The Axe by R. K Narayan
The Axe is a compelling story about a person seeking his life’s purpose and place. It explores themes of pride, commitment, control, and acceptance.
Velan’s father was a poor man, so nobody could have imagined that Velan would one day reside in a three-story building. However, the astrologer’s prediction came true, and he became the sole resident of Kumar Baugh, a palatial town on the outskirts of Malgudi.
When Velan was eighteen he left home. One day, his father spanked him for being late with lunch. Velan was so enraged by this that he decided to leave his home. He left the village and continued walking until he reached the city. Here, he went without food for several days. Then, he arrived in Malgudi. Here, an elderly man hired him as his gardener’s assistant. Velan accepted the position and sat in the sun day after day to clear the land of unwanted vegetation. The garden gradually took shape. As the house rose, so too did the garden. By the time the margosa tree appeared in Velan’s vision, the house had taken on a mellow appearance. Its original brilliance had vanished.
Velan was satisfied and content. In the interim, the original gardener who had hired him had passed away. Now, he is the head gardener. Velan was married with children. In the servants’ quarters he resided. In the interim, the home’s owner grew older. The master eventually died. Sons of the old man were of poor character. They remained for an additional year, fought among themselves, and then moved to a new residence. The residence was rented. A year later, a second tenant arrived, followed by a third, and so on. Nobody stayed longer than a few months. The house then gained a reputation for being haunted.
Over time, the house’s owners ceased visiting the property. Velan became the house’s sole occupant. He was ageing as well. Despite his efforts, grass grew on the paths and weeds and vines sprouted, and the owners leased out the fruit garden for three years.
Countless years passed with no change. It became known as the “Ghost House,” and people began to avoid it. However, Velan never complained about anything. Once every three months, he sent his son to the old family in town to collect his wages. Velan desired that this situation continue indefinitely. However, one day a car approached the house. The old house’s doors and windows were thrown open. The individuals in the car belonged to a company that wished to acquire this home. They informed Velan that they would be cutting down the plants, so they would no longer require his services.
There was a great deal of activity in and around the residence. Soon, a cutter arrived to clean the area. Velan was upset that they also planned to cut down the margosa tree. Velan regarded this tree as his own offspring. Therefore, he chose to leave the house. He requested that the cutters wait until he was beyond the sound of their axes before proceeding. He gathered his belongings and left the residence. He requested that the margosa tree not be cut down until he was far away.
Critical Analysis of the Axe
In R.K. Narayan’s The Axe, themes of independence, pride, theme, prosperity, loss, control, change, and acceptance are prevalent. The story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and is taken from Narayan’s collection Malgudi Days. After reading the story, the reader realises that Narayan may be exploring the theme of independence. After receiving a slap from his father, Velan abandons him and seeks his own employment, eventually becoming a gardener. This may be significant considering Velan’s independence. He is demonstrating to his father that he can succeed independently. That he does not require guidance from his father. Velan’s man is also intriguing because he gives Velan complete control over the garden, indicating that Velan enjoys a certain degree of autonomy in his life. Velan is accountable to the old man, but the old man does not stand in his way. He allows him to fend for himself. It is also intriguing that, despite claiming his father’s property upon his father’s death, he did not inherit it. Velan does not leave the garden, preferring to remain in his garden-adjacent hut. This may be significant because it suggests Velan’s devotion to the garden. Also noticeable is the fact that Velan encourages the growth of each plant and flower by speaking to them. The world of Velan is, if anything, devoted to the garden.
It is also possible that Narayan is comparing Velan’s father to the elderly garden man. Both men interact differently with Velan. Where Velan’s father has mistreated Velan, the relationship between Velan and the old man who owns the garden is positive. It is possible that Narayan is implying that if a person (the old man) treats another person (Velan) appropriately, then that person (Velan) will prosper, as appears to be the case for Velan. Since relocating to his shack by the garden, he has become increasingly reclusive. Velan’s life has flourished, and he is content. In many ways, the expansion of the garden and the blooming of the flowers mirror Velan’s prosperity and happiness. He has successfully gotten married and had children. Something that might not have been possible had he continued to work for his father. Additionally, Narayan may be exploring the theme of loss. Even though he was married, Velan lost his wife and eight of his children prior to his own death. Nevertheless, Velan’s persistence in the face of this setback is evident. He has not been defeated by adversity. He has continued to flourish, much like the garden.
Interesting about Velan is that he never gives up, despite his advanced age. This, along with the fact that he answers to a different master, may be significant, as Narayan may be emphasising Velan’s steadfastness regardless of the circumstances. Moreover, it is clear to the reader that Velan takes great pride in the garden he has created. He has transformed an unattractive piece of land into a thing of beauty. Despite his hard work, dedication, and devotion, his new masters did not value his work. They are uninterested in the home and garden. Despite this, Velan endeavours to keep the garden as clean and well-maintained as possible. In reality, Velan’s entire world consists of his garden. He has lived no other life. Some critics may argue that Velan’s dedication to the garden has limited his lifespan. It is essential to remember that Velan enjoys the garden. When in the garden, he is at his happiest. Velan has never pursued a life of complexity. He is a simple man who appreciates simplicity.
Furthermore, the conclusion of the story is intriguing because Narayan may be exploring the theme of control. When Velan hears the margosa tree being hacked with an axe, he realises that his life is about to change. For the first time since he was eighteen, he no longer has control over his surroundings. This is difficult to accept in and of itself, but the fact that Velan had no chance to prepare for the upcoming events makes it worse in many ways. Nobody informed Velan of the new owner’s desires, but he is aware that his days of working in the garden are over. Change is difficult for everyone, but especially for someone as elderly as Venal. Even though Venal accepts what has transpired, the reader has the impression that he is leaving the garden a broken man. All of his efforts over the years will be in vain, as the new owners intend to construct houses in the garden.