R. K. Narayan writes, “He shuddered at every thought of school: that dismal yellow building; the fire-eyed Vedanayagam, his class teacher” (3). The emblematic fire-eyedness renders the class teacher an uncompromising individual who will not bear disruptive behavior from his students. Accordingly, he arouses dread in his students due to the authoritarian persona which his eyes indicate.
Swami's old friends, who feel like they have been abandoned by Swami, begin calling him "tail." A "tail" is a long thing that attaches itself to an ass or a dog, as he learns in Chapter 4.
When Swami joins the crowd of protestors, he is described as an "unobserved atom" in the crowd, which alludes to the sense of invisibility, anonymity, and disconnected individuality that the crowd affords him. This feeling of disassociation is likely what gives him the gutsiness to start pelting rocks at the headmaster's windows, despite the consequences that he might face.
Collapsing like an Empty Bag
The strangeness of the hour...oppressed him with a sense of inhumanity. Its remoteness gave him a feeling that he was walking into a world of horrors, subhuman and supernatural. He collapsed like an empty bag, and wept bitterly. He called to his father, mother, granny, Rajam, and Mani. (191-192)
The language that describes Swami getting lost in the woods as he runs away becomes particularly figurative and vivid, registering an uptick in his imagination and feeling that colors how he perceives the world. The world becomes unnatural, inhuman to him, and he collapses "like an empty bag," a strong metaphor that displaces the solid and intimate form of the human body with the fragile, unnatural, and vacuous form of a bag. To use this metaphor to describe Swami evinces how deeply his despair and fear have estranged him from his own embodiment.
All his friends were there...happy, dignified, and honoured within the walls of the august Albert Mission School. He alone was out of it, isolated, as if he were a leper. He was an outcast, an outcast. (173)
Swami's comparison of himself to a "leper" draws on deep stigma toward those suffering from leprosy and reveals the deep, visceral, and visible way in which he feels isolated, outcast, and condemned from the communities that he once belonged to.
Swami and Friends Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Swami and Friends is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.