The Vendor of Sweets

by R. K. Narayan

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Describe the character of Grace in The Vendor of Sweets.

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Grace, a character in The Vendor of Sweets, is Jagan's half-American, half-Korean daughter-in-law who strives to integrate into Indian culture and maintain a good relationship with Jagan. She attempts to take on traditional roles, such as household duties, and even decorates Jagan's home, which bewilders him. Despite initial resistance, she manages to form a friendly bond with Jagan without belittling him, unlike her husband, Mali. Grace symbolizes a bridge between traditional and modern values, embodying respect for customs while embracing a global identity.

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Grace is Jagan's half-American and half-Korean daughter-in-law. She tries very hard to assimilate to Indian culture and to have a good relationship with her father-in-law, Jagan. One of the first gifts she bequeaths Jagan is a picnic basket with 'compartments containing spoons, forks, and knives.'

However, Jagan is at a loss as to what to do with such a strange gift and proceeds to keep it locked up in his almirah (cabinet or chest of drawers). He is just as much at a loss when Grace tries to take up the household duties typical Indian daughters-in-law excel in. The image of Grace in her tucked-up sari, 'exposing her ivory-hued kneecap,' and engaging in humble housekeeping tasks is an incongruent one for Jagan. He begs her not to trouble herself and tries to argue that the neighbors will talk if they see a modern girl 'brought up in New York' engaging in such drudgery.

Grace is not to be deterred; she insists that she is quite capable of rising to the occasion when the situation demands it. It is also Grace who cleans, transforms, and decorates Jagan's home (with a freshly artistic feminine touch) into a bewildering place of wonder for the old man. Her sense of curiosity and adventure initially strikes an answering chord in the lonely father's heart. Grace is just as comfortable navigating the transformation of her father-in-law's home as she is reveling in the exotic smell of the margosa leaf, considered an ambrosia in the Vedas. However, Jagan soon comes to resent the westernization of his home, both in moral as well as in aesthetic terms.

As time continues, Grace is able to carve out a friendly relationship with her father-in-law. Unlike her husband, Mali, Grace never belittles or patronizes Jagan. When Jagan objects to her cooking for him due to his dietary restrictions, she praises his foray into salt-free and sugar-free cooking. In relation to Mali, Grace sympathizes with Jagan's need to hear more about his son's plans for the future and to inquire as to Mali's educational status.

When Grace reveals that she was actually the one who wrote to Jagan, the poor old man is flabbergasted. He had always thought the letters had come from Mali himself. Jagan eventually learns that his courteous and solicitous daughter-in-law is very much her own woman. As time continues, Jagan comes to despise Grace's part in encouraging him to financially support Mali's business schemes. He resolves to engage in the Gandhian non-violent, non-cooperative method to fend off what he thinks are the couple's designs on his money.

Grace, for her part, is the one who finally reveals to Jagan that she and Mali are not married at all; the couple's relationship status is too modern for Jagan's liking, and he decides to wash his hands of the matter. In the story, Grace represents a character who is a sort of bridge between two world-views, one who respects the beauty of traditional customs but is not shackled by nationalistic loyalties to any one culture.

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