The Vendor of Sweets

by R. K. Narayan
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What is the meaning of the statement “Conquer taste, and you will have conquered the self” in The Vendor of Sweets?

The meaning of the statement is that if you can control the senses, you can control yourself. Jagan looks upon the senses as enemies that need to be conquered to lead a life that is free from sensuous desires.

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In the first few pages of The Vendor of Sweets, we are introduced to the philosophical maxim by which Jagan tries to live his life:

Conquer taste, and you will have conquered the self.

What Jagan means by this is you have to keep your senses and the desires...

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In the first few pages of The Vendor of Sweets, we are introduced to the philosophical maxim by which Jagan tries to live his life:

Conquer taste, and you will have conquered the self.

What Jagan means by this is you have to keep your senses and the desires they elicit firmly under control if you're to lead a meaningful, fulfilling life. Jagan clearly believes that the senses can lead you astray and make you their slave. This is no kind of life for anyone, so it is essential to exert some measure of control over the senses as a means of thwarting their potentially deadly power.

Jagan comes across as more than a little full of himself, smugly self-satisfied with what he believes to be his moral superiority over others. Other people may succumb to their senses, but not Jagan. He looks down on them, safe in the knowledge that he at least knows the importance of controlling and conquering one's senses.

And yet, ironically, Jagan runs a sweet shop, whose products cater to his customers' sense of taste. That he is able to do this without succumbing to the seductive power of the senses simply confirms Jagan in his belief that he is not like other people, that he can rise above the mere rabble, all of whom are slaves to their sensory desires.

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