A Devoted Son Questions and Answers
by Anita Desai

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Write a character sketch of Rakesh concerning his overall personality and the cause of his change of behaviour towards his father towards the end of A Devoted Son.

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The character of Rakesh is presented as having all excellent personality qualities. He is kind, studious, dedicated, loving, intelligent, and, most of all, he is devoted to his parents. He even shows them the greatest sign of respect and devotion by reverentially touching their feet. After returning to his home in India from his doctoral studies in the U.S. and marrying a rural village girl his mother chose, it came to pass that his mother died. Rakesh increased his devoted kindly care of his father, even helping him downstairs and reading newspapers to him. As his father's health deteriorated over time, Rakesh found he could not diagnose his father's condition. This is the first event causing the change that overtook Rakesh's personality.

Rakesh acted upon his best medical understanding and restricted his patient's diet--only this time his patient is his father. One of Desai's objectives is to question where ethical boundaries lie in relation to applying Western scientific principles to traditional cultural situations: Should Rakesh have treated his father, of all people, like a patient? Would Rakesh have been violating medical ethics if he did not apply strict principles to his father in the same way he did to his other patients?

Two things occured as a result of Rakesh's restrictions on his father's diet. At least one of these things also caused the change that overtook Rakesh's personality. One thing is that his village-raised wife meanly and ungenerously took pleasure in denying and depriving her father-in-law of things he wanted. The other is that the father bribed Rakesh's children to get him the things he wanted that Rakesh prevented him from having. When Rakesh discovered the trickery and the deception, he was enraged, as any parent might be. He not only upbraided his father in the harshest terms--something he had never done before--he deepened the restrictions on and increased the supervision of his diet.

The question is raised as to whether Rakesh's anger was justified; whether it had always been part of his personality but not shown because his father had never incited it before; was because he deemed his father an inferior and corrupting influence. The story ends with more questions than it started out with. In fact, there is a question raised about the culture that encourages such strictly defined and expressed roles that can be so destructive when reversed or interfered with.

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