The Conflict Between Tradition and Modernity
This clash is largely showcased by means of Jagan and his son, Mali. Mali goes to America for three years to be educated as a writer and, at the novel’s close, rejects his father’s offer to bequeath the family confectionary business to his son in good faith. Instead, Mali has visions of starting a factory to produce writing by means of mechanical machines rather than by hand—a business model of which his father is critical. Mali also brings home a Korean American “wife,” Grace, to whom he is not in fact married. The very circumstance of their cohabitation is anathema to Jagan’s traditional sensibilities.
Tensions Between Fathers and Sons
Jagan and Mali cope very differently with the loss of Mali’s mother, who died from a brain tumor. Mali blames his father for her death, as Jagan refused to treat her with modern medicine. Mali also scoffs at his father’s small business in favor of a modern one, while Jagan disparages Mali’s more Western sensibilities in both love and business.
The Clash of Cultures
In this novel, the cultures of India, in which Hinduism is traditionally practiced, and the West, represented by America, are placed in direct conflict. Additionally, though Mali's alleged wife, Grace, is Korean American, Jagan assumes that she is Chinese—a culture which he equally disparages. Jagan, a traditional Hindu, is skeptical of other cultures, while his son embraces them with a view to enriching his own life (evidenced by his travel to America, his interest in starting a factory, and his Korean American partner).
With a gentle humor quite strange to most Western fiction, Narayan uses situation comedy and drama to tell what is fundamentally a story about the discovery of equanimity in life. It is easy to be charmed by Narayan’s surface texture into missing the underlying point of his tale. The gods and goddesses, who are usually introduced at some point in his stories, are not simply exotic emblems for decorative effect but also reminders of a moral pattern. The framed picture of the goddess Lakshmi that hangs on Jagan’s wall is an emblem of the protagonist’s wealth, but at the same time, it is a reminder of the problems that this wealth has not surmounted. The goddess to...
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