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  EXISTENTIAL ANXIETY IN THE ENGLISH TEACHER  BY R. K. NARAYAN Dr. Ramesh Prasad AdhikaryLecturer (English)Mahindra Multiple Campus, (TU) Nepal Abstract The feeling of existential emptiness pervades. At this juncture the narrative of the narrator offers a different perspective. The secular themes underpinned by Hindu beliefs are replaced by amore philosophical line of enquiry and the reflections on the meaning of existence and the possibility of contact with the after-life. Krishna loses the essential moorings of his life. He decidesto retain the house because Susila has been associated with it. He gets a lot of solace in hisdaughter Leela and also finds a purpose to live. She takes much of his time and attention. He startsliving in a world of his own in which Leela is the centre of his existence. He is so emotionallyattached to his wife that he feels nostalgic and decides to leave his house. He is not able to adjust tothe changes, is restless and dejected. His attitude towards life completely changes . Key Words:  Existence, anxiety, alienation, existential struggle, choice of freedom, frustration 1.Introduction  R. K. Narayan is by far the greatest icon of Indian English novel, praised sky-high by all thecritics as a true spokesman of the Great Indian Tradition. His fiction, supposedly, incorporates the best of Indian values in superb novels that have Pauranic dimensions. Numerous critics haveappreciated his comic humour, moral sense, fidelity to truth and overall support to Indian Tradition.India will go on, defying all the odds, seems to be the central message of all his novels and shortstories. Narayan wrote sixteen novels, eighty-two stories in eight volumes and several essays andarticles. He won numerous awards and was honoured for his works, which include: SahityaAkademi Award, Padma Bhushan and was elected as an honorary member of the AmericanAcademy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Malgudi is both old and new, reverberating with its past and surging towards its future. Its people are traditional and modern. They are basically friendly, sensitive and human. It pulsates withlife and its atmosphere is charged with human activity. Hence, Malgudi is not only a ‘character’ inthe sense Virginia Woolf describes it as a "literary convention of character."(8) It is just like everyother Narayan hero who signals a continuity of his existence in to the beyond, the future, Malgudiremains potential. Malgudi is more of a mind accommodating varieties within itself. Paul Tillich expresses Jean Paul Sartre’s famous doctrine ‘Existence precedes essence.’ Hesays that this doctrine the whole problem of essentialism and existentialism comes in to the openThe meaning of this sentence is that man is a being of whom no essence can be affirmed for such anessence would introduce a permanent element contradictory to a man’s power to create himself.Human beings through their own consciousness create their own values and determine a meaning totheir life. Although it was Sartre who explicitly coined the phrase, similar notions can be found inthe thought of existentialist philosophers such as Heidegger and Kierkegaard. (38)Albert Maslow’s definition on existentialism is that it deepens on the concepts that definehuman condition. It paves a way for a psychology of mankind. He has called HumanisticPsychology, ‘the third force’. Third Force Psychology is not a new branch of psychology. It  comprises a group of Neo- Freudians, Neo-Jungians, Gestalt therapists, Existential and Humanistic psychologists. What they have in common is their belief that man is not a conditioned animal, buthe has in him a third force which is "evolutionary constructive." Every human being has an intrinsicnature. It is neither wholly good, nor wholly bad, is rather natural and weak. It can be pressurized by habit, cultural and social forces, but it cannot dominate altogether. It remains with man forever and struggles for self-actualization. If this "inner nature" is suppressed one gets sick, if it isencouraged, it leads to a healthy personality. Thus, Third Force Psychologists give us clues to self-actualization and self-alienation. (39)The integral mortal existence pays attention to the essential factors of human existence. Manlearns the lessons of living or to spend life in a better way through human relationship. The basicquestion of literature is as to how to live and this question is appropriately discussed in literaturethrough the manifestations of human relationship. Literature presents man’s external as well asinternal relations and its effects in a proper manner. Human relationships are the most importantaspect of human existence. Without human relationship, there is no continuity of human existencein this world. Both human relationship and human existence are reciprocal to each other. In order tounderstand the human experiences based on personal meaning, essential realities of humancondition and to explore the meaningfulness of human existence, one must understand the human psyche. 