The Vendor of Sweets

by R. K. Narayan

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Chapters 12–13 Summary and Analysis

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Chapter 12

Jagan spends his entire day worrying, going through the motions of his routine without being conscious of it. That evening, he sits on the pedestal at the foot of the Sir Frederick statue and looks at his house, which stands dark. He thinks back to the day he was taken to meet his future wife. His elder brother accompanied him on the journey in order to ensure that Jagan acted according to tradition in the proceedings.

Jagan was received by his future in-laws with much ado. He had only seen his future bride in pictures, and he was eager to see her now. An elaborate procedure ensued in which Jagan was offered food and coffee, which protocol demanded he must politely refuse. This was the first time Jagan had truly had to participate in ceremonial behavior, and he found it difficult to quench his naturally voracious appetite in order to adhere to the social code. At that point, he had been an eligible bachelor for three years, and had viewed four potential brides; his family hoped that this woman would end Jagan’s bachelorhood.

Jagan was ushered into the central hall, where he could hear his future bride, Ambika, singing in another room. Finally, she was shown into the room, and Jagan studied her in a happy haze; when they made eye contact, his heart raced.

On the journey home, Jagan reflected on the visit and felt content. When he arrived home, the news of his engagement quickly spread, and his father wrote to the family elders to receive permission to go through with the marriage. Jagan felt sidelined while wedding preparations ensued, for his father took care of the arrangements. Much correspondence passed between Jagan’s family and his future wife’s. The dowry was arranged, and Jagan worried that his family was asking for too much from Ambika’s.

When half the dowry was delivered by Ambika’s father, a grand feast took place, and Jagan’s family received many gifts from their future in-laws. Jagan felt overwhelmed by the amount of activity taking place on his behalf and the notion that in three months he would be a husband.

Jagan took a break from school in order to help his family with wedding preparations. His father sent out three thousand invitations to the event. During the sacred rites of the wedding, Jagan found himself wanting to spend time alone with his wife, but he was unable to do so because of the many visitors in attendance.

Distracted by the preoccupation of being a newlywed, Jagan failed all of his school examinations. He was annoyed that Ambika had to fulfill household duties for her obligations as a daughter-in-law when he wanted to spend time with her.

After ten years of marriage, Jagan and Ambika had not had a child. Jagan had repeatedly failed in his studies, to his father’s dismay. Jagan’s mother constantly berated Ambika for not bearing a child. Jagan and Ambika were each annoyed at the other for suggesting impotence or infertility as the cause and were becoming ever more irritable with one another.

One day, Jagan’s father announced that they would travel to the Santana Krishna temple, a trip that would hopefully remedy the couple’s infertility. Indeed, Ambika afterward became pregnant with Mali. Both Jagan and Ambika were proud to finally have a child to solidify their places within the family.

Chapter 13

As he broods over all of these past memories, Jagan falls asleep at the foot of the statue, and when he awakens, dawn is breaking. He looks again at his house and thinks it is tainted, a place he can no longer call home, as he has outlived his purpose there.

Jagan has reached a state of renunciation, in which he intends to walk away from everything in his life. He thinks of himself as a “man retreating from life.” He briefly returns to the house to bundle a few things he needs, then becomes perplexed about what to do with the key. He considers giving it to Mali or bringing it to his brother, but he worries these actions will cause him to become caught yet again in the routine of his daily life, and his determination to walk away from everything will wane. Thus, he decides to carry the key with him.

As he walks into the village, the cousin meets him on his bicycle. He has been looking for Jagan because Mali is in need of immediate help. He was found with half a bottle of alcohol in his car, a prohibition offense, and the police have locked him up in jail. Because Jagan spent the night dozing by the statue, the cousin wasn't able to find him, and so Mali has already spent one night in jail.

The cousin is practical about what needs to be done. He has already spoken with the wardens to ensure that Mali will be treated well while in jail. He is thinking about ways to clear Mali’s name, such as having a doctor certify that he had administered two doses of a fever mixture containing alcohol to Mali, or saying that Mali gave a stranger a lift, and when the stranger left the car he left the bottle of alcohol behind. The cousin has already found a lawyer who will help.

Jagan declares that truth will win, but the cousin is dissatisfied with this answer, reminding Jagan that Mali could be sentenced to two years in prison. Jagan repeats that the truth will set Mali free.

Jagan feels that his mind has reached a point of extraordinary clarity. He wishes good luck to the cousin and says that he is going away. When the cousin inquires where, he describes the jungle retreat that Chinna Dorai showed him. Jagan asserts that he is a free man, and he is walking away from the world. He gives the cousin the keys to his shop and tells him to run it until Mali takes over.

The cousin tells Jagan the lawyer’s fee, and Jagan writes a check for the amount. He then comments that “A little prison life won’t harm anyone.” He inquires as to Grace’s whereabouts and instructs the cousin to tell her that if she ever wants to go back to America, he will buy her ticket, for she was a good girl.


Jagan’s trip down memory lane, in which he thinks back on his marriage and the conception of Mali, awakens Jagan to a sort of enlightenment in which he feels free to walk away from his material life and retreat into the sanctity of nature and spirituality. As he remembers the elaborate rituals and traditions he took part in to bring about his marriage to Ambika, and the sanctity of his relationship with her, he feels a disconnect between that time and the moment in which he now lives, a moment in which a man and a woman can live together without being married. The traditionalism of his marriage with Ambika, in contrast to the unconventional relationship between Mali and Grace, reveals to Jagan that he no longer has a place in this new, modern world. He is a relic of the past, and therefore he will remove himself from the world so that it can continue on without him.

It is important to note, however, that Jagan cannot completely let go of the material world. Though he hands over the shop keys to his cousin, he keeps his bank book, thus protecting his wealth. It is not possible to live in the world without taking part in its economy, so even though Jagan is retreating to the grove, he is still linked to the world through his need for material items such as food.

By leaving Mali in jail, Jagan is likewise removing himself from the role of father and protector. He knows that Mali is expecting Jagan to pay the fines and take care of the situation, because that is how Jagan has behaved for all of Mali’s life. But Jagan is stepping back and forcing Mali to become an adult, a person who is responsible for his own actions and the repercussions of those actions. As their relationship has disintegrated throughout the novel, it has finally reached a place where Jagan severs all ties to his son, retreating to a life of true solitude and nonattachment.

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Chapters 10–11 Summary and Analysis