The Vendor of Sweets

by R. K. Narayan

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How does The Vendor of Sweets depict East-West tensions and conflicts?

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R. K. Narayan's The Vendor Sweets depicts the tensions and conflicts of East and West through the tensions and conflicts within Jagan and between Jagan and Mali. Jagan partly embraces Western ideas even as he claims to reject them. Mali rejects Eastern traditions and becomes almost fully Westernized.

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In his novel The Vendor of Sweets, R. K. Narayan depicts the tensions and conflicts between East and West in terms of the tensions and conflicts between a father and a son and within the father himself.

Jagan is a conflicted man. He owns a successful sweet shop business even though his Ghandi-inspired principles do not allow him to eat sugar. He does, however, like the money that sugar brings him, and this suggests that he is at least partly influenced by the commercialism of the West. Further, Jagan prides himself in his humility, yet he is so proud that he will not consent to obtain modern medical treatment for his wife. She dies of a brain tumor. In other words, Jagan is something of a hypocrite. Even as he denies the values and developments of the West in some ways, he embraces them in others.

We should not be surprised, then, that Jagan's son Mali is nearly as conflicted as his father. Mali rejects his Eastern heritage almost completely. He dreams of becoming a writer, and he decides to travel to America to participate in a writing program. He steals money from his father to finance the trip. Mali becomes more and more Americanized over three years, eating beef and dating.

Finally, he comes home, and when he does, he brings his "wife," Grace, with him. The couple are not actually married, which represents another rejection of Mali's traditional upbringing. Jagan wants to turn over the sweet shop business to Mali, but his son declines. He wants to start a writing business instead. Mali is even arrested at one point for violating the anti-alcohol law. He has clearly become completely immersed in Western culture.

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