The Vendor of Sweets Summary, Themes, and Analysis: R. K. Narayan

The Vendor of Sweets Introduction:

R.K Narayan, a born storyteller, has an adequate intellect of the tragicomic. By virtue of his primary sense of splendor and despondency, he is often compared to Anton Chekhov, a famous Russian playwright, and story-writer. He writes wholly about India and Indian society, yet, in its form, style, tone, and assumptions, he portrays his protagonist constrained by an Indian society infused by a sense of duty or “Dharam”. The life of Narayan’s protagonist is guided by the gods and goddesses who play an instructive cum entertaining roles in their lives. Moreover, a downgraded world of politics connects his novels to a larger sphere.

Narayan, since from the beginning of his literary career, is seen an optimist towards his country. To his believes and assertions, no matter what happens in the political and sociological context, the country will continue to survive.

All of his novels are concerned with the questions of identity and a hunt for equilibrium. Moreover, the novels also illustrate the implicit faith in the inspirational and mystical nature of God and fate. Most of his novels end with the detachment of the protagonist from the worldly cares and issue.

The novel The Vendor of Sweets is a fictional reality and give a fairy-tale feeling. The novel is written in 1967. It illustrates the conflict between modern culture and traditional Indian culture. The western society may object the Jagan’s (the protagonist) believes of a “free man” by moving away from his work, son and acquaintances for the sake of calmness and detachment. Yet, Narayan is writing wholly from an Indian perspective, not Western.

The Vendor of Sweets Summary:

The novel centers on the relationship between Jagan and his son, Mali. Jagan is a sweets vendor (seller) and strictly follows the asceticism of Gandhi, however, Mali denies his father’s beliefs and values and favors liberal western ideas.

When the novel begins, Jagan is fifty-five years old man, living a strict life of asceticism. He eats only wheat, green vegetable, and honey and cuts sugar and salt from his diet. He thoroughly follows a core Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita of simply the Gita, as referred by Gandhi his spiritual dictionary.

Previously, he was an active politician and indeed has been jailed during a demonstration of Indian Resolution. Yet, currently, he lives a peaceful life as a widower and a popular businessman. He has a strong faith in naturopathy and has written a book on it (though the publication of the book was overdue by the printer). Due to the insistence on treating with natural remedies, Ambika, his wife, dies long ago. Nonetheless, he follows asceticism personally, yet makes his business by spoiling others with the desires of sweets. Moreover, he showcases his gluttony by accumulating away a portion of his profit before giving taxes.

Mali is the only son of Jagan. He was born ten years after his marriage after a long pilgrimage to the temple of Santana Krishna at Badri Hill pursue blessings for conceiving. Instead of using modern techniques and facilities, Mali has observed his father attempt to cure his mother who has suffered a brain tumor with natural remedies. Mali blamed his Jagan for his mother’s death.

Mali, now a grownup man, resolute to become a writer. To attend a writing program in America, Mali, without consulting his father, drop out of the school and steals his father money. Jagan, being hurt by his son rejection of his way of living, begins vain about his son. Jagan receives a quite impersonal letter from America in the next few years. In America, Mali distances himself from his father’s culture. Even in one of his letters to his father, Mali confesses his act of eating beef without any guilt, clearly rejecting his father’s culture of Hinduism.

Mali, after three years, writes a letter to Jagan informing him about his return to India with another person. He returns with a graceful, half Korean, half American lady, Grace, whom Jagan assumes as Mali’s wife.

Apparently, Jagan is shocked, yet he likes the lady as she is a wholehearted lady, kind to Jagan in many ways that his son is not. She begins to take up the responsibilities of a conventional Indian daughter-in-law, for instance, cooking, cleaning etc. she changes the house to western cultures and transforms it to such an extent uncomfortable for Jagan.

Mali desires to start his factory producing publication and printing machines. The machines will automate the writing process, ultimately increasing the literary output of India to challenge the west. To start the company, Mali asks Jagan for the loan. The idea shocked him as he believes in connection to God for great writing. For Jagan, Mali’s attempt to produce a machine will cut off this connection with God. Furthermore, he also suspects Grace’s warmness, friendliness, and attention are indented efforts to win his money.

