The Vendor of Sweets

by R. K. Narayan

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Chapters 8–9 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on September 14, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1153

Chapter 8

As agreed, Jagan and Chinna Dorai are at Dorai’s former master’s house the next day. It is completely secluded in nature, overflowing with lush vegetation and wildlife. Dorai shares that he doesn’t know who his parents are; he came to his master’s house when he was only five years old. Jagan wonders why Dorai doesn’t dye his own white beard black, calling him an “exception to [his] own rule.” They both agree that sales tax is a burden for the businessman.

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Dorai gives Jagan a tour of the house, pointing out the places where he cooked and watched his master carve stones. He explains that when his master died, he cremated the body himself, then walked to the city and lived off charity there until he started his own business. Before his death, his master had had the idea of carving a five-faced Gayatri, the deity of radiance. He had started on the stone, and now Dorai wants to find it.

As Jagan watches Dorai, he feels that he has time traveled to the previous millennium and that his twentieth-century problems—his son, his business, money—are all very far away. Dorai points out various sculptural odds and ends as he makes his way through the overgrown brush. As he speaks, Jagan thinks again about the narrowness of his existence and wonders if he is on the verge of a janma, a rebirth, in which his whole previous existence would fade in comparison to his newfound spirituality.

When Dorai offers Jagan a guava fruit he picks from a tree, Jagan refuses to eat it, as he does not eat sweets or salt. He remembers that, before he developed all of his theories about healthy living, he would eat a dozen guavas a day.

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Dorai leads Jagan down to the pond, and Jagan briefly wonders if Dorai is going to push him into the pond to his death. As he walks down the moss-covered steps to water’s edge, he feels that this would be a wonderful moment to die.

Dorai finds the stone submerged in the water and asks Jagan to help him remove it. He teases Jagan about his weakness, telling him that if he ate some of the sweets he sold, he would be stronger. With tremendous effort, Jagan helps Dorai carry the stone back up the steps, then collapses in exhaustion.

If Dorai can finish carving the Gayatri that his master envisioned, Dorai announces, then he can die in peace. He sings a song in Sanskrit which explains what the goddess represents with her five heads and ten hands, and Jagan is entranced by the image he depicts.

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Dorai then tells Jagan that he is the only man who can help Dorai. He asks Jagan to buy the garden and install the sculpture of the goddess, and reminds Jagan that the scriptures teach that, at some point, the elders vanish into the forest, leaving the world to the generation that follows them. Jagan agrees wholeheartedly with this sentiment: he feels the need to escape from his grief for his wife, from his estranged relationship with Mali, and from the complications of his shop.

Chapter 9

Returning to his house, Jagan quietly enacts the habits of his day: bathing, eating, and spinning. Though he is outwardly calm, he is really in turmoil: he feels that an internal transformation has taken place, severing his attachment to his shop, his house, and his son. He thinks of Dorai as a savior sent from the gods who has fundamentally changed him. He is no longer Mali’s father, no longer the vendor of sweets, no longer the collector of money; perhaps he is becoming a benefactor of the sculptor, or discovering some new spirituality within himself.

Mali enters the room and informs Jagan that everyone in town is talking about him. He then announces that he has received a cable from his American associates asking about the status of their enterprise. With a sudden stab of pity for his son, Jagan tells Mali that he may have the sweet shop. Mali’s repugnance at the offer is evident.

Mali again explains the story-writing machine in detail, reiterating all that is contained within the printed prospectus. Jagan sits and listens, then asks for Grace. Mali tells Jagan that if they do not receive the money for the business, Grace will have to go back to America. Jagan does not understand why this is so; he has grown accustomed to having Grace in the house and is sad at the thought of losing her company. Mali responds that there is nothing in Malgudi to keep Grace happy, for it is a “miserable place with no life in it.” Without the business to work on, she will go back home. Jagan insists that a wife has to be with her husband, and Mali reminds his father of his outdated beliefs before leaving the room.

Analysis

In these chapters, Jagan begins to experience a crisis of character that began to take root when he sold his sweets for a discounted price. Spending the day away from his business, in the hushed stillness of the jungle at Chinna Dorai’s master’s garden, Jagan feels a part of him cleaving away from the troubles that occupy him: his business, his accumulation of wealth, and his fractured relationship with his son. As he detaches from these worries, he experiences a sense of freedom and purity; his anxiety about practical matters floats away, and he longs for the escape that this secluded garden offers. This is a very different Jagan than the man of the novel’s opening chapters, who carefully counted every rupee his store brought in, fretted about every moment of his son’s day, and lived his life according to strict principles he had developed. The moment that Dorai hands Jagan the guava fruit, and Jagan can’t decide “whether it would be good or bad from the point of view of dietetics,” reveals the weakening of Jagan’s convictions; he thinks back to his boyhood, when he ate so many guavas in a single day that “between seven and twelve years of age the aroma of guava had permanently clung to him.” That he is questioning his own strictly enforced ideology shows Jagan’s loosening of his attachment to the life he leads in the village.

Chinna Dorai appears as a sort of mystic spiritual healer who will lead Jagan away from materialistic worries and toward a life of peace and nonattachment. Ironically, he is a hair dyer, someone who helps people conceal their signs of aging; like Jagan, he is complicit in exploiting a person’s weakness (in this case, vanity) for monetary gain. In this way, Narayan points out the hypocrisy in everyone: no person can be untainted by the demands of modern life, however much he espouses his virtue.

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Chapters 6–7 Summary and Analysis

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Chapters 10–11 Summary and Analysis