The White Flower – R.K. Narayan

“It’s often said that God made man in His own image, it’s also true that man makes God in his own image.”

R.K. Narayan

This is such a tiny short story and pretty straight-forward. Therefore, being so it is really only about how Gods and celestial bodies thwart all possibilities of a boy getting married to the girl he seems to have fallen in love with, and that is just as far as the plot goes.        But of course, there is much to be explored and I thought it would be better to do so in terms of pleasure and understanding – two cornerstones of any piece of literature that with their absence or presence reveal a lot about the text.

To put it plainly pleasure is entertainment, which The White Flower does offer. Foremostly, it is ripe with delightful simplicity that does not compromise on subtleties, be it language, narrative or characters. Another aspect that makes TWF entertaining is is its humor. Humor doesn’t lie in the situations but the way characters perceive them or seek to circumvent them. If anything the situations are ironical, that hope to reveal the degree to which one can get carried away, that is laced, again, with a tinge of  comedy, when it comes to romance, marriage and astrology – the themes of the text.

To Roland Barthes, texts, based on their pleasure quotient, are either “readerly” or “writerly”. Readerly is when a text does not require the reader to go beyond his “subjective position” : pleasurable and that’s all. Writerly means the texts challenge the reader to go beyond itself, its ideas, its convictions, its language, cultural codes, conventions, and understand the text from not the reader’s “subjective position” but the presupposed or emerging position of the text; and construct or derive understanding to evaluate the text’s value in its light.   

Let’s just say, pleasure is what would reel you in and understanding that would make you stay. So coming to understanding, while TWF does not really question the logic and purpose of astrology in Indian marriages, it shows the strength of its grip on Indians. It shows a people that has different approaches to the tradition or culture of astrology and how these conflict but how people would choose to go against their own convictions rather than put a strong opposition to astrology. If I were in Krishna’s place I, if given the power and driven by such an intense dismay, would want to burn all the horoscopes rather than “bleach all the flowers in the world.”

Since I am trying to use my degree in literature in a more productive manner than I did in the 3 years I studied the subject, I thought I would tackle one question about the text.

Justify the title “The White Flower”

The titles or peritexts of most literary texts often act like promises for what is to come. For instance, the book “Untouchable” written by Mulk Raj Anand, in its title itself brings to mind the context of the story, which is exploitation and oppression of the poorer/lower castes in India and the reader can expect what is to come. 

Similarly, the title “The White Flower” cannot be considered random and mute. The significance of the title can be examined from three points of views, i.e., the reader, the author and the text.

Authors are not unaware of the effect certain minute details can have on the reader’s mind. They manipulate these details to effectively drive through the themes of the text, their ideology and bring about a desired effect on the reader’s mind.

In TWF the reader is introduced to romantic elements of the text, which can become overpowering. The other themes might not seem as important. However, by emphasizing on an object, i.e, the white flower, which is directly connected to the theme of astrology, by making it the title of the text, the author makes the astrology theme a primary one whose successful portrayal becomes the purpose of the text. This emphasizing also serves the purpose of creating suspense in the reader’s mind as the significance of white flower in the plot emerges towards the end and the reader wonders about its role up until then.

The title, “TWF” doesn’t directly relate to the ideas in the text – the ideas of the astrology dipping to the point of superstition, idea of love or Indian marriages. It is not based on the main characters either. It can be said it is loosely connected to the main theme. But it is apparent that the title is more suggestive of the climax itself than anything else, where Krishna’s fate and happiness rests on an unwitting girls picking up something as random as a white flower. In a sense, the author tries to bring to our attention the irony of Krishna’s situation and also the underlying irony in the premise/context of the story by making its title equally ironical.

Nevertheless, no matter how trustless, decentralized and equivocal the title is, it manages to guide the plot in the reader’s mind by revealing a focal point and acting as a linchpin. Therefore, the title can be deemed appropriate as it is suggestive and relatable to the timbre of the story.

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