2.Existentalism Existentialism analysis the existence of the human beings and impel light on the way theyfind themselves existing in the world. Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century philosopher is regardedas The Father of existentialism. He maintained that the individual has the sole responsibility for giving one’s own life meaning and with living life passionately and sincerely despite manyobstacles and distractions including despair, angst, absurdity, choice, boredom and death.Due to the Great Depression of 1930 and World War II, people all over the world wereaffected and a deep sense of despair prevailed in the society. It was then the existentialistic ideascame out in the society. The spirit of optimism in the society was totally destroyed by the WorldWar I and its mid-century calamities. This despair has been articulated well not only in the20 th century but also in the 21st century.Existentialism is a philosophy of reaffirming and regaining the lost status of man in theadvanced scientific and technological society. In this modern society, the creator of science himself  becomes a victim of his own creation and feels like a mere cog in a highly mechanized system.Various existentialists differ on the fundamental problems but agree on perceiving certain objectiverealities like the crisis in human values, the significance of human anxiety, deprivation of humanfreedom and importance of human emotions. No emotional problem is more threatening than theexistential problem.Søren Kierkegaard, claimed " life for the individual is a risk-filled existence", (7) and it ison this basis that Existentialism is founded. David Cooper in his book ‘  Existentialism’  ; elaboratelyexplains that this philosophy offers a positive way through the themes of anxiety, alienation,uncertainty, possibilities and crisis. Therefore, there is a growing interest in Existentialismrecently."Feelings of anxiety or angst can be manifested when one gets alienated." (8) Theindividuals are uncertain as to how the new world is going to emerge as these themes dismantleone’s world and leaves it in an unfinished state. A central focus is upon the individual rather than onthe masses. Existential writings are aimed to engage each reader as an entity. Kierkegaard oftenreferred to 'my dear reader' and the 'existing individual' and Nietzsche often used phrases such as'the sovereign individual' and 'the superman'. (9) Heidegger referred to Dasein, meaning literally'being there' – to represent where the individual is at, with regards to her or his concerns for existence in relation to being. (10)One must note that no doctrine is more optimistic than existentialism. The destiny of man is placed within himself. Initially existentialism did appear to be a morbid philosophy because it deals  with depressing themes such as alienation, anxiety, death and crisis. However the purposes of somany of the philosophers who have contributed to this school of thought have had a vision that is toallow people to experience a greater richness and happiness in their lives and to feel at 'home' intheir world. In order to achieve a richer and more valuable existence however, the philosophy oftenrefers to some 'uncomfortable' suggestions. For example, the individual is encouraged to stand atthe edge of the abyss, to introspect oneself and to contemplate the terror of freedom and then tomake a leap. At the point of departure there cannot be any other truth than this, "I think, therefore, Iexist.” (11) which is the absolute truth of consciousness.The inevitabilities of human condition may give a bleak picture but existentialism has optimism andhope because of the potential the human condition has and all people have to transcend thoseinevitabilities.An inherent aspect to this concept of freedom of choice is responsibility. The existential perspective developed here considers that the individual who exercises personal freedom of choicemust also be willing to accept responsibility for these decisions. But, the individuals find it difficultto accept that they always have possibilities and are free to choose between them. They may nothave the choice to affect the 'objective reality' of certain entities, but they do have possibilities inhow they relate to their relations with other entities. This means that individuals are responsible for their subjective/inward existence, which can be a daunting challenge. Existential psychology is about human existence and the human drama of survival. It helpsin overcoming or confronting existential anxieties and living an authentic life. Existentialist psychologists avoid treating a person as if they were isolated from events and situations in theworld.The features of choice, responsibility, and freedom in human lives are of particular importance in existential psychology. For both good and bad, people are expected to seize their freedom and take responsibility for the choices they make in their lives.Choice is one of the most fundamental concerns in existentialism. We may not choose to be born but, once born, we are responsible for the lives we lead. We create the structure of the worldaround us and realize our self-based on our choices and decisions, even though there are factors thataren’t entirely within our control.The concept of Self-realization or inner self has become widely popular in the Western world,greatly influenced by some Eastern religions. In the Hindu religion, self-realization refers to profound spiritual awakening. The branch of Advaita Vedanta is the one that has especiallydeveloped this concept. 