Sampath is among Narayan’s most colorful creations. Although he is introduced late—more than a quarter of the way through the novel—and is not the real protagonist, he is vivid. His rich baritone voice of command is what attracts Srinivas’ attention, and his egotistical authority takes over in a crowd. Claiming to be an optimist with a doctrine of service and spiritual merit, he proves to be a materialist of moral confusion. He is full of false promises and invents alibis for all of his delays and failures. He neglects his long-suffering wife and five children during his affair with Shanti, and although his sangfroid is remarkable, and his deceptions roguishly humorous, he is really a foil to Srinivas, the man of would-be virtue.
Narayan’s comedies are always of moral import, and their protagonists are examples of “innocents” caught in flux and confusion, struggling to deliver themselves from existential bondage to absurdity. Srinivas’ moral character is what holds the novel together. He has very real faults. He has temporarily abandoned his wife and son, while selecting a profession that has vain pretensions all of its own. Unable to solve many of his own personal problems, he nevertheless offers solutions for cosmic crises. Close to middle age, he still wastes time on trivia, and he finds that his goal of harmony in life is continually mocked by his absurd actions. He is basically kind—showing compassion for the old landlord and Ravi—but he is also gullible and easily misled by Sampath. Srinivas never...
(The entire section is 628 words.)