Initially, Jagan tries to avoid the issue or declines it through Gandhi’s non-cooperation non-violent arguments, yet Mali and Grace insisted for an answer. Jagan, instead of giving Mali Money, offers him to take over his business and be a vendor of sweetmeats that Mali declines.

While processing the strange business schemes of his son and his rejection of conventional lifestyle, a sculptor, Chinna Dorai, visits Jagan to seek aid to complete the sculptor of goddess Gayatri. Chinna Dorai brings Jagan to the isolated place where he isolated himself to work. Over there, Jagan feels that his own business, money, and problems are blurred. Dorai asks if he could aid him buying the grove and support his work, Jagan initially resisted, yet eventfully agrees as he feels to depart himself from the world. He tells him that every person at one stage of his life must depart himself from others for the sake of others’ peace.

To his great shock, Jagan in his discussion with Grace, soon discovers that Mali and Grace are not married at all. He feels hurt for they have contaminated his ancestral home. He senses a disconnection with his home and smeared by his son’s ethical negligence resolves to give up work and leave his home and trade and run away to the grove. By this, he will fulfill the Hindu tradition of Vanaprastha, i.e. withdrawal from the materialistic world and hand over the responsibilities to others.

Soon Jagan prepares to leave, a cousin of him arrives to inform him that Mali has been arrested by the police for drunkenness and violating the state laws. Jagan still resolves to unchanged his decision for departure and asks his cousin to ensure Mali’s imprisonment for a long time. Moreover, he hands over the keys and business to him, while setting aside some money for Grace to buy a ticket for her return and departs for the grove.

The Vendor of Sweets Characters Analysis:

Jagan:

He is the protagonist and the only round character of the novel. While building the foils around the central figure, the novelist highlights his spiritual change. Most people in the age of Jagan thinks of retirement while he is caught in time. He is a successful widower who has made shallow and artificial arrangements for his old age and a conventional mode of living. He eats only wheat, green vegetable, and honey and cuts sugar and salt from his diet. He thoroughly follows a core Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita of simply the Gita, as referred by Gandhi his spiritual dictionary, however, haven’t conquered himself yet.

Previously, he was an active politician and indeed has been jailed during a demonstration of Indian Resolution. He has a strong faith in naturopathy and has written a book on it (though the publication of the book was overdue by the printer).

In his character, we see the conflict between his spirituality and materialism. Yet these conflicts are displaced by the clash between his spoiled son who westernizes his beliefs and thoughts fundamentally at odd the values and customs of Hinduism.

The cold behavior of Mali towards his father deepens the chasm of generation and this chasm enhances by Grace, the supposed wife of Mali. Grace, a western lady, initially confuses, annoys and embraces Jagan, however, afterward succeeds in winning his affection and respect.

The long flashback to Jagan shows that he is never an innocent protagonist. His past life demonstrates his own failure and flukes. His youth resembles his son’s youth: he also fails in the schools, and also failed to a good and kind husband. Jagan was highly insensitive and lustful that tuned his wife increasingly temperamental. This all and his periodic silences produced a depression in his early marital life.

Jagan’s past plays an important role in highlighting his character, yet the more focus is given to his present condition. His cousin and the dye maker are foils for Jagan and play significant roles in highlighting and sharpening his character. Jagan consults his cousin and seeks his advice regarding domestic issues. He brings him the news and also assists him to develop his attitude in a moment of crisis. He prompts Jagan of the calmness that must be the person’s major objective in life, and his prompt is an appropriate addition of the message previously rooted by the dye-maker of Kabir Street in his mind and soul.

Dye-maker:

Though the dye maker appears in a single chapter of the novel, he plays a very crucial role. He is a didactic figure, having a link between past and present and a man of conscience. He has an explicit and direct role that is obvious to everyone. The dye-maker prods Jagan into understanding how constricted his whole life has been. His authoritarian way of speaking leads the transformation of Jagan’s spirit.

