The family that is the subject of Narayan’s ‘‘Forty-Five a Month’’ is a working-class family. In a working-class family, one or more members of the family earn the money the family needs for basic necessities. Working-class jobs are typically viewed as those that are low-paying, often require long hours, and often involve physical labor. The working class is distinguished from the middle class (or bourgeoisie, as it is often called) in that working-class individuals typically are less educated and earn just enough to secure the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter. Middle-class individuals typically earn enough to pay for necessities as well as additional luxury or convenience items, or goods or services with educational or entertainment purposes. The Rao family in ‘‘Forty-Five a Month’’ relies on Venkat Rao’s meager income from his office job for necessities. From Rao’s description of Shanta’s life, the family has little extra income for toys and trips to the cinema. Rao describes how hard he works for a small amount of money. Although there is apparently enough money for Rao to consider a rare trip to the cinema, he is clearly desperate to continue drawing his meager income, and he is willing to sacrifice his relationship with his family in order to keep earning his salary. His desperation suggests the family’s great need and also implies that the Raos do not, in all likelihood, have money saved on which they could live if Rao sought another job. Rao’s predicament reflects Narayan’s sympathy for working-class individuals. Regardless of Rao’s poignant awareness of the fact that his daughter is essentially growing up without him, he feels compelled by his family’s circumstances to continue working for a company that pays him so little and asks for so much in return. It is Rao’s awareness of just how much he is sacrificing that makes this particular working-class story so tragic.
Narayan depicts the relationship Shanta has with both of her parents in ‘‘Forty-Five a Month.’’ Shanta’s mother is chatting with the neighbors when Shanta arrives home from school early. The mother is concerned about Shanta, wondering why she could possibly be home before the usual time. A protective mother, Mrs. Rao (Narayan does not supply the mother’s first name), argues with Shanta about what Shanta will wear for her evening out. She firmly urges Shanta to wear something warm, but she relents under Shanta’s equally firm insistence that she will wear a thin dress and knickers instead of the warm coat and long skirt Mrs. Rao suggests. Despite her eagerness and the argument she has just had with her mother, Shanta displays affection and concern for her mother when she asks whether she is coming along to the cinema as well. (She is not.) Mrs. Rao continues to demonstrate her protective but lenient attitude toward her daughter when she asks her to come inside (first, out of the sun, and later, before it gets dark). Both requests are met with disobedience. When Rao tells Shanta he will take her to the movies, Mrs. Rao is described as smiling in a cynical manner and advising her husband not to make ‘‘false promises to the child.’’ Despite her skeptical attitude toward her husband, Mrs. Rao once again attempts to protect Shanta, this time from the disappointment Mrs. Rao fears is inevitable. She soothes Shanta back to sleep when Rao attempts to wake her, having arrived home late. While Mrs. Rao both indulges her daughter and also attempts to protect her, Venkat Rao is tortured by guilt at not being able to provide his daughter with the luxuries other children enjoy: ‘‘dolls, dress and outings.’’ He fears Shanta’s life is ‘‘a drab, colourless existence.’’ Rao seems to understand that his daughter needs his time as much as the family needs his income, yet Rao does not follow through on his plan for resigning if his manager does not allow him to leave on time on the night he has promised to take Shanta to the cinema. His guilt is extreme; upon seeing Shanta asleep in her dress when he returns home after nine o’clock, Rao’s ‘‘heart bled.’’ His relationship with his daughter is characterized as much by his sense of duty to buy her the things she needs as it is by his desire to give her more and to spend time with her. Rao’s guilt and grief characterize his relationship with Shanta, and these are the overriding emotions that pervade ‘‘Forty-Five a Month.’’
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, R. K. Narayan, Published by Gale Group, 2001.