Part One, Chapter 1: Questions and Answers
1. When Rukmani is a child, why does her mother worry about her future?
2. When Rukmani is married off to Nathan, why do people say that the match is below her?
3. Where does the novel take place?
4. What is a dowry?
5. How does Rukmani describe her husband?
1. In Rukmani’s society, a woman’s security is based on the prosperity of her husband. However, for a woman to obtain a prosperous husband, her family must provide a significant dowry. Rukmani, as the fourth daughter, is left with no dowry after the marriages of her three older sisters, which means that Rukmani cannot hope for a prosperous match.
2. Rukmani is the daughter of a village headman, a position of high status. Nathan, who is a poor tenant farmer who does not own his land, is of a lower social status than Rukmani.
3. The novel opens in a poor village in India where a tannery factory is located. The exact time of the novel is not made clear.
4. A dowry is a sort of payment given by the family of a woman to the family of a man as part of the arrangement of their marriage. A larger dowry can help to get a more materially prosperous marriage for a woman.
5 Rukmani describes Nathan as a patient, gentle, and hardworking man. She delights in the fact that he sees beauty in her and praises her work and small accomplishments. He makes her happy.
Part One, Chapter 2-4: Questions and Answers
1. Why are Rukmani and Nathan disappointed when their first child is a girl?
2. Who is Kenny?
3. Why does Rukmani hide her fertility treatments from her husband?
4. How does the opening of the tannery affect the villagers?
5. Why does Rukmani decide to sell her vegetables to Biswas instead of Old Granny? And how does this make her feel?
1. Rukmani and Nathan are initially disappointed that their firstborn child is a girl because a female child, who requires an expensive dowry and eventually leaves the family to join her husband, is less desirable than a son, who can inherit the father’s livelihood and can care for his parents in their old age.
2. Kenny is a white doctor, presumably British, who befriends Rukmani and provides her with fertility treatments.
3. Rukmani is afraid that Nathan will be angry with her for allowing herself to be examined by a white, male doctor.
4. The arrival of the tannery completely changes the village. The tannery attracts a large population of workers to the area, and while the villagers are able to sell their goods at a higher price to the tannery workers, the price of goods goes up, and they are unable to afford the products they once could. The new businesses that open in the town also cause the old businesses to be driven away.
5. Biswas the moneylender is able to offer Rukmani more than double what Old Granny would pay her for her vegetables. Rukmani feels guilty for not doing business with Old Granny any longer, but she realizes that she must do so in order to support her family.
Part One, Chapters 5-11: Questions and Answers
1. Who is the matchmaker that finds a husband for Ira?
2. Why does Ira’s husband return her?
3. Why do Arjun and Thambi decide to join the tannery?
4. What does Old Granny say to Rukmani when she worries about Ira’s fate?
5. What is Deepvali?
1. Old Granny serves as Ira’s matchmaker.
2. Ira is unable to conceive a child, and therefore she serves her husband little purpose.
3. After the monsoon, which almost drove the family to starvation, Arjun sees that farming does not offer security. Thambi also realizes that his father will not be able to ever save enough to purchase his land, and he would rather work for the tannery and earn more money than farm another man’s land. The tannery offers higher wages than what they would earn as farmers.
4 Old Granny reminds Rukmani that one should accept one’s fate and that one can get used to one’s lot in life.
5. Deepvali is the festival of Light, which is a major holiday in the Hindu tradition.
Part One, Chapters 12-17: Questions and Answers
1. Why do Arjun and Thambi leave their jobs at the tannery?
2. What is the cause of the failure of the rice crop, and what happens as a result?
3. What is Rukmani’s reaction when she finds out about Nathan’s infidelity to her with Kunthi?
4. Why is Raja murdered?
5. What does Ira do to try to save Kuti from starving to death?
1. Arjun and Thambi feel that their tannery wages are unfair, and they attempt to lead a workers’ strike against the tannery. When the strike fails, Arjun and Thambi are left without work. They have no means to rent more land to farm, and their parents’ farm will not support all of them, so the two sons travel to Ceylon to work as laborers.
2. An extended drought kills the crop. Since Rukmani and Nathan completely depended on the crop for their livelihood, they are left with nothing to eat and with no means by which to purchase any goods.
3. Rukmani briefly feels anger and betrayal when she finds out that Nathan is the father of Kunthi’s sons, but she is quick to forgive him and instead blames Kunthi for tempting her husband, calling her “evil and powerful.”
4. Raja, out of desperation for food, attempted to steal a skin from the tannery in order to sell it. The guards who caught him beat him to death.
5. Ira secretly prostitutes herself in the town during the night to earn money.
Part One, Chapters 18-23: Questions and Answers
1. Why do the other children in the village ostracize Sacrabani?
2. Kenny had been gone from the village for many months. What was the purpose of his trip?
3. Why does Selvam decide to work as Kenny’s assistant?
4. While Rukmani is pleased that Selvam will work as Kenny’s assistant, she is worried. What does she worry about?
5. What bad news does Sivaji bring to Nathan and Rukmani?
1. Sacrabani is afflicted with albinism, and the other children tease him because of his appearance. They also taunt him by calling him a bastard because he was born out of wedlock.
2. Kenny had returned to...
(The entire section is 205 words.)
Part Two, Chapters 24-30: Questions and Answers
1. Why do Nathan and Rukmani leave their village and go to the city?
2. Who is Puli?
3. Who is Birla, and what surprises Nathan and Rukmani about her?
4. What do Nathan and Rukmani find when they arrive at Murugan’s home?
5. Why do Nathan and Rukmani go to work at the stone quarry?
1. Nathan and Rukmani are forced off their land because it has been sold to the tannery. Since they have no other place to stay in the village, they go to the city to live with their son, Murugan, who is married and works as a servant.
2. Puli is a young orphan who lives in the streets of the city. He befriends...
(The entire section is 240 words.)