How obsession can destroy one self


Task: After closely reading “HOUSE OPPOSITE” by R. K. Narayan, you will develop a theory about one character’s anxiety and the action they take (or don’t take) in an attempt to solve what is causing the anxiety. This will be a formal essay, with a strong thesis (your theory) and structured body paragraphs. Your thesis will be an original, un-obvious argument about: 1) What the anxiety for a character is and what causes it OR 2) Why the character either takes action or fails to take in the way they do, in response to their anxiety OR 3) What the result of the character’s action or inaction is You will put your skills of criticism to work theorizing about the anxiety and action of the character that is most interesting to you. You will follow the academic structure that this and next week’s class materials will cover. Read your chosen story again, and take notes. In your essay, you will focus on particular scenes, descriptions, and lines in this story that prove your point (your thesis). Your essay should do the following things: Begin with an introductory paragraph that starts with a brief summary of the story you are writing about and funnels down into a thesis. The thesis will state your theory about a character’s anxiety and/or action. The body paragraphs will be the place where you offer evidence for your thesis. Work from a list of evidence, using one piece per paragraph, talking about moments, descriptions, and lines of dialogue, continuously working to prove the point you are making in the thesis. Topic sentences should state an idea that supports your thesis statement and should start each body paragraph. Strong topic sentences are critically important to an academic essay. You will need to briefly quote or paraphrase from the story in each body paragraph to support the idea you state in your topic sentence with evidence from the text. The paper will close with a conclusion paragraph that wraps up your paper’s overall argument and points, and talks about why everything you’ve said in your paper matters to you, and therefore is valuable to your readers. This is not a free-form essay by any means–please take this bold and italicized description of the essay’s structure very seriously, and look for examples in the lectures. “HOUSE OPPOSITE” by R. K. Narayan The hermit invariably shuddered when he looked out of his window. The house across the street was occupied by a shameless woman. Late in the evening, men kept coming and knocking on her door-afternoons too if there was a festival or holiday. Sometimes they lounged on the porch of her house, smoking, chewing tobacco and spitting into the gutter-committing all the sins of the world according to the hermit, who was striving to pursue a life of austerity, forswearing family, possessions, and all the comforts of life. He found his single-room tenement with a couple of coconut trees and a well at the backyard adequate, and the narrow street swarmed with children: sometimes he called in the children, seated them around and taught them simple moral lessons and sacred verse. On the walls he had nailed a few pictures of gods cut out of old calendars, and he made the children prostrate in front of them before sending them away with a piece of sugar candy each. His daily life followed an unvarying pattern. Birdlike, he retired at dusk, lying on the bare floor with a wooden block under his head for a pillow. He woke up at four ahead of the rooster at the street corer, bathed at the well and sat down on a piece of deerskin to meditate. Later he lit the charcoal stove and baked a few chappatis for breakfast and lunch and cooked certain restricted vegetables and greens, avoiding potato, onion, okra and such as might stimulate the baser impulses. But even in the deepest state of meditation, he could not help hearing the creaking of the door across the street when a client left after a night of debauchery. He rigorously suppressed all cravings of the palate and punished his body in a dozen ways. If you asked him why, he would have been at a loss to explain. He was the antithesis of the athlete who flexed his muscles and watched his expanding chest before a mirror. Our hermit, on the contrary, kept a minute check on his emaciation and felt a peculiar thrill out of such an achievement. He was only following without question his ancient guru’s instructions and hoped thus to attain spiritual liberation. One afternoon, opening the window to sweep the dust on the sill, he noticed her standing on her doorstep, watching the street. His temples throbbed with the rush of blood. He studied her person-chiseled features but sunk in fatty folds. She possessed, however, a seductive outline; her forearms were cushion-like and perhaps the feel of those encircling arms attracted men. His gaze, once it had begun to hover about her body, would not return to its