Bachelor of Arts by R. K. Narayan: Love, Rejection, Self-Discovery with Detailed Summary and Analysis

Bachelor of Arts is a novel written by R. K. Narayan, first published in 1937. The novel is set in the fictional town of Malgudi, located in South India, and revolves around the life of Chandran, a final-year B.A. History student at Albert Mission College.

In this unit, we will delve into the context, characters, the significance of the title, and R.K. Narayan’s use of language and style in his novel, “The Bachelor of Arts.” This novel presents a realistic and captivating portrayal of the college and home life of a middle-class youth named Chandran, tinged with moments of pathos and irony.

Narayan’s writing is characterized by its simplicity, lucidity, and elegant prose style. Precision, clarity, and exactness are the hallmarks of his writing. His characters are lifelike and drawn from the middle or lower-middle class of society.

The novel is part of a trilogy set in Malgudi, starting with “Swami and Friends” and ending with “The English Teacher“. In this detailed summary and analysis, we will delve into the themes, characters, and narrative style of the novel.

Author R. K. Narayan
Country India
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Nelson
Publication date 1937
Media type Print
Preceded by Swami and Friends
Followed by The English Teacher

Context of The Novel

Bachelor of Arts was first published in 1937. The novel revolves around an undergraduate student, H.V. Chandran, who is in his final year of B.A. at Albert College. Narayan skillfully depicts the crucial phase in which this young man navigates his last year of college.

Characters of The Novel

Narayan’s talent for characterization shines throughout his works. He possesses a deep understanding of his characters’ psyches, offering readers insight into their inner thoughts and emotions.

Whether it be their joys, sorrows, triumphs, or defeats, Narayan’s characters are true to their nature. He achieves this by employing apt descriptions and meaningful dialogues. Most of his characters are drawn from the middle or lower-middle class of society.

In “Bachelor of Arts,” the characters encompass Chandran’s friends, such as Natesan, Mohan, and Ramu, his teachers including Gajapathi, Principal Brown, Ragavachar, and Dr. Menon, and his family members: his father, mother, brother, and uncle.

Additionally, there are intriguing supporting characters like the flower thief, the matchmaker, the postmaster, the astrologer, and Kailas. All these characters are brilliantly portrayed against a backdrop of humor, often tinged with pathos. It’s the pervasive genial humor that renders “The Bachelor of Arts” such a charming and entertaining work of fiction.

Significant Characters in The Novel

  1. Chandran: The novel’s protagonist, Chandran, is a bright and ambitious youth. Studying English Literature and History at Albert College in his final year, he is an intelligent and diligent student. His exceptional oratory skills make him the best speaker in a debate titled “Historians should be slaughtered first,” earning him the position of secretary of the Historical Association. Beyond his academic pursuits, Chandran is a sociable young man who enjoys an easy-going life. His fateful encounter with the enchanting Malathi during evening walks by the river sparks an infatuation that ultimately leads to his emotional turmoil. While Chandran initially insists on marrying Malathi, his journey takes him on a path to becoming a wandering ascetic (sanyasi) after facing rejection. His later realization brings him back to his family, and he eventually marries Susila, finding happiness in domestic life. Chandran’s character symbolizes the conflict between tradition and modernity and undergoes significant growth from immaturity to maturity.
  2. Mohan: Chandran’s friend, Mohan, is a poet whose talents remain unrecognized. Despite his academic struggles, Mohan perseveres and becomes a correspondent for the “Daily Messenger.” He plays a crucial role in Chandran’s life, offering practical advice and guiding him toward happiness.
  3. Kailas: Kailas is a reckless and profligate youth who briefly appears in the novel. He epitomizes a hedonistic lifestyle and challenges societal norms. Through Kailas, Narayan explores the coexistence of contrasting personalities in society.
  4. Chandran’s Mother: A typical Indian housewife, Chandran’s mother is a deeply religious and conservative woman. She adheres to traditional customs and insists on matching horoscopes before considering a marriage proposal. Despite her conservative outlook, she is a kind and noble woman who prioritizes her family’s happiness.

