The Vendor of Sweets

by R. K. Narayan

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What characteristics of Jagan in The Vendor of Sweets make him unhappy?

Quick answer:

Jagan is unhappy because he is always striving for more and cannot be satisfied with what he has. He continually experiences an unresolved conflict between material success and spiritual acceptance. Jagan attributes his unhappiness to external factors and does not accept responsibility for his restless attitude.

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In The Vendor of Sweets, Jagan has reached retirement age and would like to withdraw from the confectionary business that he owns. He feels that his primary concern in his senior years should be spiritual matters. Jagan’s situation is complicated when his son, Mali, returns home to India. Mali has been living in the United States and brings with him Grace, a woman he identifies as his wife. Conflicts between father and son soon arise as Jagan disapproves of his son’s prior decisions and future plans. These include his relationship with Grace, who is not of Indian descent, and his proposed career in film production.

Jagan cannot be happy because he fails to accept responsibility for his own happiness. Because he is so oriented toward achievement, he regards his participation in spiritually related practices as something else that he must accomplish. He is unable to balance the requirements of material and spiritual concerns. Jagan sees happiness as something that is strongly affected external factors rather than as an interior state that he will achieve by accepting the negative aspects of his life rather than constantly trying to change things to suit his preferences.

Jagan’s internal battles are demonstrated by the contrasts between the source of his wealth and his way of life. Although he knows that eating sweets is unhealthy, he has made a good living by making and selling them. He tries to modify his behavior to resemble that of an ascetic, such as through the simple foods he consumes, but refuses to acknowledge the hypocrisy in his life.

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