Much of what makes Narayan’s novel, The Financial Expert so fascinating is his use of simple language to describe complex characters. Throughout The Financial Expert the reader is introduced to several characters that may seem to play only a minor role, but in fact, are highly developed—almost without the reader being aware of it. Certainly, the main character, Margayya, is highly developed and the reader is given many insights into his motivations and thoughts. Other characters in The Financial Expert are not so explicitly developed, yet their force in the novel is cannot be underestimated, nor can their implicit development be ignored.
Although the narrator of The Financial Expert seems to give us limited insight to some of the more minor characters, his (or her) descriptions of the inner thoughts of Margayya are potent and give us a full and rounded portrait. We know, for instance, that everything Margayya does throughout a majority of the book’s body is motivated by his insatiable lust for wealth, which eventually causes him to abandon his modest living under the banyan tree for dreams and short-lived wealth and power. One of the most revealing statements about Margayya is, quite simply as explained in one of the important quotes from “The Financial Expert”, “money alone is important in this world. Everything else will come to us naturally if we have money in our purse” (21). Through short, sparse insights like these, which are written in simple and quite honestly, rather uncreative language, a portrait of the psychology of this character begins to emerge. The process of character creation seems to be almost effortless for Narayan, and even though we are given far less information about other characters, their descriptions, thus reality, becomes immediate without the reader ever realizing it. This process of character development in “The Financial Expert” leads to the reader having a difficult time deciding between major and minor characters, simply because all of them are realized by Narayan in almost the same way—through description of action rather than complex narratives of thought of psychology.
An illustrative example of Naryan’s character development techniques involves Dr. Pal. While he may not be seen to be a major (of not on par with Margayya himself) character, this is because of Naryan’s style of relating information about characters. Arguably, the primary motivator in the book is Dr. Pal. The reader is not often let on to the motivations and private thoughts of Dr. Pal yet he is the one that drives the action. While the reader can never quite figure out this strange character of dubious background (not to mention employment) Narayan’s mastery of character “realization” is achieved through his descriptions and effects of one character upon another. For example, while Margayya is explained in detail, the descriptions of Dr. Pal’s actions are all the result of some sort of debauchery or foul play. He arranges the horoscope to fit the needs of Margayya, he is the one behind the sale of the illicit book, and ultimately, he is the one that is at least partially responsible for the Margayya eventual downfall.
This process of character creation is also seen in terms of the female characters’ seeming lack of a major role within the novel. If one were to apply feminist reading strategies to this text, it would be nearly impossible to say that Narayan doesn’t have some issues with women. However, given this thesis about character creation through action (rather than a sort of psychological realism) this might be a faulty analysis. Just as with other characters in the book, the women, while of course more limited in actions to use as examples of thought or realism, are still equally described in terms of action. They all do things according to private motivations and this is how Narayan describes the males as well. While it does seem that Margayya treatment of his wife lacks feeling and Balu’s treatment of his is about the same, these issues must be dealt with differently than a normal feminist reading would allow. This is because the act of narration in this story is far more complex than it may seem at first, thus a character’s importance or even “status” (n the reader’s mind) is based on description of action rather than inner dialogue.
The reader even gets an impression of the “character” of the city through a description of the residents (albeit a biased one told through the impressions of Margayya), “people did anything for money. Money was man’s greatest need like air or food. People went to horrifying lengths for its sake, like collecting rent on a dead body — it left him admiring the power and dynamism of money, its capacity to make people do strange deeds” (28). This simply-worded tidbit of the residents sets the stage for the book and the characters that will be later introduced and gives the reader a feel for how Narayan wants one to see the city.
This trait of characterization through described action has made this work different from anything else one is likely to encounter in this literary period. While on the surface, it seems like a simple story without a lot of thought on the part of its characters, the truth is under the descriptions and isn’t fully realized until the reader has finished reading the text and can consider characterization from a distance.
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