Grateful to Life and Death Characters

R. K. Narayan

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Central to the novel is the relationship between Krishna and Susila, seen (in life) as total opposites. Krishna is glib, talkative, and inept. He loves to explain books to people, except in those hours when he is paid to do so, and always has an elevating sentiment to turn into poetry. Yet he has no perseverance, is bullied by everyone, and cannot so much as get his wife’s belongings off a train without feelings of inadequacy, camouflaged by authoritativeness. In contrast, his wife is quiet, a slow reader, a careful manager who runs a household on one hundred rupees a month (then about twenty dollars) and still has money, time, and energy to spare. The love between these two opposites is entirely credible and beautifully presented.

After Susila’s death, there is a danger that all other characters will become mere tools and reflections of the central figure, Krishna, who is too absorbed by his own feelings to notice others. This does seem to happen with “the friend,” an unnamed and unexplained figure who sends the hero a note one day to say that he is in touch with Krishna’s dead wife, and from then on does little but conduct experiments in automatic handwriting. Quite soon the friend has virtually disappeared as a character; one notes only the results of the handwriting. The novel is saved partly by the growing prominence of Krishna’s daughter Leela, in whom he comes to recognize something of the grace and good sense of her mother, and partly...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Krishna, an English teacher. A man in his late twenties, he is bored with his job at Albert Mission College in Malgudi, a fictitious city in southern India. When he rents a house and brings his wife and baby to live with him, however, he is much more contented. When his wife becomes ill, he nurses her devotedly; after she dies, he is devastated. Although his daughter consoles him, he has a glimpse of happiness only when he can contact his wife beyond the grave. Finally, he resigns his position so that he can teach young children at the headmaster’s school.


Susila, Krishna’s young wife. Tall and beautiful, with sparkling eyes and gleaming hair, she trails a scent of jasmine. Although she is not interested in the books that Krishna gives her, she is a good mother and an excellent manager. After a memorable day, when she and Krishna have gone out looking for a house to buy, she becomes ill. She eventually dies of typhoid fever.


Leela, the daughter of Krishna and Susila. A bright, lively, intelligent little girl, she adjusts fairly well to the loss of her mother, partly because she is enrolled in a play-school. Finally, she asks to live with Krishna’s parents, who urge their son to visit her every weekend.

The medium

The medium, also called the Friend, a plump, cheerful man who talks incessantly. It is he who first writes down...

(The entire section is 473 words.)