Nectar in a Sieve
Suffering is fact of life in Nectar in a Sieve. Characters suffer financially, but they also suffer in deeper and more personal ways. Rukmani watches as her children starve, and her family breaks apart. She even holds her husband as he dies. There’s a message that suffering, because it is a natural part of life, must be borne. There’s also a lot of interesting discussion between Kenny and Rukmani about whether suffering can be fought. These characters question whether there’s any purpose in being angry about the injustice of suffering if there’s nothing they can do about it. Ultimately they come down on different sides. Rukmani accepts suffering, while her last son devotes his life to trying to alleviate it. Suffering brings spiritual cleansing, but it also inspires people to hope that there is something beyond suffering.
Questions About Suffering
- Nathan suggests the landowner could only really enjoy the fruits of his business by ignoring all the suffering his business causes. Is it true that people can’t really enjoy the profits of other people’s suffering? If people were really exposed to the suffering of others, would they feel forced to do something about it?
- Which is the greater cause of suffering: the things the characters can’t control, like the weather and the harvests – or the things they can, like the way they think of themselves and treat each other?
- Of the many challenges Nathan has faces, which represents the greatest blow? Is losing the land the one thing that really pitches him into suffering, or is there more to the story?
- Ruku tells Kenny that suffering in silence cleanses the soul, and that she will ultimately be rewarded for her suffering. Does Ruku really believe this? Are there other indications, times she falters in the face of suffering, or lashes out, that tell us she’s not so stoic and passive as she originally appears?
Chew on This
Though Rukmani purports throughout the novel to have a system of beliefs that appreciates the meaning and value of suffering, the greater thrust of the novel suggests that the author, Markandaya, may actually believe the amount of suffering in the story to be needless.