Part One, Chapters 18-23: Summary and Analysis

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Sacrabani: Ira’s albino son who is the product of her prostitution.

Kenny had mysteriously disappeared from the village during the time of the drought, but he has now returned. When he returns, Rukmani fills him in on the hardships they faced from the recent draught. They had all nearly starved to death, she has lost two sons, and now Ira faces an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Rukmani indicates that she accepts what fate brings her, but Kenny interprets her acceptance of fate as complacency. When she says that they “are taught to bear our sorrow in silence, and all this is so that the soul may be cleansed,” he grows angry and frustrated with her philosophy, retorting, “Do you think that spiritual graces come from living in want?” He does not understand how she can accept starvation while not fighting against the circumstances of their lives.

Rukmani, in return, finds Kenny’s life equally incomprehensible. When she learns of his wife, whom he has left in England, she cannot understand why Kenny would leave his home and risk losing his wife. At the same time, because she believes a woman’s place is with her husband, she cannot understand why his wife would not join him in India. Kenny is unable to explain it to her. Although Kenny is devoted to his work in India it is clear that there is a cultural divide between his life philosophy and the life philosophy of the Indian people around him.

Kenny has returned to the tannery town to build a hospital. He sees that Selvam is not cut out for working the land but that he nevertheless shows great academic potential, and he takes him as his apprentice and assistant.

Ira’s child is born. To Rukmani’s dismay, the baby boy is a pure albino. She secretly wonders if his deformity is due to the circumstances of his birth. The poor child, who is named Sacrabani, becomes a curiosity for the neighbors; and as he grows older, he is ostracized from the other children of the village, not just because of his albinism but also because he was born out of wedlock. Nevertheless, Ira refuses to see his disfigurement and lavishes her love on the child, and the rest of the family strives to treat him as they would any of their children.

Meanwhile, slow progress is made on the hospital, as Kenny is able to obtain funding from the mysterious outside sources. Before the hospital is completed, Old Granny is found dead next to her vegetable stand. Rukmani grieves for her and for the fact that she died alone and destitute.

Time passes, and it is now four years after the birth of Sacrabani, and Nathan’s health is failing. However, when Kenny tells Rukmani that Nathan needs more than the plain rice that they normally eat, she reminds him that food like vegetables and milk are luxuries. But worse news than Nathan’s ailing health comes to them from Sivaji the collector: their land is to be sold to the tannery, which has steadily been consuming the property abutting them. Nathan and Rukmani have two weeks to vacate. Having no choice, Rukmani and Nathan decide to go to live with Murugan while Ira and Sacrabani are to stay with Selvam and Kenny. Rukmani is greatly saddened by the loss of their home, where she and her husband built a family and proudly worked the land. For a farming family, it is a great blow to have land taken away, especially at their advancing age. She is also very worried about Nathan, who has still...

(This entire section contains 944 words.)

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not recovered from his illness.

Rukmani and Kenny contrast markedly in their life philosophies, as shown in their conversations in Chapters 18 and 19: Kenny grows angry and frustrated at Rukmani for her fatalistic philosophy and sees it as a complacent sort of helplessness. He says to her, “You must cry out if you want help. It is no use whatsoever to suffer in silence.” He even goes so far as to call her and those like her “acquiescent imbeciles.” But Rukmani rebukes him by saying, “What if we gave in to our troubles at every step! … Is not a man’s spirit given to him to rise above his misfortunes? … Want is our companion from birth to death, familiar as the seasons or the earth, varying only in degree. What profit to bewail that which has always been and cannot change?” The difference between Kenny’s philosophy of seeking change, and Rukmani’s philosophy of accepting fate, can be seen to be a product of their very different life circumstances. While Kenny presumably comes from a well-to-do English background and has had the means and freedom to not only become a doctor but to also travel the world as he pleases, Rukmani is born into a society that constricts her movement and her livelihood to subsistence farming, a livelihood that by its nature does not provide enough to keep a family from wanting. But since want is a fact of her life, her fatalistic attitude helps her to cope with it.

Although Sacrabani is a small child, he must also accept his fate. He is born into a society that not only ostracizes him because of his deformity but also will not accept him because he is a bastard child. The circumstances of Sacrabani’s life portray a sad double standard in Rukmani’s society: on the one hand, the society tacitly accepts prostitution by providing a market for it, but on the other, it shuns the children that are its product, as well as their mothers.


Part One, Chapters 12-17: Summary and Analysis


Part Two, Chapters 24-30: Summary and Analysis