Can R. K. Narayan's The Guide be called a picaresque novel? The Guide presents Raju's character in a serio-comic manner. He is a rogue who takes life with  a broad-mindedness reminding us of Tom Jones of Fielding. He does not change from a rogue to a saint, but there is a transformation taking place. What kind of change is this? Do you notice any similarity between Raju and Tom Jones?

The Guide, unike The History of Tom Jones, cannot be labelled a picaresque novel because Raju experiences spiritual growth. The hallmark of a picaresque novel is for the main character to remain the same character he has been. But this does not mean all picaresque novels follow that exact formula, as Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is also regarded as something of a picaresque novel, and Huck undergoes radical changes.

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The Guide is a modern picaresque novel because the protagonists exhibits all the characteristics of the pícaro and engages in multiple adventures that showcase his roguish nature. Throughout the novel, the character of Raju schemes to take advantage of others, and ultimately he demonstrates his endorsement of dominant social values. Author R. K. Narayan leaves ambiguity in the ending ambiguous so that the reader cannot be sure if Raju sincerely embraces his sacrificial mission and thus achieves its goal, or if he is delirious from hunger and hallucinates the deluge.

The novel’s focus on the picaro as hero is the main reason for locating it within the genre. The classic picaresque novel, which originated in Spain at the turn of the seventeenth century, features a hero who displays unabated self-interest. While this low-born hero, regardless of gender, may settle into a socially respectable role later in life, their desire to do so is associated with love of creature comforts.

Later permutations of the genre include heroes whose values and objectives are more varied; they may question the ethics of their actions even as they take advantage of trusting and naïve associates. Raju may undergo a genuine transformation late in life, but his motivations remained largely selfish, as he desires the good opinions of others.

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What makes a novel qualify as “picaresque”? The word itself refers to a story about a “rough and dishonest but appealing hero” who proceeds on a series of adventures, only to learn nothing from the experience and go back to being the same rogue-life character he has always been. This certainly defines Tom Jones in The History of Tom Jones, but it does not as much apply to Raju in The Guide.

Raju, after having an epiphany when he realizes he should fast and fast properly, is determined to complete his two-week fast. During that time, he is expected

to stand in knee-deep water, look to the skies, and utter the prayer lines for two weeks, completely fasting during the period—and lo, the rains would come down, provided the man who performed it was a pure soul, was a great soul.

On the tenth day of his fast, he is asked if he likes it where he is, but Raju confesses that “I am only doing what I have to do; that’s all. My likes and dislikes do not count.” Even before his two weeks of fasting are complete, he has already changed from the classic selfish rogue into an unselfish human, part of the larger picture on earth.

Tom Jones and other similar rapscallions do not undergo the kind of transformation Raju does, but does that necessarily disqualify The Guide as a picaresque novel? Not necessarily. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for example, has many elements of a picaresque novel, but Huck experiences real growth as a human being. So even though we can conclude that because Tom Jones does not exhibit any kind of growth and thus the book bearing his name is the quintessential picaresque novel, the fact Raju does transform in The Guide not necessarily mean the novel is not picaresque. It may not be as pure as The History of Tom Jones, but an argument can nonetheless be made it is a picaresque novel.

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A picaresque novel features a series of adventures by a roguish hero who does not mature. While Raju, like a picaresque hero, is from the lower class, The Guide is not a picaresque novel because Raju shows a kind of moral transformation that is not characteristic of a picaresque hero. 

At the beginning of the novel, Raju fits the description of a Tom Jones-like character. After leaving jail, he says, "Not a bad place.... Friendly people there—but I hate to be awakened every morning at five." He is an insouciant rogue. However, over time, he develops a kind of conscience, unlike Tom Jones. After being mistaken for a holy man, a "swami," he seeks to convince the local people that he can end the drought plaguing them and pretends to fast (while eating hidden food). In the end, however, he thinks to himself:

"If by avoiding food I should help the trees bloom, and the grass grow, why not do it thoroughly?" For the first time in his life he was making an earnest effort; for the first time he was learning the thrill of full application, outside money and love; for the first time he was doing a thing in which he was not personally interested."

In the end, he decides to truly fast and develops pangs of conscience. By caring about others and not just himself and his wealth, he completes the kind of maturation that a picaresque character would never go through. In this way, he is unlike Tom Jones. 

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