Part One, Chapters 5-11: Summary and Analysis

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New Characters
Sivaji: The collector for the landlord.

Kuti: Rukmani’s youngest son.

Ira, now fourteen years of age, is ready to be married, and Rukmani obtains the assistance of Old Granny as a matchmaker. Because Ira is exceptionally beautiful, Old Granny is able to get her a very good match to the first son of a landowner without a significant dowry. On the day of her wedding, Rukmani dresses her daughter in her own red wedding sari, and Nathan and Rukmani hold a very festive wedding for her, complete with musicians. Ira is taken away to her husband’s new home; she will not see her parents for several years to come.

Bad times come upon the family soon after Ira’s marriage. The season after Ira’s wedding brings with it an early and violent monsoon. The rains completely destroy the rice crop, Rukmani’s gardens, and even the coconut tree, leaving the family, as well as the rest of the village, to face the prospect of starvation. Rukmani is able to eke by on a very meager store she had laid by for hard times, and though the time is difficult, the family survives. Eventually, they are able to drain the paddy field and harvest the fish for salting. They have survived without starving.

In the meantime, the tannery continues to grow. Many of the boys of the village turn from farming and go to work at the tannery instead, which offers higher wages and greater security than the rented land. But the growth of the tannery continues to make living difficult for the villagers, for as it grows, the town grows, and the cost of living continues to rise. Rukmani is unable to keep up with the rising prices, and the small businesses of the old village, including Janaki’s husband’s shop, are forced to close by the larger bazaars and shops that move in. Kunthi, however, enjoys the growth of the town. Having always had a reputation as a loose woman, she takes to flaunting herself in the streets and enjoying the attention of men.

Some years after Ira’s marriage, Ira shows up at Rukmani’s home with her husband, who is returning her because after five years of marriage she has not had any children. He divorces her and leaves her with her parents. Nathan and Rukmani take her back without blaming either their daughter or their son-in-law; they see the reason for the divorce as reasonable. Ira becomes despondent over her rejection.

In the meantime, Arjun, who has grown into a teenager, has taken a great talent for learning. When he was a child, Rukmani had taught him to read and write, and he increased his knowledge and skill on his own. To his parents’ dismay, however, he decides to join the tannery, as does his younger brother Thambi, reasoning that they can make a better living and provide better for the family than they could by gambling on the yield of the land and remaining forever at the mercy of their landlord. Their reasoning hurts their parents and especially their father, who had looked forward to teaching his sons the way of the land and always hoped to someday be able to purchase the land himself. His sons go to the tannery anyway. There they are able to earn quite a bit more money and help the family improve their standard of living. He buys extra things for the family like clothing, milk, vegetables, and chilies; and for the first time during Deepvali, the great Hindu festival of lights, Rukmani is able to buy fireworks for her children....

(This entire section contains 1135 words.)

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The family rejoices in the prosperous times. Nathan, dancing around the bonfire at the Deepvali celebration, twirls his wife in the air and says, “I am happy because life is good and the children are good, and you are best of all.”

One day when Nathan is away, Rukmani takes the opportunity to take Ira to Kenny for fertility treatment in the hopes that her husband will take her back. On her way home in the evening, Rukmani runs into Kunthi who, to Rukmani’s great shock, is dressed like a prostitute. Kunthi, who has always been rude to Rukmani, insinuates that Rukmani must be prostituting herself to Kenny and threatens to tell Nathan, thus provoking Rukmani’s anger.

Despite the treatments, Ira’s husband does not take her back because he has taken a new wife. Ira is despondent and depressed, but when Rukmani bears her final son, Kuti, it gives Ira a reason to live again as she comes to adore the child and cares for him as if he is her own.

Still, Rukmani worries for Ira, who will have no children to care for her in her old age. When she discusses her fears for Ira with Old Granny, the older woman says that an old woman such as herself, with no family or home, must accept her fate.

The tannery represents a complexity in Rukmani’s life. Its arrival has made their way of life as farmers much more difficult by changing the economics of their town; but at the same time, because her sons have accepted the change, it now provides them with a higher standard of living.

Nevertheless, Nathan and Rukmani both are hurt by their sons’ decision to leave farming for the tannery. Even though they know that farming barely provides for their family’s needs, they cannot imagine leaving this life for anything else. The farm is what they put their hope in—hope for an abundant harvest next season and hope that someday they will be able to buy the land. To be able to hope is an important facet of these characters’ lives. The farm not only represents hope but also provides the family with a security of place. Because they have land, even though they do not own it, Rukmani and Nathan do not have to wander aimlessly as laborers. The connection to the land represents a firm foundation and home for their family.

The devaluation of women in society is very evident in Ira’s unfortunate story. Her husband divorces her because she cannot bear children. While nobody blames Ira, nobody blames the husband either, because it is accepted that a man takes a wife solely to provide him with children. Her divorce, however, is a source of shame for her because she is unable to fulfill the chief duty of a wife—to bring heirs to her husband. None of the characters view Ira’s plight as unjust, however, but they rather view it as an act of fate that must be accepted. Though Rukmani is saddened by the fate of her daughter, she nevertheless accepts it without questioning its injustice.


Part One, Chapters 2-4: Summary and Analysis


Part One, Chapters 12-17: Summary and Analysis