Study Guide

Sold Language and Education

By Patricia McCormick

Language and Education

"You must stay in school, no matter what your stepfather says." (1.ATinRoof.6)

It's a surprise to us that Ama, though she defers to her husband in almost all things, stands strong when it comes to Lakshmi's education. Why might this be the case?

If you look hard enough, chaos turns into order the way letters turn into words.

This city is not so hard. You just have to study it. (48.OntheBus.10-11)

The ability to make sense of things by categorizing them and putting them into some sort of order gives Lakshmi confidence to approach the city with curiosity instead of fear. How might this change in the future for her?

Now I practice these memories each morning and night, the way my teacher taught me to drill my maths. (89.AHandfulofFog.3)

These first few days while Lakshmi adjusts to her life in Happiness House are incredibly difficult, and she's afraid of forgetting who she is and where she comes from—so she "practices" the memories. Why might this be helpful to her in the context she's living?

"…as soon as you've worked off the twenty thousand rupees I paid for you."

"But—" I have seen her record book, with its entry of 10,000 rupees. I know this 20,000 price is a lie.

Somehow, of all the things that have been done to me, this—this outrage—is the worst. (90.Changes.8-10)

Why is this lie worse than anything else? And if Lakshmi didn't have the education she has, if she didn't—or couldn't—realize the lie that Mumtaz is telling, would she be as outraged?

Then Shahanna teaches me city subtraction […]

She also warns me: Mumtaz will bury you alive if she sees your little book of igures.

I do the calculations.

And realize I am already buried alive. (98.Mathematics.5, 7-9)

It's clear that Lakshmi's ability to do math and read is a danger to her. But here we find that it's not just dangerous because of Mumtaz, it's dangerous because of what Lakshmi realizes about the possibility of freedom. How might this knowledge affect her attitude toward her reality at Happiness House?

While the other girls are downstairs watching the TV, I take his brightly colored storybook and make it mine.

I do not understand the words inside, and the pictures are queer and otherworldly.

But at least for a few minutes, I pretend I am in school with Gita and my soft, moonfaced teacher, and I am the number one girl in class again. (102.StealingfromtheDavidBeckhamBoy.7-8)

Why might Lakshmi want to pretend with Harish's book? In other words, what are her memories of education and her experience with education giving Lakshmi in Happiness House?

"Do you want me to teach you how to read the words in the storybook?" he says.

I do.
I don't dare admit how much.

"Yes," I say, my eyes still fixed on the notebook.
"Yes, I do." (109.Yes.3-5)

What might education—learning new words—give Lakshmi at Happiness House that she doesn't currently have? Think about how it can affect her spirit and her ties with other people.

All I want to do is lie in my bed and repeat the beautiful American words from Harish's book, to say them over and over until one blends into the other, a chant that keeps all other thoughts away. (148.AllIHaveLeft.3)

Shahanna has just been taken from Happiness House, and Lakshmi wants to escape into language and reading as a coping mechanism as she grieves for her friend.

Today I will show her my calculations, the figures I've checked and rechecked and checked again, the numbers that say I will have paid down my debt—by this time next year. (151.Calculations.3)

Lakshmi takes a great risk in showing Mumtaz her calculations. Why does she do it? And how does her ability to read and do math affect her hope for escape?

I reach under my bed and pull out the American storybook, the one Harish gave me. I hold it out to the American. He cocks his head to one side, puzzled.

I point to a picture. "Elmo," I say.

He nods slowly. (168.Digital Magic.24-26)

Throughout the novel, language and learning have become tied to friendship and comfort. Language allowed Lakshmi to connect to Harish and others in the brothel, and here she takes the American storybook and uses it as a bridge between herself and the American.

He bows and says, "Namaste," the word in my language that means hello and good-bye.

The American's last word to Lakshmi after their planning is one in her own language. This is pretty important stuff—not only will Lakshmi be saying hello to freedom, but she'll be saying to good-bye to everything about her life at Happiness House. What else might she be saying hello or goodbye to?