Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 774
Raju, the protagonist and at times the narrator, the son of a poor shopkeeper from the village of Malgudi. His character undergoes various transformations as he goes from shopkeeper to guide (“Railway Raju”), to lover, to impresario (manager of Rosie’s career as a dancer), to prisoner, to impostor (fake guru), to perhaps genuine swami or mahatma (the highest of the Hindu spiritual leaders). Raju is clever, and although he succumbs to the temptations of luxury when Rosie succeeds as a dancer, he does offer her the chance to do what she has always wanted, and his love for her appears to be genuine. On the other hand, his forgery of her name, even if it is not for profit but to sustain their relationship, is unwise, and his initial willingness to assume the role of a guru simply to be fed suggests he may be just another con man. Readers must decide for themselves about the reality and depth of Raju’s transformation by the end of the novel.
Raju’s mother, a traditional Indian woman who defines herself in terms of her domestic role. She is developed more fully as a character than is her husband, about whom she complains frequently. Her initial, albeit reluctant, acceptance of the low-caste Rosie into her house and Rosie’s affection for her indicate that she is a positive character. Raju’s failure to heal their relationship or to build her a new home when he becomes wealthy tends to undercut his character. When she calls in her imperious brother to deal with Rosie, she reveals the weakness of the traditional Indian woman, who relies on domineering males to resolve problems.
Rosie, a traditional (temple) dancer and therefore of a lower caste. She has a master’s degree in economics and married as a means of improving her status. She has the ambitions and dreams, as well as the passion, of a genuine artist. Her unusual name may suggest that she is something of a nonconformist, which would make her love of traditional dance ironic. She is, in fact, a great dancer. She shows her strength of character when she resists Raju’s demands that she avoid the company of other artists and when she dances to raise money for his defense. Unlike Raju, she has little interest in wealth. She feels guilty about having deceived her husband, despite his ill treatment of her, and she is all too easily manipulated by Raju, who goes so far as to change her name. By the time of his imprisonment, their relationship has cooled. Significantly, she does not return to Raju or to her estranged husband at the end, but is apparently doing quite well for herself.
Marco, the name by which Raju identifies Rosie’s husband (with Marco Polo). He is an archaeologist and art historian who is deeply devoted to his work and has little time for his wife. He also has no tolerance of her desire to dance. A cold sort of man, as he is seen by Raju, Marco appears to be a dry scholar. His icy treatment of Rosie before, during, and after the affair causes him to emerge as the least sympathetic character in the novel. That he should be so obsessed with the art and culture of southern India (the subject of his research and book) is ironic in the light of his lack of interest in his wife’s art and his failure to recognize her dancing as art.
Gaffur, the taxi driver who assists Raju with his tours. He functions as a sort of social conscience for Raju. He is usually seen winking knowingly, often through the rearview mirror. He attempts to dissuade Raju from continuing with the dangerous relationship, but his conventional views are of no avail.
Velan, a simple villager from Mangal, on the outskirts of Malgudi. He reveres Raju for no particular reason other than the fact that he is at the temple and is willing to listen to him. He may be said to embody the universal need for spiritual leadership; that is, he may represent humanity in search of a guide. Both Rosie and Raju undergo profound transformations of character, but Velan (like Gaffur, Marco, and Raju’s mother) remains essentially unchanged. He retains faith in Raju until the end. Depending on how one reads the last chapter (and perhaps the last paragraph in particular), one could say that his faith is rewarded (that is, Raju does become a holy man) or that it is mocked (that is, Raju goes from deceiving Marco to deceiving everyone).
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 264
Raju is a splendidly realized character. Not given to thought, drifting in and out of situations, and until the last stage of his life ruled by an individualistic spirit which carries him away from family, friends, and morality, he will ultimately learn what it is to act responsibly. But even when he is selfish and full of guile, he is immensely likable, especially because he wants to please other people as much as he can. Except for forging Rosie's signature on a truly reprehensible impulse, he never strikes readers as a wicked character. And although he deludes others as well as himself from time to time, he likes to see things grow and tries to help people achieve their ambitions.
Because Raju narrates most of the novel, readers tend to see the other characters through him. Still, Rosie is another finely wrought portrait of a complex personality. When Raju first meets her she is leading an unfulfilled life because her archaeologist husband, Marco, has no time for her, preferring cave paintings to the real, vital woman. With Raju's help, she becomes a successful dancer, one who comes to see classical Indian dance as a vocation and not a trade. She seems to represent the repressed, creative side of her culture reasserting itself, for her dances are rituals which enact a vital and ultimately uncontrollable force. For this reason Raju loses his hold on her; although he has helped make her famous, he becomes more interested in her value as a marketable commodity and ceases seeing her as an artist in touch with primeval spirits.