The Man-Eater of Malgudi

by R. K. Narayan

Start Free Trial

What is the central theme of The Man-Eater of Malgudi? Is it the conflict between good and evil portrayed by Nataraj and Vasu?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

R. K. Narayan's creative genius is deeply rooted in Indian culture. Like most of his novels, The Man-Eater of Malgudi incorporates the theme of karma and self-discipline. Narayan approaches the narrative from a mythological viewpoint.

Vasu, the wayward, notorious taxidermist disrupts Malgudi's peaceful atmosphere like a rhetorical demon (asura or rakshasa). The simple, innocent Nataraj falls prey to Vasu's deceit. Through Vasu's character, the author portrays how an immoral, ruthless person who follows the law of the jungle eventually ends up being self-destructive. He also leaves the reader with a sense of respect for nature and the need to co-exist with one's surroundings.

The unscrupulous Vasu symbolizes the cult of materialism. The gentle and self-effacing Nataraj represents a helpless and passive spectator. Between the two polarities lies the golden middle path. The learned Sastri shows this path, which advocates a practical view of life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Nataraj represents the "good" in the story, and Vasu is the "evil". On a large scale, each character represents the two cultures of India and Britain, and the effects of British colonialism on the Indian people. Vasu is the commercialism of Western society, and Nataraj is the traditional, peaceful way of life.

In the story, Vasu is characterized as a demon by Sastri, Nataraj's assistant, and Sastri's comparison foreshadows Vasu's destruction just as the demon was destroyed. Vasu is physically strong and bullies everyone in the town. He's brutal, self-centered, and has no respect for tradition, religion, or morality. He easily intimidates others by his large size and his aggressive behavior. As a taxidermist, he poaches the animals in the jungle, stuffing them for money. To practice his taxidermy, Vasu steals pets and stuffs them before attempting to stuff the larger, more expensive animals. When others complain, Nataraj asks him to leave, but Vasu ignores this request.

Nataraj begins the story as a passive, caring family man who enjoys his life and being the boss of his printing business. He was brought up to believe that killing a fly is a sin, and when Nataraj sees the animals Vasu has killed, he's stunned. He doesn't know how to deal with someone like Vasu.

The author emphasizes the theme of good vs. evil when Sastri says, "Evil has in it, buried subtly, the infallible seeds of its own destruction."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team