Swami and Friends

Swami and Friends Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
While sitting on the bank of the Sarayu one August evening, Swami and Mani encounter a large group of people protesting the arrest of a political worker.  They listen to an activist saying that the people of India are slaves and should remember their own value and power. He asks the crowd to defy England and its rule, a speech that Swami and Mani find very moving. They get upset about Indian peasants and vow to boycott English goods, especially certain kinds of cloth made by particularly despicable Englishmen. Mani tells Swami that he is wearing a coat made of that English cloth, which makes Swami feel ashamed. A bonfire is lit and the crowd begins to throw articles of clothing into it, and when someone points out that Swami is wearing a foreign cap, he throws it into the fire “with a feeling that he was saving the country.”
This chapter sets in motion the clear turning point in Swami’s changing understanding of the world around him. For the first time, he takes to heart the impact that English colonization has on his country, and he eagerly allies himself with the independence movement even without really understanding what he’s doing. His sense of agency remains shallow, as he feels that he has saved the country just by burning his cap, but his emotional commitment is genuine and meaningful, showing a new maturity in Swami’s development as an autonomous individual.
Themes
The Political and the Personal Under British Colonial Rule Theme Icon
Innocence, Family, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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The next day Swami wakes up feeling anxious and remembers that he has no cap to wear for school. He leaves for school anyway and is happily surprised to find a crowd blocking the gate of the school. A student tells Swami that the school is closed due to the jailing of the political worker, and Swami is relieved that he won’t get in trouble for not wearing his cap. He sees the Mission School Headmaster and some of the teachers standing on the school veranda, calling for the students to go to their classes and threatening punishment.
As before, Swami’s commitment to a cause larger than himself quickly turns back to self-interest, as he worries what to do without his cap. When the school is closed, Swami is excited not because he believes in the protest, but because he is happy he won’t get in trouble for missing the cap. Through this dichotomy, Narayan shows how deeply entwined Swami’s political awakening is with his ongoing youthful self-centeredness. This scene also establishes the school as a clear microcosm of political activity, as has been hinted at throughout.
Themes
The Political and the Personal Under British Colonial Rule Theme Icon
Education and Oppression Theme Icon
Innocence, Family, and Growing Up Theme Icon
The self-appointed leaders of the crowd of students yell that it is a “day of mourning” and should be observed in silence. However, other students are throwing rocks at the windows of the school. Swami joins in and he is excited to be able to break the ventilator in the Mission School Headmaster’s room, finding the experience of being in the crowd “thrilling.”
Again, Swami is profoundly caught up in the emotions of others, thoughtlessly losing his identity to that of the crowd and experiencing again how easily his sense of self can change. Further, Swami continues to engage in the protest with a childish mindset, enjoying breaking windows most of all.
Themes
The Political and the Personal Under British Colonial Rule Theme Icon
Education and Oppression Theme Icon
The Fluidity of Identity Theme Icon
Someone runs into the crowd and announces that classes are happening at the Board High School, so the crowd, including Swami, moves to that school. A representative from the crowd asks the Board School Headmaster to close the school, but the headmaster refuses and threatens to call the police. The crowd angrily begins to vandalize the Board School, joined by many of its own students. Swami enthusiastically joins in the shouting and destruction, feeling happy at how much glass there is left to break. He even threatens the children in the school’s Infant Standards and stomps on the cap of one small child.
Swami continues his enmeshment with the crowd, even going so far as to menace younger children. This moment is an extension of the scorn he felt for the young children in Chapter 4, demonstrating how easily emotional violence can transform into actual, physical violence, even for someone as relatively innocent as Swami.
Themes
The Political and the Personal Under British Colonial Rule Theme Icon
Education and Oppression Theme Icon
Innocence, Family, and Growing Up Theme Icon
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The crowd moves on to the square in the center of town, where a large group of police is waiting. Swami realizes that Rajam’s father is leading these menacing men, a fact which horrifies him. Swami watches as Rajam’s father orders the crowd to disperse and, when it doesn't, orders the troops to charge. The policeman run into the crowd, “pushing and beating everybody,” and Swami begs them to leave him alone because he knows nothing. The policemen taunt Swami but let him run away.
Witnessing the cruelty of Rajam’s father is a crucial moment of understanding for Swami. Because he admired Rajam’s father so deeply before this experience, gaining the knowledge of his capacity for evil is especially painful for Swami. Unlike any previous moment, this one causes Swami to realize how nuanced personal identity can be and forces him to accept that no one person can be completely good or completely evil.
Themes
The Political and the Personal Under British Colonial Rule Theme Icon
The Fluidity of Identity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Blue quotation bubble icon linking to an important quote associated with this summary and analysis.
Swami plans to keep his experiences in the riot secret from his father, but upon arriving home his father immediately begins talking about how Rajam’s father is “a butcher,” which Swami finds himself agreeing with as he remembers his brutal behavior. Swami’s father asks him if he was involved in the riot, in which many people were injured and a few may have died. Swami realizes that he now has an excuse for losing his cap and tells his father that someone tore it off in the crowd because it was made of foreign material. His father tells him that it was made in India and that he would never buy his son something made abroad. Swami lies in bed thinking about all the injuries he got during the day, and is especially angry at the policemen for hitting him and calling him a monkey.
Even after his momentous—and very dangerous—experience at the protest, Swami returns again to thinking about his cap and whether he will get in trouble for losing it. This turn shows how deeply Swami is caught between innocence and understanding, childish concerns and adult dangers. Furthermore, his father’s claim that the cap was Indian anyway undercuts the value of Swami’s political act and demonstrates afresh how tied to his father Swami still is.
Themes
The Political and the Personal Under British Colonial Rule Theme Icon
Innocence, Family, and Growing Up Theme Icon
At school the next day, the Mission School Headmaster enters Swami’s class and reads a list of all the students who were missing the day before, forcing them to stand on their benches as punishment. One by one, he asks them to explain why they weren’t in school the previous day, with each giving a different excuse. The headmaster punishes each boy in turn, rejecting their excuses. Swami gets more and more nervous, and when the headmaster gets to him, he gives a confused, muddled answer using pieces of his experiences at the recent protests. The headmaster hits Swami with his cane as punishment for not speaking clearly and says that he saw him breaking the ventilator in his office. The headmaster hits Swami several more times until Swami grows desperate and runs out of the school, saying to the headmaster: “I don’t care for your dirty school.”
Swami’s confused reply to the headmaster’s questions clearly shows just how ill-equipped he is to understand and explain his role in society and the actions he takes. Again, Swami’s feelings are real, but he does not yet know how to transmute them into meaningful behavior. As before, his school does not help him ease his confusion but rather punishes him for it, leading to Swami’s most drastic act of self-determination yet.
Themes
The Political and the Personal Under British Colonial Rule Theme Icon
Education and Oppression Theme Icon
Innocence, Family, and Growing Up Theme Icon