The Vendor of Sweets

by R. K. Narayan

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Chapters 6–7 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on September 14, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1376

Chapter 6

Jagan tells the cousin that merchants are becoming heartless and he is proud that he has not raised the price of his sweets even though there is a sugar shortage. He then shares that Mali told him about his plan, and the cousin asks if Jagan is in favor of Mali’s scheme. The word “scheme” agitates Jagan. The cousin further explains that he had encountered Mali the previous week, and Mali had explained his plan: to manufacture story-writing machines. Jagan is baffled and bewildered, and the cousin relishes that he knows more than Jagan does.

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The next morning, Jagan asks Mali to explain how the story machine operates. Mali shows him an object that looks like a radio cabinet. It has four knobs: one for characters, one for plot situations, one for the climax, and one to merge all those elements together. Mali aspires to manufacture and sell these machines in collaboration with an American company. He dreams that India will become a country that publishes thousands of books each year, simply with the pressing of a few keys. When Jagan counters that India’s famous epics were passed generationally through the oral tradition, Mali dismisses those days as ancient. He explains that he needs $51,000 in order for the American company to collaborate.

That afternoon, when the cousin arrives for their daily conversation, Jagan asks him if he knows the dollar-to-rupee conversion for $51,000. When Jagan wonders where a person could find such an enormous sum of money, the cousin answers, “In your bank book.” Jagan hastens to explain that he has not amassed wealth and that he merely keeps the sweet shop running in order for his employees to have jobs.

The cousin explains that Mali is depending on his father for the $51,000 to start the story machine business, and he knows where his father stores cash in the house. Jagan announces that “money is an evil.”

Now whenever Jagan is at home, he feels that Mali and Grace are constantly waiting for him to announce that he will give the $51,000 to them to start the business. He starts sneaking around the house in order to avoid confronting them, because whenever he does, they speak about the importance of mechanization and modernity.

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In pausing to speak with Nataraj, the printer, Jagan asks about the status of his book’s printing. Nataraj explains that Mali has given him urgent work: the prospectus for the new business. Jagan’s name is in it, listed as one of the principal backers of Mali Enterprises. He is bothered that Mali has been so presumptuous but rationalizes that it is only natural for a son to assume his father’s full support of his dreams.

The prospectus is soon seen everywhere in the city. It details India’s cultural shortcomings and the ways the machine will bring the country to the forefront of modern nations. Mali has bought a car, and Jagan wonders who paid for it.

Jagan tells himself that Gandhi taught him peaceful methods, and he is simply going to ignore Mali’s request for money in a sort of “non-violent non-cooperation.” However, the domestic tranquility he once enjoyed no longer exists; he feels that Mali and Grace are constantly in an expectant state, and the tension is only increasing.

One morning, Grace and Mali finally confront him, asking if he’s thought over the proposition. Mali shows him the prospectus, and Jagan points out that his name was printed on it without his knowledge. Mali insists that Jagan told him to “go ahead” with his plan on the day they initially spoke about the scheme. Jagan answers that he is a poor man and even offers his business to Mali, who cruelly retorts that he has bigger plans than merely to be a vendor of sweets. Wordlessly, Jagan leaves the room.

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Latest answer posted January 28, 2016, 6:41 pm (UTC)

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When the cousin comes to visit that afternoon, Jagan announces that he is going to begin reducing the price of his sweets because money is evil. The cousin is confused as to why Jagan would do such a thing to a profitable business. The stall boy brings in the evening allotment of the day’s earnings, and the cousin notices that Jagan accepts the money. The cousin promises to speak again with Mali.

Chapter 7

When the cousin visits the sweet shop two days later, a crowd is swarming for the newly discounted sweets. The employees are worried that the business will stagnate, but Jagan is glad that more people can eat sweets. Though he has no real rationale for lowering the prices of his candies, he wants his employees to think of him as an astute businessman.

Because the shop sells out of sweets so quickly each day, the employees have leisure time, which Jagan decides should be filled with his reading the Bhagavad Gita to them. However, the men are bored, and therefore much relieved when three visitors enter the room. The employees leave, and Jagan identifies his guests: one is a man who runs a large restaurant business, one runs a canteen at the law courts, and the third man is a stranger.

The men want to know why Jagan has reduced the price of his sweets, and Jagan answers that it is so that more people may enjoy them. The men say that it is hurting their own businesses. A philosophical discussion on the hardships of being a business owner ensues. Jagan then gives each of the visitors a soda but refuses one himself, stating that he drinks only four ounces of water a day.

The conversation concludes with the general sense that some sort of understanding has been reached. The restaurant owner and the canteen owner both leave, but the third man stays. He introduces himself as Chinna Dorai and explains that he worked for a master who created carvings of gods for temples. The master’s house is across the river, and Jagan reflects on how small his world has become, as he thinks only of his shop and his son. He thinks back to the days when he was inspired by Gandhi and his life felt purposeful.

Chinna Dorai invites Jagan to visit the master’s house, and they agree that they will go together tomorrow. Jagan asks if Chinna Dorai is also a carver; he laughs and responds that he makes hair dye.

Analysis

The generational gap between father and son continues to widen in these chapters. After spending time in America, Mali has fully embraced Western values: capitalism, entrepreneurship, and materialism. He is frustrated by what he perceives as his father’s insistence on living in the past, constantly reflecting on his younger years when he was inspired to join Gandhi’s movement of nonviolence. Ironically, Jagan cannot see that he is in many ways a version of what Mali aspires to be: a successful businessman. He has accumulated wealth by operating his store, and yet he justifies the store’s success by claiming he is providing a “service” to others (to his workers, who have jobs, and to his customers, who eat his sweets). Jagan’s insistence on spiritual piety, therefore, rings somewhat hollow; no matter how he tries to disguise or justify his business, it is still an enterprise that exploits other people’s weakness for profit.

Mali’s entitlement continues to worsen. His idea for a story-writing machine is absurd; that he went to America to discover himself as a writer and instead returned as a businessman seeking to make money indicates that the West is a place empty of true art or culture. Like his father, he tries to justify his enterprise in the name of spiritual betterment, claiming that India will finally take its place among the more developed nations once its writers begin churning out novels with the help of his machine. He masks his own greed with the idea that he is contributing to the greater good of his country. He also belittles and insults his father, saying that he has greater plans than being a vendor of sweets, even though it is this exact profession that earned his father the money he himself now wishes to use to bankroll his business. The hypocrisy of both characters continues to amplify.

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Chapters 4–5 Summary and Analysis

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Chapters 8–9 Summary and Analysis