The Guide

by

R. K. Narayan

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Water Symbol Icon

Water is an integral part of Raju’s final incarnation as a holy man, or “swami,” in the small village of Malgam. He ends up here after his release from prison, and as such the water associated with his new life represents his purification and redemption. It is by the river that Raju meets Velan, the villager who innocently puts his faith in his healing powers. The significance of water as a symbol of purification and redemption becomes apparent towards the end of the novel, when a drought afflicts the villagers, who then draw Raju into a long fast in the hope that his sacrifice will bring about rains. Raju, who at first reluctantly, and then willingly, accepts the responsibility, stands in the river each day during the fast to hold vigil, chanting incantations. For the first time in his life, Raju acts out of self-sacrifice, on behalf of others, not out of self-interest. As such, his immersion in the river signals the transformation and purification that he undergoes in his final role as a holy man. The significance of water as a symbol for redemption is further reinforced in the final image of the novel, which depicts a famished and weakened Raju, possibly on the brink of death, standing in the river with the help of Velan, perceiving rain coming over the hills. Although Narayan doesn’t confirm or deny whether rain does actually arrive, Raju’s perception of water coming from the sky is significant: whether real or imagined, he feels as though he is about to be drenched in rain, and indeed feels the water in his body, coming up his feet and legs. This imagery of rain suggests that, at the climax of his act of self-sacrifice, Raju is purified and transformed.

Water Quotes in The Guide

The The Guide quotes below all refer to the symbol of Water. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Guide published in 1958.
Chapter 1 Quotes

[…] the villager resumed the study of his face with intense respect. And Raju stroked his chin thoughtfully to make sure that an apostolic beard had not suddenly grown there. It was still smooth.

Related Characters: Raju, Velan
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

Where could he go? He had not trained himself to make a living out of hard work. Food was coming to him unasked now. If he went away somewhere else certainly nobody was going to take the trouble to bring him food in return for just waiting for it.

Related Characters: Raju, The Villagers
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

Raju himself was not certain why he had advised that, and so he added, “If you do it you will know why.” The essence of sainthood seemed to lie in one’s ability to utter mystifying statements.

Related Characters: Raju (speaker), The Villagers
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Raju soon realized that his spiritual status would be enhanced if he grew a beard and long hair to fall on his nape. A clean-shaven, close-haired saint was an anomaly.

Related Characters: Raju, The Villagers
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

[…] he suddenly noticed at the end of the year that the skies never dimmed with cloud. The summer seemed to continue. Raju inquired, “Where are the rains?”

Related Characters: Raju (speaker), The Villagers
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Did they expect him to starve for fifteen days and stand in knee-deep water for eight hours? He sat up.

Related Characters: Raju, The Villagers, Velan’s Brother
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

The morning sun was out by now; a great shaft of light illuminated the surroundings. It was difficult to hold Raju on his feet, as he had a tendency to flop down. They held him as if he were a baby. Raju opened his eyes, looked about, and said, “Velan, it’s raining in the hills. I can feel it coming up under my feet, up my legs—” He sagged down.

Related Characters: Raju (speaker), Velan
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:
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Water Symbol Timeline in The Guide

The timeline below shows where the symbol Water appears in The Guide. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Sitting on a granite slab by a river, Raju is approached by a stranger, who looks up at him reverentially. Slightly disconcerted by... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
On the river bank, Raju finds the stranger still seated on the steps below him, looking at him... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Back on the riverbank, Velan is seated on the steps that lead down to the river, telling Raju that... (full context)
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
After Velan leaves, Raju sits watching the river for a long time and counting the stars. He has a fantasy that, by charting... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Greed and Materialism Theme Icon
...and the girl to wait for him in the hall of the temple by the river. When he goes to meet them again, he finds that Velan has brought him a... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
On the riverbank, Raju is still sitting on the steps with Velan and his sister patiently waiting for... (full context)
Chapter 2
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
By the riverbank near the small village of Mangal, Velan appears, bursting to tell Raju that his sister... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Greed and Materialism Theme Icon
...family, including the girl and her suitor, come to pay thanks to Raju by the river. (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
...of his success with Velan’s sister spreads. Other villagers begin to come sit by the river steps, stopping there after work to visit him. (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Greed and Materialism Theme Icon
Having decided on his course, Raju sets up a place in the temple beside the river for himself with a better backdrop. However, Velan and the other villagers don’t appear. Raju... (full context)
Chapter 4
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Back at the riverbank, the boy whom Raju had sent to his uncle announces the return of the “saint,”... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
At the riverbank, the school children, who have arrived at the temple for instruction with their teacher, are... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Greed and Materialism Theme Icon
At the next gathering, Raju chants holy refrains, which the audience repeats. The villagers also decorate the halls of the temple by the... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Chapter 6
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Greed and Materialism Theme Icon
At the riverbank near the village of Mangal, months or years have passed. Raju’s hair and beard have... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
One year, Raju notices that there has been no rain. The river has shrunk, and the food offerings of the villagers have grown meager. Everyone... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Greed and Materialism Theme Icon
...he muddles up Raju’s message, suggesting that Raju has undertaken not to eat until the rains arrive again. Impressed by Raju’s readiness to take on such a sacrifice, the villagers compare... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Greed and Materialism Theme Icon
The villagers decide to visit the swami by the river. At the gathering, Raju waits for the food offerings that they always present to him,... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Greed and Materialism Theme Icon
...starve for fifteen days,” as well as to stand for hours each day in the river’s knee-deep water, holding vigil. He thinks of running away, but he is moved by the... (full context)
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
...the next night, Raju asks him what makes him think that Raju can bring about rain. Raju tells Velan that he’s no saint, but an ordinary man, and he begins narrating... (full context)
Chapter 11
Hypocrisy and Disguise Theme Icon
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Back in the present by the riverbank, Raju has told his story throughout the night and a rooster crows as he finishes.... (full context)
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
...being unable to stand upright alone, nonetheless wants to go to his spot in the river where he has gone every day during the fast to hold vigil. Helped by Velan,... (full context)
Transformation and Redemption Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Modernity Theme Icon
Supported by Velan in the river, Raju suddenly stirs, opens his eyes. He tells Velan that it’s rain coming in the... (full context)