Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“House Opposite” is written in a delightfully ironic mode, which is generally considered to be Narayan’s strength. The language of the story is lucid, concise, and unlabored. However, because the story is imbued with Indian culture, it contains a number of references and allusions to Hindu religion and mythology. They do not, however, hamper the story’s readability, nor do they obscure its meaning.

The plot of the story is simple, compact, and well structured. It involves one connected episode in the life of the hermit. There is very little external action; the main drama is played in the hermit’s psyche. The author’s choice of a third-person point of view allows him to intensify the conflict by showing a dramatic interplay between external events (the activities of the prostitute and her clients) and internal consciousness (the hermit’s mental turmoil and struggle to control his senses). He uses the technique of ironic reversal to give the story a surprise ending.

In fact, the entire plot hinges on Narayan’s ironic use of setting. Traditionally, a hermit lives in a secluded place or a forest retreat, but Narayan locates the hermit’s house in a narrow, crowded street straight across from the prostitute’s house, thus making the conflict inevitable.

Irony is the most important aspect of Narayan’s narrative technique. It helps him reveal the disparity between the ideal and the actual. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear to a perceptive reader that things are not what they seem to be. The hermit, who has supposedly given up all pleasures of life, is seen caught in the web of lascivious desires. It is ironic that the prostitute regards the hermit as a saint when she seeks his blessings; she does not know that he has been tainted by mental prostitution.

The last scene underscores the contrast between appearance and reality. The hermit’s romantic image of the prostitute, earlier projected by his repressed libidinal yearnings, suddenly changes on close scrutiny. In reality, she looks tired, wasted, and melancholy—a victim of social circumstances. The irony becomes double-edged when, in a moment of self-recognition, the hermit is silenced by the shame of his own hidden sin.