Examine the role of settings in the novel The English Teacher


In the ‘English Teacher’ Narayan creates several settings, which are of great importance in the novel. The first setting we are introduced to is the “Albert Mission College” where there is “a merit in accuracy” which reflects the order and structure, representative of the British influence that pervaded India at the time Narayan was writing. This setting is important because it is what caused Krishna to feel he “was doing the wrong work” which is what began his journey of self-development to reach fulfillment, a journey that ultimately reconciles Krishna with the reality of death and reveals a more spiritual side to his character while also teaching him the importance of joy and innocence. Narayan nay have created this completely British setting in order to make Krishna (and perhaps the reader in turn) question himself about whether the British culture of strict rationality and order is really what he wants to follow.


Another setting that Narayan creates in the novel is the Headmaster’s school, which contrasts markedly with the “Albert Mission College”. The Headmaster’s school is a significant setting as it helps remove the “blinkers” from Krishna’s mind and shows him an alternative way of teaching and learning which is less structured and where ideas are generated by the children through discussion rather through lectures where they must learn by rote what the teacher tells them. This sense of freedom and vibrancy is depicted, for example, by the “glittery alphabets” which decorate the walls and how the children learn “as they play”. This school is important to Krishna’s development as a character as it shows him a more free and genuine approach to schooling and learning than he has experience in the ‘Albert Mission College.’


Another important setting in which Krishna is exposed to the more Indian and spiritual world is at the lotus pond in the Medium’s house, where he is granted a “glimpse of eternal peace” when trying to contact Susila. Narayan may have suffused this pond with a sense of serenity as an indication to Krishna and the reader of the kind of peaceful acceptance and being-at-oneness with nature that might constitute a fulfilled life. In addition, the lotus pond is also the place where Krishna regains communication with Susila, who is on the “other side”, which is a key part of the novel as Susila is an important guide for Krishna through his journey towards fulfillment. His ability to communicate with Suslia teaches Krishna that death is not the end of life but simply part of a cycle of rebirth, an example of the kind of important Hindu tradition that Narayan makes Krishna reconnect with as he progresses through the novel. However, the lotus pond is also significant because it is the location where Krishna undergoes a pivotal turning point as his previously bleak mood after the death of his wife is gradually replaced with a sense of hope and understanding. As such, Narayan may be using the pond to convey the idea that becoming more open to spiritual ideas is a crucial step on the path towards contentment and enlightenment.


However, the most important setting is probably the overall historical setting of the entire novel. Narayan wrote The English Teacher in around 1945, when it was becoming increasingly clear that Britain’s control over its Indian empire was weakening and that the country would soon become independent thus having to forge its own path through the world. Narayan has chosen to set his novel at a time and in a town where this conflict between the British and Indian cultures have prompted Krishna’s own internal emotional struggle, a conflict which mirrors the struggle  that India, on the verge of independence, will also soon have to undergo. Like Krishna, India too will have to decide how much of the British influence to shake off and how to go about the difficult task of rediscovering or reinvigorating its own culture. Ultimately, this novel is about how Krishna / India / all of us have to decide what we want in life and which culture to follow and believe in, and Narayan’s use of contrasting settings help Krishna and the readers make this life changing choice.