Significance of The Title

Bachelor of Arts aptly captures the essence of Chandran’s journey from his college days to adulthood. The title signifies his educational achievements and the challenges he faces during this transitional phase of life.

However, the novel extends beyond Chandran’s academic pursuits, offering a faithful depiction of colonial Indian society, replete with its customs, traditions, and social complexities.

Narayan’s Technique

R.K. Narayan stands out among his contemporaries for his technical proficiency. He possesses an effortless storytelling style characterized by his keen observation and attention to detail. Narayan’s plots are simple yet well-constructed, and his characters are realistic.

In Bachelor of Arts, his narrative unfolds smoothly, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. The episodic structure of the novel, divided into Chandran’s love story, his time as a wandering ascetic, and his eventual return and settlement, showcases Narayan’s cohesive storytelling.

Language and Style

Narayan, one of the pioneers of Indian writing in English, is renowned for his ability to infuse humor and vivid characterization into his portrayal of Indian life. His writing style is simple, unpretentious, and marked by a unique flavor.

It emphasizes precision, clarity, and exactness, with a vocabulary that is self-explanatory. Narayan’s language mirrors the patterns of everyday conversation among educated Indians.

Furthermore, Narayan employs irony and satire subtly throughout his novels, including “The Bachelor of Arts.” While his language appears transparent, layers of irony underlie his easy style, often revealing the contrast between what is said and what is intended.

This is notably evident in the presentation of Chandran’s relationship with Malathi, where Chandran’s emotional involvement remains unreciprocated.


Bachelor of Arts by R.K. Narayan is a captivating novel divided into four parts, each offering a unique phase in the life of its protagonist, Chandran. In the first part, we meet Chandran, a young man from a traditional family in Lawley Extension.

The story explores the dynamics within his family, where his modern-thinking father and orthodox mother create a complex household.

The second part follows Chandran’s college life, filled with academic challenges, close friendships, and passionate debates. It reveals his idealistic nature as he grapples with the conflict between his aspirations and societal expectations.

In the third part, Chandran falls deeply in love with Malathi, a girl he meets by the village river. However, their union is thwarted due to astrological mismatches, leading to heartbreak for Chandran. Overwhelmed by this emotional turmoil, he leaves home and embarks on a journey of asceticism, acquiring fame as a sage.

The fourth part sees Chandran returning to mundane life, working in publishing, and reluctantly agreeing to an arranged marriage. His memories of Malathi continue to haunt him until he finds solace and contentment in domestic life with Susila, a young Brahmin girl.


Bachelor of Arts is a masterpiece by R.K. Narayan, intertwining elements of his own life with the character of Chandran. The novel explores the clash between tradition and modernity, with Chandran navigating this conflict as he evolves from an idealistic student to a responsible adult.

The theme of love and heartbreak is central, portraying Chandran’s emotional journey as he faces rejection and ultimately seeks solace in asceticism before realizing his true path.

The theme of identity and self-discovery is also prevalent as Chandran’s travels and experiences lead him to question his purpose in life, ultimately finding it in domesticity.

Humor and Mythology

Narayan’s writing is characterized by its humor and incorporation of Hindu mythology. He employs humor to underscore societal absurdities, such as Chandran’s mother’s adherence to orthodox customs. This humor adds depth to the narrative.

Throughout the novel, references to Hindu myths and legends are seamlessly woven in. For example, Chandran’s transformation from a carefree youth to a responsible adult mirrors the journey of the Hindu god Rama.

Regional Elements

Set in the fictional town of Malgudi, which is based in Mysore, Karnataka, “The Bachelor of Arts” incorporates regional elements, including language, cuisine, and cultural practices. The use of Tamil and Kannada words and phrases adds authenticity to the setting.

