Short Summary of “Dark Room” by R.K. Narayan

All her dreams are shattered. Her fury is implacable; “Don’t touch me!….you are dirty, you are impure.” Her anguish born of self-pity and impotent anger is heart rending: “I don’t possess anything in the world. What possession can a woman call her own except her body? Everything else that she has is her father’s, her husband’s or her son’s.” Seeing no way of correcting her erring husband, Savitri revolts against him and in utter frustration and disgust, she leaves her husband’s house with an intention of committing suicide.

Savitri goes to the river and throws herself into it. The timely arrival of Mari, the blacksmith and burglar, who while crossing the river on his way to his village, sees her body floating on the river and at once rescues her, and saves her life. Mari’s wife Ponni on knowing her plight persuades her to come to their village. There Savitri embarks upon an independent living of her own by work in the temple.

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As she cannot bear the querulous priest of the temple and as her own homesickness and tormenting anxiety for her children nag her, she becomes restless. She realizes the futility of her attempt to escape from her bonds with the temporal world and returns to her husband’s hateful home to sulk in the dark without much effect on Ramani.

In this respect, she may be contrasted with Gauri, the heroine in Anand’s The Old Woman and the Cow. Savitri has neither the courage nor the independence of spirit that Gauri shows. Gauri leaves her husband’s house once and for all, adopts the profession of a nurse and never returns home. Ramani stands in sharp contrast to Krishna (the protagonist of Narayan’s The English Teacher) who is a self-sacrificing husband.

One of his least successful novels is The Dark Room (1938), which takes up, in schematic ways, the condition of women in the changing circumstances of modern India. In Narayan’s first two novels, women had been exempt from demanding citizenship in a harsh, discouraging world; they existed on the margins, in the kitchens and bedrooms and inner courtyards, where they were often a source of tenderness. In 1933, Narayan’s own marriage to a girl he saw drawing water from a roadside tap the horoscopes didn’t match, but Narayan overrode his parents’ objections gave him access to the lives of women, a whole new range of human experiences previously denied him by strict segregation.

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