What impact does the dowry have on social class?

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A dowry is usually an accumulation of goods or money that a family must present to a potential husband in order to secure their daughter a good marriage. Poor families spent years saving these items in order to see their daughter married well. It was a parent's wish that by saving these items, their child could perhaps rise in station to a better social status than the one into which she was born. However, as the life of a merchant or farmer in these times was often unstable, many times these items that were saved had to be sold to survive; thus, it was very hard for a poorer family to see their daughter rise in status, even from years of saving. The issue of dowry is also the reason why families in this society wanted sons; the more sons they had, the fewer dowries had to be put aside. This meant their accumulated wealth could be used for their own immediate advancement in society. However, for a family of many girls, the impact on wealth and status due to dowry was immense. Each girl needed a dowry and, as money for each daughter was put aside, their own social status lagged more due to lack of resources. In contrast, families who had many sons would often see their own social status grow as the son accumulated wealth from the woman he married. As an unmarried daughter without a proper dowry, the only way to rise in social status was to possess extreme beauty. Many wealthy men would marry girls with sparse dowries if they were particularly beautiful. This physical attribute could mean a good marriage for the daughter and a rise in social status for her family, even if the dowry itself had been small.

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The paying of dowries is a common feature of traditional marriages. A dowry can be defined as a some of money or a piece of property brought by a bride to her marriage. The richer the bride's family, the larger the dowry, and the larger the dowry, the better the chance of marrying well.

In the status-conscious society portrayed in Nectar in a Sieve, the dowry is a crucial element in accentuating the differences between the classes. It's notable, for example, that Rukmani, the narrator of the story, ends up being married to a poor tenant farmer. The main factor here is not so much her lack of beauty, but rather her lack of a dowry. The implications are clear: if you are born poor in this society, you will remain poor. The dowry system thus perpetuates the existing rigidities of the class system, making social mobility almost an impossibility.

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