The Guide

by

R. K. Narayan

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The Guide: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back at the riverbank, the boy whom Raju had sent to his uncle announces the return of the “saint,” and soon the villagers come en masse to visit Raju. Raju tells the villagers that their boys must learn, and the next day a teacher appears, to whom Raju offers the space of the temple to give his lessons. The following day, the teacher arrives with students, and it is Raju, rather than the teacher, who ends up lecturing them, speaking to the boys wisely on such topics as godliness and cleanliness. Raju is impressed by his own eloquence.
Raju’s insistence that the village boys must learn perhaps suggests his own regret over dropping his schooling once he had taken over running his father’s railway shop. And yet, even though Raju offers the teacher space within the temple to teach, it is Raju himself who ends up lecturing the boys. On one level, this suggests Raju’s narcissism and conceit—he does not let the teacher do his job, and instead does it for him. Raju’s self-regard is also indicated in the fact that he seems to impress himself by his own eloquence. Raju clearly is quite an egoistic “holy man.”
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Raju recalls that, in spite of dropping school, he had continued to read in between serving customers at the railway shop. Raju’s father died suddenly during the rainy season of that year. With his mother’s consent, Raju decided to close the hut shop and focus on the railway shop instead, where he took to selling magazines and school books.
The death of Raju’s father marks the moment when Raju steps forward as the “head” of the household. From now on, it is he who will be making decisions for the family (even if he does so with his mother’s consent). His decision to close the hut shop indicates that he immediately takes a step away from his father’s legacy and influence, as it was the hut shop that his father had established first.
Themes
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At the riverbank, the school children, who have arrived at the temple for instruction with their teacher, are rapt by the stories that Raju tells them. Soon, their parents also arrive to hear Raju’s stories.
Raju’s talent for discourse and talk is reflected in the fact that there is a huge appetite for his stories—even the village pupils’ parents come to listen to him.
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As the gatherings around Raju grow, he can’t help feeling like an actor. Indeed, on one occasion, he is asked to give a discourse by a villager, and finds himself suddenly lost. Casting about for something to say, Raju tells the gathered crowd that all things must wait their hour. He also tells the puzzled villagers to reflect on their actions. It occurs to him that “The essence of sainthood” rests in “uttering mystifying statements.”
While Raju becomes increasingly successful in playing the part of a holy man—as indicated in the gatherings that continue to grow around him—the gap between others’ perception of him and his perception of himself begins to widen. Raju knows—and feels—that he is a charlatan. And yet, in spite of this feeling, he manages to continue deluding the villagers, partly by uttering nonsensical statements that are taken for mysticism.
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At the next gathering, Raju chants holy refrains, which the audience repeats. The villagers also decorate the halls of the temple by the river.
The villagers’ immense respect for Raju is suggested by the fact that they follow his example—as indicated in the repetition of the refrains that he chants, for instance. They also express their veneration by decorating the temple, the space that he inhabits.
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Raju decides to grow his beard in order to look more like an authentic holy man. His prestige is growing. The gatherings have grown so huge that the crowds that come to listen to his wisdom spill out of the temple halls and reach all the way to the river. However, in this vast crowd, Velan is the only person that Raju knows personally.
Raju’s decision to change his appearance so as to look more like an “authentic” holy man points to his penchant for disguise and deception. Furthermore, his growing reputation, as indicated in the vast crowds that now come to see him, suggests that he is in fact extremely skillful at constructing and projecting identities that trick others into putting their faith in him.
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Raju not only chants holy verses in his role as spiritual guide, he also discourses on philosophy and prescribes remedies and medicines to ailing villagers. People also bring him their disputes, which he helps resolve. He is so busy amidst his various obligations, and is under so much demand that he has no privacy.
Raju comes to play an increasingly central role in the lives of the villagers, who look to him for guidance and counsel. His position is framed by irony, however, given that Raju’s healing and teaching activities have no basis in anything—he is simply making things up as he goes along.
Themes
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Greed and Materialism Theme Icon