R. K. Narayan's "Emden" is the Reminiscence of Human Life in Old Age: Clocking Time

Some of the important literary qualities of R. K. Narayan's Emden are the use of humanized time reference, character complexity and development, interwoven stories, a flashback technique to vividly portray past events, and a setting that demonstrates themes, personalities, and conflicts. Emden, the title character in R. K. Narayan's Emden, is more than 100 years old and now he can’t even remember his age. Emden, the oldest man in Malgudi, who hated birthdays. He abominated birthdays because according to him it may reduce the days of birthdays' count. He has nearly lost his hearing abilities and can’t retain names. According to Narayan “Even such a situation was acceptable, as it seemed to be.........by nature to keep the mind uncluttered in old age”. 

Narayan in his portrayal of the oldest man gives a glimpse of his history through half remembered memories by the old man who loves his routinely two-hour walk. We also get a peep into his history through an account by others who witness him on this routine. Like the photographer who mixes Emden’s history with his fiction while gossiping about him as Emden crosses his shop.


Narayan gives us a very vivid picture of the old age. The newspaper reading routine with special attention being given to the religious and the philosophical section and the brooding over. It is a delight to read as it captures the sentiments of a majority of old people who fallow this routine. The looking forward to an evening walk with a reactionary message being given in the background by someone at home is a thing we as readers can relate to if there are elderly people living with us.

For first few pages the story focuses on the life and character of the old man but Narayan very cleverly introduces a situation first through Emden’s favourite philosophical column which the reader would take it to be his characteristics and when the old love interest whose name and address he is unable to remember. He decides to embark on a walk to meet her.




Overall, the picture of Emden does not make one pity him but rather it is a comic picture. One that reader enjoys reading probably because of this reason even towards the end of the story when a reader feels involved with the man not because of his age and condition but one gets involved with one’s character.

Narayan during his stay at the Chelsea Hotel had met a gentlemen who was more than 100 years old and probably he got the idea to write a story about the oldest man in Malgudi through him. Emden is full to life, a well rounded character whom a person might have come across in one’s life. We are also given inputs to the history of Ratnapuri ,a part of Malgudi, where  Emden made his bungalow . It is a feature in Narayan’s writings in his stories we are introduced to some or the physical geographies of Malgudi.

Narayan's Malgudi peoples like that of rustics of Thomas Hardy present life of Emden that are 'humanized;' that is, they think, feel, speak, and react as humans might. Their conflicts can be seen as analogous to human conflicts. Emden is a believable character who overcomes his fears of dying to develop a sense of independence. Fear and courage, insensitivity and kindness, all are depicted as facets of a character's complex personality.

Settings are distinct and often reflect elements of theme, conflict, or character. The details of Emden's home are realistic; he does not wear miniature clothes nor does he have small versions of human furniture about his house. While the Malgudi colony is described in more fantastic terms, this description of their use of up coming civilization contrasts with Emden's natural or primitive surroundings.

Narayan has a love for describing carnivals, fairs and the expo. Story after story we find in his Malgudi Days being set in such an environment if not than we at least have a market scene. Engine Trouble starts at a fair with protagonist winning an engine, Emden goes through the hustle and bustle of a market place for his bazaar and so is the trail of the Green blazer which is set in a bazaar. It seems Narayan situated most of the Malgudi stories on Malgudi’s public landmarks.

The author skillfully interweaves the conflicts of Emden and the time, not merely through plot, but also through the intricate development of similar themes and conflicts. Because it is told in flashback and not simply through monologue, the action, suspense, and interest are aptly maintained.

Ardhendu De

Reference:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malgudi_Days_(short_story_collection)

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