The English Teacher by R. K. Narayan Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The English Teacher was republished in 1953 under the title Grateful to Life and Death. Gratitude for an understanding of life and death is exactly what the main character, Krishna, gains in the course of the narrative. The fact that he teaches English in an Indian college, while important to the story, is not the novel’s central concern, as the new title suggests.

The story is based on Narayan’s own loss of his wife to typhoid in 1939. Like Narayan, the bereaved Krishna is left with a young daughter. The author and character also share a thorough knowledge and appreciation of English literature, as well as a distaste for teaching it to uninterested Indian students. It is only a matter of speculation, however, whether or not Krishna’s struggle to overcome grief and his handling of his distraught state follow the author’s own experience.

As the novel opens, Krishna’s wife Susila and baby daughter Leela finally join him after an extended stay with her parents, and Krishna somewhat reluctantly gives up his free life in the faculty quarters. Soon, though, he relishes his role as a householder, but this happy state comes to an abrupt close a few years later when Susila dies. The major portion of the novel recounts the aftermath of Susila’s death, which leaves Krishna devastated. At the same time, the event forces him to examine his own life.

He admits that he hates his teaching career. He has always been...

(The entire section is 580 words.)

The English Teacher Bibliography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Afzal-Khan, Fawzia. “R. K. Narayan: The Realm of Mythic Realism.” In Cultural Imperialism and the Indo-English Novel. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.

Jussawalla, Feroza. “When ’Sweet Mangoes’ Turn to ’Malt Vinegar.’” In International Literature in English: Essays on the Major Writers, edited by Robert L. Ross. New York: Garland, 1991.

Kain, Geoffrey, ed. R. K. Narayan: Contemporary Critical Essays. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1993.

Kirpal, Viney. “An Analysis of Narayan’s Technique.” Ariel: A Review of International Literature 14, no. 4 (1983): 16-19.

Mason, Wyatt. “The Master of Malgudi.” The New Yorker 82, no. 42 (December 18, 2006): 86-91.

Mishra, Pankrah. “The Great Narayan.” The New York Review of Books 48, no. 3 (February 22, 2001): 44.

Olinder, Britta. “R. K. Narayan.” In A Readers Companion to the Short Story in English, edited by Erin Fallon et al. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.

Sankaran, Chitra. Myth Connections: The Use of Hindu Myths and Philosophies in R. K. Narayan and Raja Rao. 2d rev. and enlarged ed. New York: P. Lang, 2007.

Walsh, William. R. K. Narayan: A Critical Appreciation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.