Raju, the protagonist of Narayan’s The Guide, is deeply motivated by his desire for material wealth. Living in the town of Malgudi in southern India, he constantly reinvents himself—taking on the role of a tourist guide and dance manager—in his pursuit of money. However, the novel ultimately suggests that it is only when Raju gives up his greed and materialism entirely in his final role as a holy man that he achieves something of the spiritual fulfillment that eluded him in his previous life.
Raju’s obsession with material wealth becomes manifest when he leaves behind his father’s railway shop and transforms himself into a tourist guide, taking advantage of the many tourists that the railway brings to Malgudi. In recounting his career as a tourist guide to the young villager Velan, Raju explains that his primary motivation when seeking out new customers was money. Raju immediately sizes up arriving tourists according to their means, and exploits them accordingly to ensure for himself the greatest monetary gain possible.
Likewise, in taking on the role of Rosie’s dance manager, Raju becomes obsessed with making more and more money. Realizing the immense draw that Rosie has on the public, he exploits her talents, arranging endless performances and shows that enrich him further, completely neglecting Rosie’s own needs in the process. Raju’s greed corrupts him. He comes to treat Rosie as a means to end; she is primarily an instrument through which he can enrich himself. This is reflected in the most serious act of betrayal he commits, when he forges Rosie’s signature in order to procure a box of valuable jewelry from her estranged husband Marco. Furthermore, while Raju grows rich from Rosie’s performances, he squanders the money on a large house, servants, and a lavish lifestyle that nonetheless do not bring him satisfaction, given that he continues to be consumed with enriching himself further.
In his final act of reincarnation, Raju reinvents himself as a holy man in the small village where he finds himself after his release from prison, taking on the role imposed on him by a young villager named Velan. Raju’s motivations in adopting this persona are initially also motivated by greed. At a key moment in the novel, in which he considers running away from the village, Raju decides that he will play the part of spiritual guide primarily because it is lucrative: he does not have to work, and can rely on the offerings that the villagers bring to him to sustain himself. In this way, Raju’s greed motivates him to exploit the villagers’ trust in him in order to further his own self-interest.
Ultimately, however, Raju’s play-acting as a spiritual guide actually compels him to give up his greed and materialism. When Raju finds himself accidentally drawn into a two-week fast by the villagers, which is intended to bring about rains and relieve them of the drought under which they have been suffering, Raju has no choice but to give up even the most basic necessities, including food. By agreeing to undertake the fast, Raju thus sacrifices his own comfort and health for the sake of the villagers. While the novel is ambiguous about whether Raju actually survives the fast or not, the image of him on the brink of death as he goes to the river to hold vigil at the end of the novel represents the moment in which he achieves his most noble and purest identity. By acting out of benevolence towards others, rather than out of self-interest and greed, he seems to achieve something of a spiritual redemption—as reflected in the vision of rain that he sees at the end of the novel.
Throughout The Guide, Raju’s actions are largely motivated by greed and materialism. These impulses prove to be self-perpetuating, as they lead Raju only into greater greed and self-interest. It is only when he is forced to give up all material comforts and necessities—including food—that Raju seems to find spiritual satisfaction and redemption. In this way, the novel seems to privilege selflessness, generosity, and benevolence as the only meaningful values through which one can achieve fulfillment and peace.
Greed and Materialism ThemeTracker
Greed and Materialism Quotes in The Guide
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.
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.
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.
I pointed out to him something as the greatest, the highest, the only one in the world. I gave statistics out of my head. I mentioned a relic as belonging to the thirteenth century before Christ or the thirteenth century after Christ, according to the mood of the hour.
[…] 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?”
I dressed myself soberly for the part in a sort of rough-spun silk shirt and an upper cloth and a handspun and handwoven dhoti, and I wore rimless glasses—a present from Marco at one of our first meetings. I wore a wristwatch—all this in my view lent such weight to what I said that they had to listen to me respectfully. I too felt changed; I had ceased to be the old Railway Raju.
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.
Raju asked, “Now you have heard me fully?” […]
Raju was taken aback at still being addressed as “Swami.” “What do you think of it?”
Velan looked quite pained at having to answer such a question. “I don’t know why you tell me all this, Swami. It’s very kind of you to address at such length your humble servant.”