3. Existential Anxiety in The English Teacher  This study tries to spread the existential angst, the protagonists in each of Narayan’s novelsface which are the recurrent themes of human existence. The predicaments, the inner conflictintensifies as the novel progresses. The characters in the novels go through an existential crisis. He possesses a rare psychological insight into the human mind and has a mastery over the inner lives of the characters. He brilliantly portrays every character tackling the inevitable vicissitudes of life andvery subtly evinces that these existential situations are essential for human flourishing.R. K. Narayan’s previous novel before independence The English Teacher was published in 1945. Itis dedicated to his wife Rajam. It is third and final part of the trilogy. It describes show the sweetand happy life of a lecturer comes to a tragic end with the death of his wife and how thisunfortunate calamity upsets his life completely.The story is a reminiscent of the author’s domestic life cut short by the tragic blow of thefate which snatched away his wife away from him after five years of the married life. Krishna, the protagonist takes off from where Chandran left us. If Swami and Chandran signify the first stage of life Brahmacharya, the second stage is Grihastaya . In  My Days , Narayan describes this novel as:"It has an autobiographical content and a very little part of it being fiction." (34)  This awful experience did make him feel very depressed and he went into a seven-year hiatus, but the gap is also attributed to variety of factors. It was during the freedom struggle. At this point of time, he had three novels and three collections of short stories and had a fairly goodexperience of writing for a decade. When he conceptualized the novel and began to write, he wasThirty-six , an age as Somerset Maugham affirms that the author’s creativity was at its peak.Moreover before writing this novel, he had a tremendous and unique emotional, spiritualand mental experience as a result of the tragic, unexpected demise of his wife whom he lovedfathomlessly. Inevitably, the novel is a mature work of the writer and it exhibits the maturity level atits peak.The novel is not only autobiographical but also touches ones heart. Narayan at a young agesuffered a personal loss when his wife Sushila passed away. Hence he started writing the novel The English teacher. The novel is mostly on the writer’s personal experiences. Narayan has rendered thegrief of Krishna with remarkable restraint. His narration in the first person stimulates the senses of the reader which gives a certain measure of authenticity to an experience through the sufferings of Krishna.The story is about the series of experiences in the life of Krishna as an English teacher andhis quest towards achieving inner peace and self development. Krishna the protagonist undertakesan emotional, intellectual and spiritual journey i.e. from a meaninglessness anxiety to the quest for meaning and purpose during the course of the novel.In the concluding chapters the issues of the novel come to a head with Krishna’s resignationfrom his post as English teacher and his psychic reunion with his wife. In his attack on the systemhe is rebelling against not only English literature itself but for all those who could be insensible toShakespeare’s sonnets or Ode to the West Wind  but India’s adherence to an educational system,which stifles the spirit of the students and alienates them from their native culture.The novel portrays man-woman relationship on two planes, the worldly or domestic and thespiritual. It describes in detail the sweet-bitter domestic life of Krishna, the English teacher and hiswife Susila. The novel is made of three parts: Krishna’s life before his wife joins him, his life in her company and his life after death. Thirty year old Krishna; teacher of English in Albert MissionCollege, Malgudi, where he has been a student earlier. The very first paragraph of the novel revealsthe narrator’s hopelessness, dissatisfaction and a disturbed consciousness. Although the day passed much to his satisfaction without any ‘conflicts and worries’ , hefeels heroic and satisfied that he has completed most of the tasks assigned to him. But he feels thatsomething is missing, “some sort of vague dissatisfaction, a self-rebellion” as he has been leading asort of mechanical existence-‘eating, working in a manner of speaking, walking, talking etc.Taking stock of himself, he outlines his daily routine- getting up at eight every day, preparing his lessons on Milton, Carlyle and Shakespeare for the umpteenth time, going through thecompositions of his students, swallowing a meal, dressing and rushing out of the hostel just whenthe second bell sounds in the college. Four hours later he returns to his room after browbeating andcajoling his students into mugging up Shakespeare and Milton.Krishna would say: "Secure high marks and save me adverse remarks from my chiefs at theend of the year."