The Theme - Realism vs Fantasy in the Novel The Vendor of Sweets

 The vendor of sweets is a complex work of art, for it covers a vast amount of themes and sub themes. Themes like: the conflict between the old and the young, the conflict between the father and son, the tension between appearance vs reality, realism vs fantasy, alienation and quest for identity, east-west conflict, conflict between good and evil… are some of them.

In this post you are going to read on the major theme:  the realism vs fantasy in the novel The Vendor of Sweets.

You canread the summery of the novel here:

You canread about the theme the conflict between the father and son here:


R. K. Narayan weaves this story in a fictional South Indian town called Malgudi in 1967. Therefore, his novel resembles the socio-economic culture in that period of time in India. He shows through this theme the tension of the change in a society- from traditional to modern, as this period of time is a changing period in India after liberation.

Realism means the concern for fact or reality and rejection of impractical and visionary things. Whereas fantasy deals with one’s imagination which may be not real or sometimes it is hard to put it into practise in the real world. Just like fairy tales are fantasy and the real life is the reality.

Narayan through the character of Jagan brings forward the contemporary realities in Indian society. On the contrary, Mali with his novel ideas comes up with some new ideas which are seemingly impractical and not coherent with the traditional Indian society. The type writer and the Novel Writing Machine are symbolic for the characters of Jagan and Mali.

It is through the eyes of Jagan we see the realities in Malgudi town, its culture, setting and people. Though hundred percent is not practical, Jagan stands on a firm ground as a self-sufficient vendor in the society. He adheres to the conventions during that period: He follows the path of Ghandi who valued nationalism and simplicity. According to the life of Ghandhi, Jagan adapts his life style – a self - sufficient and simple one. We see this tide of nationalism in another novel of Narayan: ‘Swami and Friends’ where the people burn Western clothes and throw stones at Western schools.

Further, he supports the country by doing and industry and providing job opportunities to the people in his society. Though his customs and rigid policies may be seen as impractical today, through Jagan Narayan shows a real citizen who leads an acceptable life in that period of time in India.

You canread a quiz on the character of Jagan here:

Due to the effects of Ghandihism, Jagan leads a non-violent and cooperative life. He deals with his son’s stubborn behaviour as a patient father. When Mali abandons his education, his novel writing and leaves to America for further studies (stealing his hard-earned money), he looks at them in an optimistic way. He never argues Mali’s decisions, not even when he brings a wife, Grace – a cultural hybrid to his household. How irritating the complications are, Jagan tries to deal with them in a cooperative way. When he saw that his expectations are for Mali fading away, he step by step draws his steps backward retreating himself. He refuses Mali’s impractical collaboration with the American company to manufacture a novel writing machine in a non-violent way. He reduces the price of sweets – so he cannot have a profit from the industry, and he closed himself in the kitchen part of the house and stops facing Mali. When he comes to know about that Mali and Grace are not married, which was a painful slap on the face of his culture and knowing Mali would not enlighten his name, he decides to leave everything behind to enter the ‘Vanaprashtha Ashram’ a secluded life form the domestic life.

Through the actions of the life of Jagan, the reader can understand the reality of life: like you cannot change the inevitable, it is the best thing not to get enraged or fight but to salvage yourself from the relationships that cause you problems which is exactly what Jagan did.

Jagan though is a rigid follower of his own concepts of life, the novel shows that he has a reasonable capacity to change according to the situation. He even forgets some of his golden principles of life on behalf of the beloved ones around him. It is the reality of life as Charles Darwin’s theory of Evolution- Survival of the fittest: those who can adapt to the life around them sustain and the others extinct. Just like what had happened to dinosaurs. 

You can read Is Jagan Flexible Regarding His Policies in Life, The Vendor of Sweets by R.K. Narayan here:

Jagan gives Ambika an aspirin for her head-ache though his is a rigid follower of nature-care herbal medicine. When Mali violates his view of education: that a person should have a degree from a college to lead a successful life, he accepts that too as a change that he should accept in the new changing world. He even is patient with Mali’s marriage with a half Korean woman and accepts her as his daughter in law.

However, his sacrifices were not paid enough as Mali was not in a position to understand his father’s devotion as he was preoccupied with the idea that it is his father who killed his mother. Mali in that sense an immature character throughout the novel who leads a life of fantasy. It is through him Narayan reveals the fantasy of the youth in contemporary India who followed an American Dream.    

You canread the character of Mali here:

Mali as a motherless child grows up without proper guidance from parents. Jagan as a loving father lets his only son to do whatever he pleases. However, this freedom made him to to develop a scattered personality that was full of ideas but without proper aim to focus at. He gives up education claiming that it does not help his aim to be a writer. He gives up writing to go to America to study it further.

He returns with an idea of novel writing machine and a wife to flourish in Indian soil. He worked like a cuckoo – bird who hatches in another’s nest. For all the time, his financial was his father’s money. At the first time, he stole and in the next time, he was in the idea of forcing Jagan to invest money to his project. When Jagan refused to do so, he had not got a plan ‘B’ to continue - which makes his whole life collapsed before his eyes.

This aimless nature and desire to earn money to ‘live the life’ is seen as a day dream in the novel which was not fruitful, but made a chaos at the end. Mali’s unrealistic and impractical ideas has not taken him a long journey.

His novel writing machine in collaboration with an American company is the symbol of his unrealistic fantasy. Writing a novel involves a series of human emotions and creativity which is impossible to be done by a machine.

Narayan criticizes the modern conventions which hinder human creativity and emotions. Making most citizens writers of novel by using a machine shows the inexperience of Mali who has only a handful of ideas about Indian society and its culture. People had far more things to do for their livelihood than writing novels and the technology was an alien to them at that time of India.

Therefore, Narayan sarcastically portrays the impractical nature of certain modern invasions into the Indian society which had been long governed by rigid traditional conventions and practices. It is through Mali Naryan shows the conflict of fantasy in traditional Indian society.

Mali desires for Western life and disgusts his own culture, which makes him an alienated character whose ideas would not yield in the native soil. Most people try to introduce novel ideas without caring the traditions to a dime which, most of the time creates conflicts just like in the film ‘Avatar.’

Mali’s downfall begins when he forgets his own culture and becomes a culture hybrid. After returning from America, he displays Western characteristics in his clothing, travelling, food and even in his marriage. They have been the reflection of his favour for the Western culture.

His so called marriage (living together) makes him a cultural misfit, resulting Jagan, his father to lose his all relatives and peace of mind which ultimately leads him to leave his own home. Mali loses both the support of father and Grace because of his unawareness about the traditions and customs in the Indian society.

At the end of the novel, Mali is sent to jail due to possession of liquor. He was given a time by the writer to ponder upon his behaviour and think of his future.

Narayan critically views at both characters showing the positive and negative characteristics of the traditional concepts and modern inventions. By showing this, writer may give the message to the reader to choose the mid-path which is suitable for the country and life.     

However, at the end of the novel, both characters are left in uncharted sea of future. Narayan lets the reader to sit back and evaluate who won the battle of reality vs fantasy. What is your idea of it? Please let us know by leaving a comment. If you find this post is useful, please share it among others.  




Post a Comment


  1. Sir thank you for your marvellous help , Sir please will you be kind enough to analyse the poem The Big Match 1983, I found it really hard to understand that poem

    1. it is already analyzed use the search bar to find the analysis.

  2. Hi sir.I need the model essays for reading and please put you worksheet answers

  3. Hi sir.I need model essays to read and please publish your worksheet answers.