Mali:

He is the only son of Jagan. He is an ambitious, spoiled young man. He has a strong hatred for the education system of India. He blames his father for his mother’s death. He desires and believes in the modernism of the conventional method in all aspects of life. That’s why he returns from America after studying creative writing, he attempts to modernize everything.

The Cousin:

He is a town-man who entitles his cousinhood with everyone in the town. To create a communicative bridge between Jagan and his son Mali, he proves very helpful. He is a pleasant character who appreciates the Gandhian lifestyle adopted by Jagan while simultaneously shows willingness for Mali’s modernism. He is an ambitious person who may intend to take control of Jagan’s business.

Grace:

She is a half American and half Korean girl whom Mali brings with him while returning from America. She works intermediately between the two culture and attempts to adopt the Indian culture but instead of diminishing the culture differences, she strengthens it.

The Vendor of Sweets Themes:

Marriage:

Marriage is one of the most predominant themes of the novel The Vendor of Sweets. The novel deals with the clash between the traditional and modern concept of marriage. Throughout the novel, we see that the various views about marriage are interwoven into the lives of characters.

After the death of Ambika, Jagan’s wife and Mali’s mother, both Jagan and Mali have different views on marriage. Her death is caused by the Jagan’s insistence upon to cure her brain tumor with natural remedies. Jagan rules over his wife, which is absolute because their marriage is brought by traditions in the Hindu culture. Mali soon realizes his authoritative nature of his father that results in her death. He can never forgive his father for her mother’s death. In the novel, a traditional wedding is shown as males having authority and dominance over the female partners.

Mali gives away the life of traditional life in India and moves to America to study writing. Over there, Mali falls in love with an elegant woman Grace. Grace and Mali return to India and starts living with Jagan. Initially, Jagan thought them to be married, yet when he learns that both are partners and lover but are not legally married, he was in a great shock. Moreover, he also notices that Grace is not ruled by Mali as he would rule Ambika. To Jagan, this sort of relationship was very different. Jagan, a man of traditions must come to terms of the changing time. The conflict between the traditional view of marriage and the modern concept of partnership is portrayed by the novel.

Generation Gap:

Jagan, in his youth, opposes British rule. He sticks to his old conventional and traditional ideals, however, when he is a grown old man, he fails to see his son sharing the same beliefs as his. The fault is not apparent in the novel, whether it is Jagan’s that he adheres to his traditions or of Mali, moving with the change.

The Vendor of Sweets Critical Analysis:

In the novel The Vendor of Sweats, Narayan uses the drama and situational comedy along with the gentle humor that is not familiar with western fiction. The story is basically about the discovery of calmness an equanimity in life. Narayan’s novel is easy to understand and have surface level meaning. The gods and goddesses he introduces in his stories are not merely the allusion to mythologies but also illustrates some moral purpose. The protagonist’s wealth is symbolized by the framed picture of goddess Lakshmi hanging on the wall of his house however, at the same time, it also symbolizes the unconquered wealth.

The gods and goddesses to whom Jagan and his wife visited and prayed is a reminder of the bareness of Jagan’s wife for ten years and the godly intermediation to solve the problem. Likely, the Gayatri, the unfinished stone form that the dye-maker is ambitious to complete, is a source of inspiration to adopt the new way of living.

In addition the use of divine symbols and allusion to the Hindu mythology, Narayan also uses an unremarkable allusion to Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi, besides the political leader, was also the example of spirituality in his dedication for truth and self-indignity. Gandhi is a source of inspiration for Jagan.

The novel instigates with Jagan’s suggestion that Conquer the taste and you will conquer the self.  Though this is a proverb which is merely learned from the mentors of Hindus, yet he doesn’t investigate its consequences. The proverb illumes his pattern in search of balance in life. By moving through various phases of self-renunciation, he, in the end, conquered his dependency on the worldly and material things.  His severe departure from the world is subjugation of identity, for his obligation is no more towards the business, family or fame but towards the self-purification and spirituality.