The Vendor of Sweets

by R. K. Narayan

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How is the cousin presented in The Vendor of Sweets?

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In The Vendor of Sweets, the unemployed cousin is presented as a bit of a economically unambitious individual who contributes positively to the lives of the other characters through his emotional labor and emotional intelligence. The cousin could easily be written off as unhelpful or a mooch because of his status as an unemployed person if someone only judges someone in terms of their value as a source of capitalist production and economic labor. However, the cousin excels as providing emotional support and uses active listening skills to provide thoughtful advice and insight to Jagan. The cousin is a character who brings insight, emotional intelligence, and nuanced perspective to the novel. The cousin is a character who can push readers to respect the skills, contributions, and insights of someone who contributes to his community and people in his life outside of an economic framework.

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The cousin is presented as quite a complex character in some respects. He comes across as a bit of a drifter, someone without a job or any obvious means of support; he is something of a social parasite, shamelessly sponging off other people. When he goes to visit Jagan at the sweet shop every afternoon, he always helps himself to some sweets without permission. Respecting other people's property hardly seems one of his strong points.

But Jagan knows about this and tolerates the cousin's behavior. Whatever his shortcomings in other respects, the cousin proves to be a very good listener, patiently sitting with Jagan as he regales him with his various travails, most of which revolve around his errant wastrel of a son, Mali.

The cousin also seems remarkably wise, someone who is good at giving advice. He provides a kind of bridge between the generations, between father and son, giving a much-needed detached perspective on things. Such a viewpoint is not only valuable to Jagan but also to us as readers. Thanks to the cousin's patient listening and sage advice, we develop a greater degree of empathy and understanding of the main characters in the story.

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