The English Teacher clearly builds up within its narrative an anti-colonial critique.” Discuss.
As in most of R.K. Narayan’s novels, The English Teacher may be read as a colonial text in the true sense of the term. The title of the novel itself signifies the influence of the unwelcome British rule. Although it is a novel marked by a journey of its protagonist from ignorance to knowledge, there runs an undercurrent of an anti-colonial discourse. Written at the backdrop of colonial rule, The English Teacher advances a belief in the freedom of soul and independence of mind, ushering in a revolt against the then education system which crippled the imagination of the native Indians. It is a wonderfully painted – miniature of India under the subjugation of colonial rule in the system of which we became “morons, cultural morons”.
In his journey of life, Krishna, the protagonist of the novel, encounters the co-existence of western and native cultures. The novel juxtaposes contrasting attitudes of the Indians-those of the newer and older generations. For example, when Susila is ill she is treated both by a doctor who practices western scientific medicine and by Swamiji who uses the mystical methods of learning. The Swamiji is summoned by Susila’s mother, representing an older generation, who believes that the ‘evil eye’ has fallen on her daughter. In the event, both the scientific and mystical attempts at healing fail, and Susila dies. Narayan presents us with the co-existence of these two cultures but does not take any stance in favor of one or against another since in the matters of life and death the distinction between western and eastern thought certainly is obliterated.
The first part of the novel is light-hearted and humorous with the recounting of Krishna’s early life with Susila and her daughter Leela. After the death of Susila, the story becomes somber and serious. Towards the end, Krishna realizes that his profession as an English teacher is actually worthless. In a scathing attack on the education system brought about by the colonial rule, Narayan and his fictional counterpart are both critical: “… I could no longer stuff Shakespeare and Elizabethan meter and romantic poetry hundredth times into young minds and feed them on the dead mutton of literary analysis while what they need was lessons in the fullest use of the minds. This education has reduced us to a nation of morons; we were strangers to our culture and camp followers of another culture…” Narayan’s perception of English education is violently vindicated in his defiance against colonial interference. Like most of his countrymen, he too – detested the promotion of British culture which will effectively help to keep the country in subjugation. The English education bred a class of youngsters revering to the British culture, disregarding their own heritage and showing contempt of their own.
However, Krishna is not ignorant of the aesthetic value of English Literature and is not opposed to teaching it as a matter of pride and principle. His opposition to English education has its valid ground. As Krishna later says to Mr. Brown who has been the Principal of Albert Mission College for nearly thirty years: “I revere – them (The English dramatists and poets) and I hope to give them to these children for the delight and entertainment but in a different measure and in a different manner”. Krishna also knows that Mr. Brown will not be able to grasp the idea of self-development, inner peace, and harmony in the Indian sense despite living in India for three decades. “His western mind classifying, labeling departmentalizing” is so unlike Krishna’s Indian mind. The subjugated native understands the real intention of the western conqueror, whereas the latter hardly makes an effort to learn true Indian culture since his superiority complex acts as a hindrance – a fact most Indians vehemently resented at the time.
The final stage of Krishnan’s journey takes him farther from the western intellectual frame of mind inherited from the British towards native Indian spiritual practices. He could develop his mind so intensely that he was able to communicate with his dead wife initially through a medium and then through his own trance-like state. Krishna described it as a ‘perpetual excitement. Estranged from the boredom and spiritual deadness of western literature and philosophy, Krishna found something truly enriching in his native culture.