The novel provides a glimpse into South Indian society, highlighting the clash between tradition and modernity, as well as the impact of colonial influences on everyday life.

In conclusion, R.K. Narayan’s “Bachelor of Arts” masterfully weaves together elements of youth, tradition, modernity, love, ambition, and societal customs. With a simple yet evocative language and a rich array of lifelike characters, Narayan invites readers to explore the complexities of Chandran’s journey while offering a profound glimpse into the colonial Indian society of his time.


Q: What is The Bachelor of Arts about?

A: The Bachelor of Arts is a novel by R.K. Narayan that follows the journey of Chandran, a young college graduate from an upper-middle-class family. It explores themes of love, rejection, and self-discovery.

Q: What does the end of ‘The Bachelor of Arts’ by R.K. Narayan signifies?

A: The novel “The Bachelor of Arts” by R.K. Narayan, first published in 1937, signifies the coming-of-age and self-discovery of its protagonist, Chandran. The end of the novel marks a significant turning point in Chandran’s life. At the beginning of the story, Chandran is a young man filled with dreams and ambitions, but he is rather aimless and unsure of himself.

As the novel progresses, Chandran’s life undergoes a series of ups and downs. He falls in love with a woman named Malathi, but their relationship faces obstacles. Chandran also struggles with his academic pursuits and career aspirations. Throughout these experiences, he grapples with societal expectations and his own desires.

The end of the novel represents Chandran’s realization that he must take control of his life and make choices that are true to himself. It signifies his transition from youth to adulthood, as he begins to understand the complexities of life, relationships, and personal responsibility.

Ultimately, “The Bachelor of Arts” is a bildungsroman, a genre of literature that focuses on the moral and psychological growth of a character, and the ending of the novel reflects Chandran’s maturation and self-discovery.

Q: Where is the story set?

A: The story is set in Malgudi, a fictional town that is a recurring setting in Narayan’s novels.

Q: What are some of the main themes of the novel?

A: The novel explores themes of love, rejection, and self-discovery. It also touches on the impact of societal pressures and superstitious beliefs on individual lives.

Q: Who is the main character?

A: The main character is Chandran, a young college graduate who falls in love with Malathi and later marries Sushila.

Q: Who is the protagonist of the novel “Bachelor of Arts”?

A: The protagonist of the novel is Chandran, a history student living in Tamil Nadu, India.

Q: What is the significance of Malgudi?

A: Malgudi is a microcosm of India, and Narayan’s portrayal of the town is both accurate and evocative. The setting adds to the charm of the novel, with vivid descriptions of the town’s people and their way of life.

Q: What are some of the challenges Chandran faces?

A: Chandran faces rejection in love, societal pressures, and struggles with his own identity and purpose in life. He eventually embarks on a journey of self-discovery.

Q: What is the writing style like?

A: Narayan’s writing style is simple yet elegant, with vivid descriptions of Malgudi and its people. The characters are well-crafted, and their struggles are relatable to readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Q: What is the significance of superstitious beliefs in the novel?

A: Superstitious beliefs play a significant role in the novel, as they dictate the course of Malathi and Chandran’s relationship. The novel highlights the impact of such beliefs on individual lives and the need to overcome them.

Q: What is the overall message of the novel?

A: The Bachelor of Arts is a beautiful exploration of the human experience, highlighting the challenges and complexities of love, the struggle to find one’s identity and purpose in life, and the impact of societal pressures on individual lives. It encourages readers to pursue their passions and find meaning and fulfillment in life.


  • Govind Mishra

    An Indian author and editor. He has also edited several volumes of articles, stories, essays, and poetry. Mishra studied English Literature at Mithila University. He began his career as a political youth activist in Bihar JDU, and a journalist, working for various news portals, blogs, and magazines, before eventually becoming an editor. Mishra has written extensively on social and cultural issues, and his books often explore themes of caste, class, gender, and religion in Indian society. He has also written on contemporary Indian politics and economics, as well as on classical Indian literature.

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