R. K. Narayan

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What portrait of the family do we get from the story "A Snake on the Grass" by R. K. Narayan? Are the sons calculating?

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R. K. Narayan’s short story “A Snake In the Grass” is less about the snake mentioned in the little than about the family whose compound the snake enters. Narayan describes various members in the family in a number of ways, including the following:

  • The family consists of a mother and her four sons. They are apparently wealthy enough to live in a compound and to be able to afford “an old servant” named Dasa – the only character mentioned by name.
  • The family members swear at Dasa when he dismisses news of the snake. They also threaten to fire him if he doesn’t quickly catch the snake. Both behaviors suggest that the family members – including the sons – are not especially kind.
  • The fact that the family members have to discuss whether to buy a grass cutter suggests that they are not spectacularly rich.
  • The “second son” of the house declares that he knows how to buy things even during wartime, thereby suggesting either that he is highly practical or that he knows the tricks of the wartime economy. When a neighbor contradicts the son, a “heated debate” follows, suggesting that the son does not like to be contradicted.
  • The narrator notes that at

this point the college boy of the house butted in with: “I read in an American paper that 30,000 people die of snake bite every year.”

This news greatly upsets his mother and makes her condemn Dasa even more strongly, suggesting (1) that the boy likes to parade his knowledge (“knowledge” that may in fact be exaggerated); (2) that he may enjoy upsetting his mother; and (3) that he may not care how his report will affect Dasa’s situation. His elaboration upon his comments strongly supports possibilities 2 and 3. Indeed, his further comments suggest that he may have a sense of humor and is deliberately trying to provoke his mother. Certainly he seems to be demonstrating both literal and figurative calculation in his further comments.

  • On the positive side, at least the sons take a hand (literally) in cutting down the vegetation in which the snake may be hiding. They do not leave the job entirely to Dasa. They are not completely lazy and feckless.
  • Their casual dismissal of a visiting beggar makes them appear less than entirely attractive.
  • On the other hand, their admiration of the supposed skills of a snake charmer suggest that they are not completely cynical. (Perhaps they are even a bit naïve.)
  • The sons are calculating in the sense that they make plans to “protect themselves from reptiles in the future,” but this kind of calculation seems only sensible.
  • They are calculating as well in the sense that they keep “a safe distance” from the pot in which Dasa claims to have trapped the snake. Again, however, this kind of calculation is understandable.
  • The fact that Dasa becomes “the hero of the day” suggests that the family members are willing to give him credit when he seems to do a good job. They admire him and even decide to reward him.
  • Even when they suspect that Dasa has deceived them, they are not too upset.  All in all, then, the family and the sons seem more comical than cynically calculating in any evil way.
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