anchor-which should normally be the tip of one’s nose as enjoined by his guru. Her hips were large, thighs stout like banana stalks, on the whole a mattresslike creature on which a patron could loll all night without a scrap of covering-“Awful monster! Personification of evil.” He felt suddenly angry; why on earth should that creature stand there and ruin his tapas: all the merit he had so laboriously acquired was draining away like water through a sieve. Difficult to say whether it was those monstrous arms and breasts or thighs that tempted and ruined men … he hissed under his breath, “Get in, you devil, don’t stand there!” She abruptly turned round and went in, shutting the door behind her. He felt triumphant although his command and her compliance were coincidental. He bolted the window tight and re treated to the farthest corner of the room, settled down on the deerskin and kept repeating, “Om, Om, Rama”: the sound “Rama” had a potency all its own and was reputed to check wandering thoughts and distractions. “Om Rama . ..” he repeated, but it was like a dilute and weak medicine for high fever. It didn’t work. “Rama Rama . . .” he repeated with a desperate fervor; but the effect lasted not even a second; unnoticed his thoughts strayed, questioning: “Who was that fellow in a check shirt descending the steps last evening when I went out to the market? Seen him somewhere … Where? When? … Ah, he was the big tailor on Market Road . . . He hobnobbed with officers and businessmen–and yet this was how he spent his evening, lounging on the human mattress. Contamination, nothing but contamination; sinful life. He cried out in the lonely room, “Rama! Ramal” as if hailing someone hard of hearing. His rambling, unwholesome thoughts were halted for a while, but presently regained their vigor and raced after the woman. She opened her door at least six times on an evening–did she sleep with them all together at the same time? He paused to laugh at this notion, and also realized that his meditation on the austere God was gone. He banged his fist on his temples; it pained, but improved his concentration. “Om Rama” . . . Part of his mind noted the creaking of the door of the opposite house. She was a serpent in whose coils everyone was caught and destroyed-old and young and the middle-aged, tailors and students, lawyers and magistrates. No wonder the world was getting over populated–with such pressure of the elemental urge within every individual! Oh God Siva, this woman must be eliminated. He would confront her some day and tell her to get out. He would tell her, “Oh, sinful wretch, who is spreading disease and filth like an open sewer: think of the contamination you have spread around. You are out to destroy mankind. Repent your sins, shave your head, cover your ample loins with sackcloth, sit at the temple gate and beg or drown yourself in the river after praying for a cleaner life at least in the next birth.” Thus went his dialogue all night, the thought of the woman never leaving his mind…. It turned out to be a wretched, ill-spent night; he lay tossing on the bare floor. He was up before dawn his mind made up. He would clear out immediately. He did not need a permanent roof, he would drift and rest in any temple or the shade of a banyan tree: he recollected an ancient tale he had heard from his guru long ago. A harlot was sent to heaven when she died, while her detractor, a self-righteous reformer, found him self in hell-his guru explained that while 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. Our hermit packed his wicker box with his sparse possessions: a god’s image in copper, a rosary, the deerskin and a little brass bowl. Carrying his box in one hand, he stepped out of the house, closing the door gently behind him. In the dim hour of the dusk, shadowy figures were moving-a milkman driving his cow ahead, laborers bearing crowbars and spades, women with baskets on their way to the market. While he paused to take a final look at the shelter he was abandoning and with it his anxiety, he heard a plaintive cry, “Swamiji,” from the opposite house, and saw the woman approach him with a tray, heaped with fruits and flowers; she placed it at his feet and said in a low reverential whisper: “Please accept my offering. For me this is a day of remembrance of my mother. On this day I pray and seek a saint’s blessing. . . Forgive me . . .” All the lines he had rehearsed for a confrontation deserted him at this moment; looking at her flabby figure, the dark rings under her eyes, he felt a pity. As she bent down to prostrate he noticed that her hair was indifferently dyed and that the parting in the middle widened into a bald patch over which a string of jasmine dangled loosely. He touched her tray with the tip of his finger as a token of acceptance and went down the street without a word.

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