At a Glance

In The Vendor of Sweets, Jagan makes a handsome living in his sweets business. His son Mali is uninterested in the business and wants to be a writer. Mali starts dating Grace, a half American, half-Korean woman, and this relationship forces Jagan to reexamine his life.

  • Jagan was once an activist in Gandhi's satyagraha movement. He's now almost sixty and lives a life of avarice and hypocrisy, pretending to be spiritual yet succumbing to greed.

  • Jagan's son Mali isn't interested in the family business or in Hinduism in general. Intent on becoming a writer, he steals some money and moves to America, but later returns to India with a half-Korean, half-American girlfriend, Grace.

  • Jagan meets a dye-maker on a mission to complete a carving of Gayatri, the Hindu god of Radiance. This casts Jagan's situation with his son into perspective. He prepares to start a new chapter of his life.


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Close to sixty, an age when orthodox Hindus are supposed to enter a new spiritual phase of detachment from worldly affairs, Jagan is a prosperous widower who combines handsome profits from his sweets business with high-minded Gandhian principles. The contradictions between Jagan’s greedy materialism and his ascetic sense, however, are all too evident. A former activist in Gandhi’s satyagraha movement in the turbulent 1940’s, who received a jail sentence as a result, he is now experimenting with nature diets and cures. His book on the subject still awaits publication, for Nataraj, the printer, is a master of delays.

Jagan’s pride and joy is his son Mali, who abandons his studies in order to try his hand at writing. Jagan’s consternation is exacerbated when Mali coolly announces that he is going to America to become a writer. Jagan believes that the West will corrupt his son, who is already hostile to many Indian ways—especially his father’s occupation. Mali steals money from his father and sets off.

A year or two later, Mali returns to Malgudi with a half-Korean, half-American wife, Grace, and a grandiose scheme for marketing an electronic novel-writing machine. Jagan, who is still a stranger to his son, is extremely flustered. He is upset by Grace’s presence in his orthodox home, and he is even more agitated when Mali publishes a prospectus containing the unauthorized use of Jagan’s name. A silent tension grows in the home as...

(The entire section is 527 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Argyle, Barry. “Narayan’s The Sweet-Vendor,” in Journal of Commonwealth Literature. VII (June, 1972), pp. 35-44.

Rao, V. Panduranga. “The Art of R. K. Narayan,” in Journal of Commonwealth Literature. No. 5 (July, 1968), pp. 29-40.

Walsh, William. R. K. Narayan, 1971. Edited by Ian Scott-Kilvert.