The Vendor of Sweets

by R. K. Narayan

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How is the theme of "tradition versus modernity" presented in The Vendor of Sweets?

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The theme of "tradition versus modernity" in "The Vendor of Sweets" is presented through the contrasting characters of Jagan and Mali. Mali represents modernity with his Western focus and emphasis on self-interest and materialism, even resorting to theft to fund his studies abroad. On the other hand, Jagan embodies tradition, influenced by Gandhi's teachings and later surrendering his material possessions to follow a more orthodox path, demonstrating the traditional emphasis.

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The collision between tradition and modernity can be seen in the opposition of Jagan and Mali.

I think that it's clear that Mali represents the more modern approach to things.  He is more inclined to embracing the Western focus.  He emphasizes  his own condition over all else.  He is a materialist.  He steals the money he needs in order to fund his studies abroad.  His concern with money becomes the reason he is retuning to India.  He only comes back to the nation he detests because he sees the possibility for making money. Mali is not concerned with an ethical focus to his being in the world.  The self- interest that he demonstrates is reflective of the modern understanding.  This becomes one of the reasons he is so distant from his father.

Mali's modernity might be as elemental as a son rebelling against his father.  However, it is clear that Mali strikes the chords he does as a response to Jagan.  Seeing himself in the light of orthodoxy, Jagan's actions are more traditional .  He was a follower of Gandhi's spiritual and political teachings, ideas that emphasized the individual as a part of something larger than themselves.  While he initially displays some inconsistencies such as adorning his wall with a picture of the benevolent Goddess Lakshmi, but hoarding his wealth and making money off a product that hurts people's health, Jagan comes to fully embrace the traditional notion of the good.  As the narrative progresses, he starts to understand what he must do in terms of relinquishing material elements and following the path of an orthodox elder.  As Mali winds up in jail, Jagan withdraws, like a turtle pulling in his limbs.  He puts his affairs in order and moves on to the next phase of life. Doing so displays the extent of his traditional emphasis.

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