The short story, House Opposite by R. K. Narayan is an example of a man and his struggle with his own humanity. The basic plot of the story includes a holy man (only referred to as “the hermit”) that is living along with the traditions of an Indian lifestyle. He considers himself to be a very good man, not succumbing to temptations or as it is put in the text, “He rigorously suppressed all cravings of the palate and punished his body in a number of ways.” It is indicated that the hermit really did not understand why he was doing any of this however, barring his selfish interest in “spiritual liberation.”
The conflict in the story is internal; the hermit becomes aware of a prostitute living across the street, and cannot ignore her presence. Throughout the story, the hermit complains about the “awful monster” and regards her as the “personification of evil.” This is not the root of the problem however. The hermit’s preoccupation with the prostitute served to destroy him, but unfortunately for him, the blame cannot be aimed at her. Throughout the middle of the passage, the hermit described the features of the prostitute with a particular contempt, yet he continued to look, even leer at her.
He continued to think about what went on behind the closed doors, the men that waited around outside the house “smoking, chewing tobacco and spitting into the gutter – committing all the sins of the world according to the hermit.” In fact, after the story unfolded, the hermit was so upset that he was “forced” to leave behind his shelter to look for a new place, thinking that he would rather not have a roof at all rather than live near the woman. He could not tend to his proper thoughts, and was not able to keep his gaze on the tip of his nose, as was proper, but only could see the woman. The interesting thing is that he did not blame himself at all for his problem. In one line the hermit thought to himself, “Difficult to say whether it was those monstrous arms and breasts or thighs that tempted and ruined me…” and then proceeded to call the woman names. Why had she ruined his “tapas: all the merit he had so laboriously acquired…”
The truth of the matter, however, is that not only was the hermit weak-willed, he had no idea why he would even be against this woman’s practices, other than it was once said by someone. In fact, the hermit, who thought rather highly of himself, was allowing the sight of the woman to destroy him. There was even mention of such an occurrence that the hermit could remember: “A harlot was sent to heaven when she died, while her detractor, a self-righteous reformer, found himself in hell – his guru explained that the harlot sinned only with her body, physically, her detractor was corrupt mentally, obsessed with the harlot and her activities, and could meditate on nothing else.” This serves as a very good explanation for what truly occurs in the story.
While neither is pure and good in the situation, the man who could not overcome her existence and was ruined by her was much worse off. Even the woman was able to overcome her humiliation at his remarks to her, and call him by a respectful title, swamiji, and ask for forgiveness from him. The hermit remained a broken man, who had been cast out of his home by the thought of such an “evil woman,” while the woman was able to hold onto her dignity.
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