R. K. Narayan

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How is the title of the story "A Snake in the Grass" by R. K. Narayan significant?

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The title of R. K. Narayan’s story “A Snake In the Grass” seems relevant to the story in various ways, including the following:

  • Most obviously, the title refers to the cobra which (according to a passing biker) has slithered into a compound owned by a family in India.
  • The family’s old servant, Dasa, is scolded by the family members for not cutting grass and foliage on the property in ways that would discourage snakes from visiting the compound. Dasa asserts that there is no snake, but the family members not only swear at him but threaten to fire him if the snake is not found. Since the phrase “snake in the grass” conventionally refers to a treacherous or untrustworthy person, it is possible, especially when the story is re-read, to see the members of the family as figurative snakes in the grass. They are willing to fire an old servant simply because they suspect that a snake may be on the property and because they blame him entirely for the snake’s presence. Surely Dasa must feel that he cannot trust this family; he may even consider them treacherous.
  • Visiting neighbors also blame Dasa for the presence of the snake and accuse him of laziness. It would not be surprising if Dasa also considered these people “snakes in the grass,” especially if they criticize him when they know his job is at risk.
  • A college-educated son – a member of the family – claims to have read that 30,000 people die of snake bites each year.  It would therefore not surprise this son if there were many, many literal snakes in many yards or fields throughout the world.
  • Finally, near the end of the story, Dasa claims to have caught the snake in a pot, which he has covered with a slab of stone. The family members are said to have

stood at a safe distance and gazed on the pot. Dasa had the glow of a champion on his face.

Dasa takes the pot out of the compound, his job apparently secure.

  • Later, a cobra does indeed appear but then quickly slithers away. This snake is quite literally a snake in the grass.
  • By the end of the story, the family and Narayan’s readers are faced with the real possibility that Dasa lied when he claimed to have caught a cobra in the pot.  Dasa, then, may have been the literally untrustworthy person in this story – the figurative snake in the grass.  It is, however, hard to blame him, and certainly the tone of the story seems light and almost comical. The title of the story seems serious; the tone of the story seems relatively light.

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