(TET p.5.)He is paid a salary of a hundred rupees per month and is called ‘a lecturer; he ought to becontent with his lot but he is ‘constantly nagged by the feeling’ that he is “doing the wrong work”.This leads to perpetual self-criticism, which is aggravated by even the ordinary incidents in thecourse of his work. The following lines reveal his lamentation that there is something wrong in hislife: "What was wrong with me? I couldn’t say some sort of vague disaffection, a self-rebellion…..but always leaving behind a sense of something missing  ." (TET p.5 )  Krishna is a poet with an authentic passion, who realizes that something is missing in hislife. He finds himself alienated in the profession he is in and the sense of futility that hassurrounded him.He feels that he is hemmed by a system that is totally alien to his ambition. His colleagues nag himand they and their interests, arguments, irritate him, their characters exasperate him. Even the boyswhom he teaches complain about wasting time taking attendance and he threatens them regardingit. Krishna subjects himself to a remorseless self-analysis and broods over his state of unhappiness anddissatisfaction. Narayan’s humour is evident in such remarks as the angels take someone to thehostel bathroom ordained by God to wait his turn as a mark of punishment.His contemporaries in Albert Mission College are described by Krishna with a tinge of humour such as Gajapathy “swelling with importance” Rangappa “the dry philosopher” the puristBrown, Gopal the mathematics teacher who is as sharp a knife-edge in mathematical calculations,Sastri the logic teacher and others. We discover that Krishna is a lover of Nature. He wants to writeabout its beauty but with little success because he measures his output by the number of verses hecan manage to write everyday. He broods like Hamlet but his humour surfaces, when he thinks of his wife and elder brother and their habits.The second part of the novel begins with his wife. When he returns to his hostel room, hefinds two letters for him. One from his father stating that he is sending his wife Susila and their seven month old daughter to Malgudi so that he can set up a proper house and stop living in a hostelroom. The other letter was from his wife about her joining him at Malgudi and the behaviour of thelittle girl Leela. He is tempted to see her at once. But still has the doubt of his ability to manage afamily. He was assured that his mother will be accompanying his wife and child to help him insetting the house.He was thrilled at reading the letters and looked forward this domestic bliss. He is remindedof his wife whenever his eyes fall on the jasmine bush. Now it covers the library walls and he startsfeeling nostalgic when he looks at it . "I am about to leave you….after all these years… after tenyears.” --- the time he has spent in the hostel, first as a student and then as a teacher." (TET p.21)But with the sight of domestic life looming large before him, he starts hating hostel life. Now he wants to be with his wife and daughter at the earliest. He sets about searching for a houseand at last finds one. He moves in to a rented house a few days before his family joins him there.The next three days Krishna is very busy getting the house swept, cleaned, hangs his clothes on a peg, and arranges the papers and books neatly in order to escape the wrath of his mother. Shearrives ahead of Susila with a sackful of vessels and helps Krishna stocking the store room and inrearranging the kitchen, spoke about the house-keeping philosophy. Housekeeping was a grandaffair for her and the whole day she was wrapped up in her duties.The essence of her existence consisted in the thrills and pangs and the satisfaction shederived in running a well-ordered household. She was unsparing and violent where she metslovenliness. If a woman can’t take charge of a house and run it sensibly, she must be made to get into a man’s dress and go out in a procession… (TET p.29)She has complaints about Krishna’s father and his elder daughter-in-law, the daughter of theHigh Court Judge. However she feels Susila, his wife has been brought up well and is very modest.She has already been trained by his mother and her parents are very impressed with her achievements in this direction. Yet, Krishna shudders at the very thought of two woman comingtogether in his house at Malgudi.


Oct 7, 2019
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