Study Guide

Kenny in Nectar in a Sieve


Kennington is a white, western doctor (presumably British) who comes in and out of Rukmani’s village, helping the people and ultimately building a hospital. Kenny is an interestingly complex character, who is often something of a stereotype symbolizing the difficulty with colonialism. Kenny is committed to helping the people around him, but he views them as different. His aid could be looked at as benevolent charity, but it is also tinged with the fact that Kenny judges the people around him and seems to hold himself to be superior.

Kenny shouldn’t be viewed as a villain because he sacrifices himself to help others. Though he is intensely private (another indication that he does not view the Indians as his social peers), Kenny gives up his wife and children, and life, essentially, to be in India. With the coming of the hospital, we see that Kenny lives according to a completely intangible hope. He abstractly believes he can do something to "save" these people, and while it does come from completely good intentions, we’ve got to question his belief that he’s in any position to save anybody.

Kenny does have several saving graces. In the first place, he is incredibly generous with his time and money. For example, he brings food for Rukmani when he can, and treats her, her mother, and Ira. He even gives Nathan and Rukmani ten rupees for their final journey from the village.

More importantly, though, at the end of the novel Kenny’s last interaction with Rukmani shows that he’s finally starting to understand Indian culture. Kenny started out thinking the people were in need of some philosophical direction and material aid. He judged them as foolish because he didn’t fully understand the depth of their poverty and the strength of their spiritual convictions. In Kenny’s last talk with Rukmani, he comes to accept that the ways of the West are simply not applicable here. As a result of the difficult circumstances that many Indians face, many people turn to their faith and accept their suffering. When Rukmani mentions that they are in God’s hands, we get the sense that Kenny’s finally understood that this is the only way people can deal with their situations.