he] is practicing’. The repeated use of words with negative connotations emphasis Krishna’s sense of disillusionment and reveal the extent of the disdain that he feels towards the system. As a result, the readers see Krishna moving away from the education system that has been inherited from the British to a more ‘Indian’ system, where there is freedom and which instead, embraces the ‘game-way of learning’ by focusing the ‘shaping of young minds’. The diction ‘shaping’ emphasis that the system aims not to reform or change the basic materials, students, but instead of mould them, help them and guide them so that they can reach their full potential without forcefully changing them. Read in this way, Krishna’s decision could be seen as diametrically opposed to the attitude with which the British colonizers treated India. For the most part, many of the colonialists believed that there was little of value in Indian culture and that the mission of the British in the country involved not a reshaping of Indian culture but a replacing of it with the more superior culture of the ‘civilized’ European.


I believe that this theme is perhaps the most important as the whole novel can arguably be read as a movement away from the values imposed by the West towards values found inherently in the East that have been dismissed as insignificant by the colonizing powers. As such, Krishna’s increasing openness to the vitality, joy and freedom that immersion in traditional Indian culture can bring may reflect the way in which the whole of India needs to learn to re-embrace its heritage, a need that was perhaps becoming more and more urgent in 1945, when the novel was published, as it was becoming increasingly clear that the time of Britain’s colonial control over India was drawing to a close.