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. Gradually, he changes not from a rogue to a saint. But there is a transformation taking place surely. What kind of change is this? Do you feel any similarity of Raju with that of Tom Jones?
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.
R.K.Narayan's The Guide is neither a rogue novel or picaresque novel proper. It is a novel of character transformation. No , there are certain shades of similarity between the characters of Tom Jones and Raju. But their situations are totally different. There are mythical and scriptural allusions in the novel and the sadhus are satirised in the novel. We may call it a social satire, but not exactly a rogue novel. Typical gurus of India follow this kind of life style. In spite of their reluctance they are compelled under circumstances to pose as sadhus and they really become. Their mask become their faces. Narayan has beautifully exposed the hypocrisy and shams of Indian social life through the character of Raju. His turning from a social guide to a spiritual guide has nothing to do with the change in Tom Jone's character. Both in motif and viewpoints as well as in ambience, the two novels one of Fieldings's and the other of R.K.Narayan hava gulf of difference between them.