The Guide tells the story of Raju, the trickster-charlatan who, in his final reincarnation as a holy man, ends up redeeming himself by undergoing a heroic fast to save Indian villagers from a drought. But while this male character (and occasional narrator) is at the heart of the story, it is the brilliant dancer Rosie/Nalini—Raju’s love interest—who steals the show. While various men—including Rosie’s first husband Marco, and later her lover Raju—attempt to control Rosie and direct her fate, she proves mightier and more resilient than both, ultimately taking her destiny into her own hands. While mostly told by a male narrator, Narayan’s novel can in fact be read as a feminist tract that traces a woman’s journey from dependence on men and imprisonment within patriarchal constraints to her transformation into an independent woman who assumes her full powers and thereby achieves her liberation.
Rosie enters the story as the wife of Marco, the scholar of ancient civilizations who arrives in Malgudi, Raju’s hometown in southern India, and seeks Raju’s help as a tour guide to explore the caves around the town. The extent to which Rosie is constrained by her marriage is revealed in the fact that she is forced to give up her passion—the classical Indian dance practiced by generations of women in her family—under her husband’s orders. Rosie makes this sacrifice in exchange for marrying an upper-caste man who can provide her with a comfortable life. As such, Rosie is condemned to spend her time watching her husband pursue his passion—the study of ancient civilizations—while denying her own. Marco’s complete preoccupation with his research, as well as his ban on her dancing, leaves Rosie feeling lonely, unloved, and unfulfilled. And yet, as his dependent, she is completely reliant on his material support. Consequently, not only is she unfulfilled and lonely, she is also powerless.
Although Rosie begins to fulfill her dream of becoming a dancer once she begins a relationship with Raju (who recognizes her immense talent when he sees her imitating the movements of a snake one day), her new relationship also ultimately leads to her subjugation. At first, Raju’s support of Rosie’s career provides her with opportunity: she begins to perform publicly as Raju takes on the role of her “dance manager,” organizing and arranging shows and performances for her. But as Rosie becomes more successful, Raju increasingly exploits her, taking advantage of her incredible talent and the public’s insatiable demand for her performances to enrich himself hugely. He subjects Rosie to a cruel schedule of performances that leave her depleted and unhappy. In this way, Raju treats Rosie as though she were his property—using her to serve the impulses of his greed. Furthermore, as Rosie becomes more popular, Raju grows more jealous, seeking to control her contact with others. He is particularly jealous of the artist friends she likes to spend time with, and comes up with excuses to keep her from them, thus isolating her even further from the few nourishing relationships that sustain her. Moreover, he takes to hiding letters and correspondence addressed to her from Marco and his lawyers, jealous of the reappearance of Rosie’s husband in their lives. Raju’s desire to control Rosie grows to such a degree that he commits a serious act of deceit as a result: he forges her signature in order to acquire valuable jewelry from her husband, Marco, without informing Rosie. As such, Rosie’s relationship with Raju eventually proves to be as limiting and oppressive as her relationship with Marco. With Raju, as with Marco, Rosie finds herself an imprisoned woman.
While both Marco and Raju attempt to control Rosie and to shape her destiny in different ways, she ultimately challenges both men, escaping their clutches to take charge of her own fate. Firstly, she challenges her husband on his ban on her dancing by asserting her right to follow her passion, though ultimately it leads her nowhere with Marco. She rebels further against him, however, by beginning an affair with Raju—a man who, initially at least, conveys an appreciation for her talent and her art. Rosie further defies social conventions by continuing a relationship with Raju in spite of not being married to him. This is scandalous by the standards of the society in which Rosie lives, as reflected in the reproach that Rosie experiences from Raju’s mother, who condemns the relationship, going so far as to move out of her own house in protest. Furthermore, Rosie’s huge success as a dancer is largely due to her own powers and talents. While Raju, in his role as her manager, takes credit for the success of Rosie’s dance career, he himself later comes to realize and to acknowledge that it is in fact Rosie’s own genius as a dancer and devotion to her art that led to her success.
By the end of the novel, Rosie has proven herself to be an independent, resilient, and powerful woman. She is dependent on neither Marco nor Raju, instead maintaining and growing her reputation as a brilliant and successful dancer without the aid or support of any man. As such, the novel can be understood as one that traces a woman’s journey of empowerment by following the ways in which Rosie breaks the patriarchal chains that bind her through hard work, resilience, and independence of spirit.
Gender and Feminism ThemeTracker
Gender and Feminism Quotes in The Guide
The man pulled out his gourd flute and played on it shrilly, and the cobra raised itself and darted hither and thither and swayed…[Rosie] stretched out her arm slightly and swayed it in imitation of the movement; she swayed her whole body to the rhythm—for just a second, but that was sufficient to tell me
what she was, the greatest dancer of the century.
Rosie was lying on her bed with eyes shut. (Was she in a faint? I wondered for a second.) I had never seen her in such a miserable condition before. He was sitting in his chair, elbow on the table, his chin on his fist. I had never seen him so vacant before.
“[…] I followed him, day after day, like a dog—waiting on his grace. He ignored me totally. I could never have imagined that one human being could ignore the presence of another human being so completely.”
“You are not of our family? Are you of our clan?” He again waited for her to answer and answered himself. “No. Are you of our caste? No. Our class? No. Do we know you? No. Do you belong to this house? No. In that case, why are you here? After all, you are a dancing girl. We do not admit them in our families. Understand?”
I silently fretted. I liked her to be happy—but only in my company. This group of miscellaneous art folk I didn’t quite approve.
It seemed absurd that we should earn less than the maximum we could manage. My philosophy was that while it lasted the maximum money had to be squeezed out. We needed all the money in the world.
[…] I carried [the book] to my most secret, guarded place in the house—the liquor chest, adjoining the card room, the key of which I carried next to my heart—stuffed the volume out of sight, and locked it up. Nalini never went near it. I did not mention the book to her.
I found a scrap of paper and made a careful trial of Rosie’s signature. I had her sign so many checks and receipts each day that I was very familiar with it.
Then I carefully spread out the application form and wrote on the indicated line: “Rosie, Nalini.”
I was now a sort of hanger-on in the house; ever since she had released me from police custody, the mastery had passed to her. I fretted inwardly at the thought of it. When the first shock of the affair had subsided, she became hardened. She never spoke to me except as to a tramp she had salvaged.
I felt like telling Mani, “Be careful. She’ll lead you on before you know where you are, and then you will find yourself in my shoes all of a sudden! Beware the snake woman!” I knew my mind was not working either normally or fairly. I knew I was growing jealous of her self-reliance. But I forgot for the
moment that she was doing it all for my sake.
But on Friday and Saturday I turned the last page of the Hindu with trembling fingers—and the last column in its top portion always displayed the same block, Nalini’s photograph, the name of the institution where she was performing, and the price of tickets. Now at this corner of South India, now there, next week in Ceylon, and another week in Bombay or Delhi. Her empire was expanding rather than shrinking.