Throughout The Vendor of Sweets, the author makes it apparent that there is a large gap between Jagan’s opinion of himself and the way he lives his life. In some ways, Jagan’s lack of self-awareness makes him endearingly human, but overall, he seems to represent an approach that is out of step with modern India. Following an initial presentation of Jagan as the proprietor of the sweet shop, much of the novel is concerned with his interactions with his son, Mali, who returns from living in America, and with Mali’s partner, Grace.
The hypocrisy of Jagan’s character and his refusal to acknowledge this flaw are presented in his initial interactions with his cousin. Jagan espouses a philosophy of self-control and moderation, summed up in his admonishment to “conquer taste.” His poor cousin points out the logical flaw in endorsing such a philosophy while earning a good living by selling sweets to others.
The conflict with Mali further illuminates Jagan’s character. Jagan disapproves of Mali’s scheme to automate script writing, which he regards as an attack on the glories of traditional Indian literature. However, when he fails to convince Mali of the superiority of his point of view, he outright lies to him. Instead of just refusing to bankroll his son’s project, he claims not to have enough money.
Jagan’s insular, biased approach to life is shown through his attitude toward Grace. He is both disappointed and relieved when he finds out that Mali and Grace are not actually married. Although he disapproves of them living together outside marriage, he infers that this means their relationship will not endure. He does not want them to be together because he is prejudiced against Grace for being Korean American, and he mistakenly identifies her heritage as Chinese.