Several stories set in R. K. Narayan’s fictional town of Malgudi have themes related to the main character’s pessimism or fatalism. Many of the characters who live in Malgudi are poor people who have worked hard and led difficult lives. Narayan conveys that this tends to make them lack confidence that their situation will improve. In turn, their inability to believe in the benevolence of the universe makes their negative projections come true.
In “Iswaran,” the title character is a man who keeps trying to graduate from school but has great difficulty in passing the exam. Finally, on the 10th try, he passes. However, before he learns the results, he becomes despondent because he cannot believe he would ever pass. Iswaran decides to take his own life by drowning in the river. Just in case, he checks the score and learns he passed. He jumps into the river from joy—but drowns. People believe it was suicide because he had prepared a note.
The story “Out of Business" uses the pessimism and suicide themes but features a twist. A local man, Rama Rao, whose business has closed, becomes depressed when he cannot find a job. He briefly feels encouraged when he learns there is a cash prize for a crossword puzzle contest in a magazine, so he enters. However, he does not even come close to winning, which makes him more depressed. Rama decides to take his own life by letting a train run over him and lays down on the tracks. Hours pass and no train comes. It turns out the train had derailed, and so his life is spared. It also seems his luck has turned because a buyer has come forward for their house.
Another pessimistic character is Govind in the “Gateman's Gift." At the plant where Govind worked, the General Manager is the top authority. The retired Govind begins making clay miniatures, which he sometimes brings to the Manager, hoping for his approval, but never speaks to him in person. When he receives a letter in the mail, he immediately assumes it is bad news. Trying to find out the contents, he learns he has health issues, and that news makes him act crazy. Finally, he gains courage to open the envelope, which contains a check from the manager for all his tiny works. The good news does not really help. The pressure was too much for him, and he gives up sculpting.