The East and The West conflict in the novel the Vendor of Sweets


In the novel The Vendor of Sweets by R.K. Narayan you can find several themes related to conflict; the conflict between father and son is the main complication highlighted in the novel. The conflict has occurred due to the inner characteristics of both characters in a transforming setting of India after its liberation.

You can read the generation gap between father and son here. 

Youcan read the them fantasy vs realism here.

Apparently, the East and West conflict gives two thematic concerns which goes well with the plot of the novel:

  • One is the actual conflict between the Eastern and Western cultures.
  • The other one is of the two ends that never touch together like the East and the West.

In this post we are going to learn about the second conflict which is a universal truth that never resolves and there is a constant war going between two. Here the conflict between two poles is brought through the main characters Jagan and Mali. The conflict is developed both at the individual level and between the two major characters – Jagan and Mali. That means the individual characters each has inner conflict which cannot be bridged and they have a conflict between each other resulting a huge chasm between them.

Jagan is the protagonist of R.K Narayan’s the Vendor of Sweets. His character has two opposite ends which seemingly contradictory. Though he is a strict Ghandhian follower, he has an equal interest in the process of money making.

He leads a simple life; he is a typical follower of Ghandhi who spins Chakra and spends his day entirely on Ghandian lines as well as he is contented with two pairs of clothes and wears simple handmade shoes. If added more to the list, he has a meagre meal with less taste. By profession, he is a vendor of sweets with his flourishing business at the centre of Malgudi, the fictional town Narayan made in his most novels. Though he is an ardent follower of Ghandi, he wants to collect more money for himself. He is seen cheating the government by hiding his actual income.  He is actively involved in the process of money making and heaping them without a distinct purpose of spending them. This is one example of the East and the West conflict in characterization found in the novel and it is an internal conflict inside the character.

Further, though he is seen busy reading sacred Gita, his mind is hovering everywhere from his kitchen to the market outside. Jagan is seen as a character who is more concerned about his business than his religion and spirituality. Though he always tries to relate his action with Bhagawath Gita, sometimes his actions are seen to the reader as he is using religion to rationalize his certain wrong doings.  

Jagan has a son named Mali and Jagan is deeply in love with his son. He provides everything Mali desires, but there is a psychological gap between them which cannot be bridged like the two ends of the East and the West. Mali wants to live a Westernized life which is totally against Jagan’s traditional way of living and this thing becomes a hindrance against them developing a healthy father-son relationship.

Mali becomes a complete Westernized individual who rejects almost everything that is Indian and traditional. He lives with Grace who is too a cultural hybrid. They share life together without marrying and thereby polluting Jagan’s spiritual abode. His clothes, his persona, his way of talking… everything is Westernized and Mali feels proud about it. He feels that the local people of Malgudi should try and follow western ways of living.  Mali loses basic understanding of paternal relationship according to Indian ethos and further creates distance himself from his father and cultural values.

Further, his unrealistic project of novel writing machine in collaboration with an American company reveals his lack of knowledge of his own country and his under estimation of his father’s maturity in financial affairs. This incident has been another reason to widen the gap between the father-son relationship.

This conflict is not resolved even at the end of the novel. At the end of the novel, the reader can find that Mali is arrested by police and Jagan retreats to Vanaprashtha Ashram, the secluded life from the ordinary life realizing the reality of his being to salvage himself.

As it revealed in the novel, this ridge between the father and the son was created between them because of Mali’s ailing mother’s death when Jagan was trying to cure her using his natural treatment on her. Mali believes that his father killed his mother and starts getting distant from his father.

At the individual level, the East and West conflict which is associated with cultural alienation makes Mali neither belongs to the East nor the West. His alienation is cultural; his inability to adopt to the culture where he actually belongs to makes him a cultural hybrid. in the contrary, Grace who was born as a cultural hybrid (half Korean and half American) seems to be better adopted to the Indian culture better that Mali.

As the East and the West, the conflicts between and inside never comes to a resolution even at the end of the novel. So this conflict of the East and The West has been beautifully personified by R.K.Narayan in the characters of Jagan and Mali.

Readthe summery of the Vendor of Sweets here.

Hope you have grasped the gist of what the East and the West conflict is and how the characters are used to demonstrate it in the novel by R.K. Narayan. In fact, there are many such conflicts in the novel as this novel is a cave-full of mysteries. If you have more examples to be added, please leave a comment in the comment section.

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