A Devoted Son ThemesThe three main themes in “A Devoted Son” are the changing relationship of parents and children, gratitude, and loyalty.
- The changing relationship of parents and children: Rakesh’s relationship with his father changes drastically as Rakesh assumes responsibility for his father’s medical care.
- Gratitude: Rakesh is grateful to his father but also expects gratitude from his father in turn, which he does not receive.
- Loyalty: In spite of his successful medical career, Rakesh remains loyal to his family, returning home from the United States care for his father.
Last Updated on October 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 756
Changing Family Relationships
When Rakesh gains local fame for his intelligence and medical abilities, his father, Varma, is very proud. He brags to his neighbors about his son's accomplishments but focuses most on his son's immediate reaction: stooping to touch his father's feet in respect and gratitude. Readers see that their relationship, though loving and filled with care, is strictly hierarchized, and Varma enjoys feeling respected and honored. It is his way of sharing in and owning Rakesh's success.
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As the father and son age, their relationship invariably changes, and Varma struggles to adjust. Struggling with poor health and infirmity, Varma dislikes Rakesh's careful focus on his father's health. Rakesh is merely motivated by a desire to show his devotion and respect, but his father does not see things quite the same way. Rakesh's medical knowledge drives him to want to take care of his father in the best medical way possible. He takes away unhealthy foods like fried foods and sweets and forbids everyone from sharing those with his father. He dictates how much time his father should spend outdoors and in which position he should rest.
His father simply wants to enjoy the remaining days of his life. In the end, Rakesh no longer fully respects his father's opinion, as he holds his medical expertise higher when making decisions on his behalf. His father grows increasingly upset with the treatment. As their roles shift at the end of the father's life, the dynamics of their relationship change greatly.
The Importance of Gratitude
In the beginning, Rakesh is thankful for his father's sacrifices on his behalf and, at every opportunity, shows visible respect to him. When he cares for his father during his illness, Rakesh likely expects his father to return this sense of gratitude and appreciation. After all, he carefully instructs his wife on his father's diet, the position he must rest in, and the quantity of food he should consume to ensure the best quality of care. His father does not show gratitude for his medical knowledge, instead growing increasingly angry about this treatment. Their contrast in perception is captured in this exchange:
"Lying all day on his pillows, fed every few hours by his daughter-in-law’s own hand, visited by every member of his family daily—and then he says he does not want to live 'like this,'" Rakesh was heard to say, laughing, to someone outside the door.
"Deprived of food," screamed the old man on the bed, "his wishes ignored, taunted by his daughter-in-law, laughed at by his grandchildren—that is how I live."
Rakesh perceives his father as being treated with great care and laughs that he could consider his situation differently. He thinks his father owes him more gratitude, while his father sees only deprivation and thinks that his son should be giving him more things to enjoy in his remaining days.
Loyalty to Family Expectations
Despite his rise in the medical community, Rakesh remains loyal to his family. He returns home from his time in America without an American wife, as many of his mother's friends predicted. He agrees to an arranged marriage—to an "uneducated" girl, no less—and remains loyal to her. In his father's final days, he is there with what he believes to be the best medical care possible, and he ensures that his wife also attends to his father's needs.
At the beginning of the story, it brings his father a great sense of pride that his son, who has such talent, chooses to work locally and continues to return home to his father. Although his father does not receive his son's medical expertise well in the end, Rakesh's efforts are born of life-long loyalty and respect for his father.
Care of the Elderly
In the end, who should get to make decisions about the care of the elderly? Should the elderly have a voice in their medical care? Should they be forced to take medicines and have their diets restricted for their own health? Or should people listen more to how the elderly wish to spend their final days—eating and doing what they want? Which becomes more important: quantity of days or quality of days? The ability to make even simple decisions is often taken away from the elderly, with medical experts like Rakesh making almost every decision on their behalf. In this way, his father represents the voice of the elderly everywhere, crying out to be heard in their efforts to enjoy life, not simply to exist longer.