Study Guide

Sold Lies and Deceit

By Patricia McCormick

Lies and Deceit

As we linger over the last of our luxuries… we don't say what we both know.

That the first thing we must do is pay the landlord
And Gita's uncle, who sold us last season's seed.
And the headman's wife who would not trade cooking oil for work.
And my teacher, who gave me her own pencil when she saw I had none. (21.Maybe.16-17)

Self-deception is incredibly important in the novel. Lakshmi and her mother use it to cope with their harsh reality on the mountaintop, and we see Lakshmi use this same technique later on at Happiness House. Instead of dwelling on what could destroy their family, Lakshmi and Ama savor the luxuries while they can.

"From now on," he says, "I will be your uncle. But you must call me husband. Do you understand?"

I don't. Not at all. But I nod.

"The border is a very dangerous place," he says. "There are bad men there, men with guns, men who might harm you or try to take you away from me and Auntie." (54.UncleHusband.8-10)

With her stepfather Lakshmi could respond to his repeated lies by not trusting him, but with Uncle Husband she doesn't have the same luxury. In this case, her situation forces her to put her faith in him, though she knows nothing about him. Understandly, once she finds out about all the betrayals that brought her to Happiness House, she mistrusts anyone new.

In the days that follow, many people come to my room. Some are real. Some are not. (82.Twilight.1)

Not all lies are bad. Lakshmi has just undergone a brutal violation, and it's not over. Whether because of the drug in the lassi or because her mind is protecting her, Lakshmi is unaware of who is real and who isn't in the days that follow her initial rape.

The Happiness House girls clap and cheer and cackle like hens. The tiny pink-skinned TV man and woman are strange to me.

But these flesh-and-blood girls are, to me, stranger still.

How they can eat and laugh and carry on as normal when soon the men will come is so perplexing that, while they laugh, I fight back tears. (92.WhatIsNormal.14-16)

Lakshmi has just been released from her prison of a room, and she encounters the other women and the social structure of Happiness House for the first time. She doesn't yet realize how lying to oneself can be a way to survive the horrible conditions of sexual slavery—instead Lakshmi retains her straight-forward nature. But not for long…

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)

Here Lakshmi is learning how to "pretend," as she calls it—though we might call it compartmentalizing what's happening in her life. Or even self-deception. Whatever we name it, this ability helps her both remember her past when life was good and forget about what her life has become.

He says the American lady is kind. He says Anita is wrong about the Americans, that they do not shame the children of the brothels. He says this is a story Mumtaz has told her to keep her from running away.

I do not know which of them to believe. (117.AStrangeVocabulary.2-3)

Lakshmi has lived with deception and betrayal for a long time at this point in the novel. This is a tactic of slavery on Mumtaz's part—to create a distrust of Americans so that the girls in the brothel won't try to escape if one comes come. Why might Lakshmi want to believe Harish, and why might she be afraid to?

But I could feel myself, my true self, give in to the simple pleasure of being held. (119.AnAccidentalKindness.4)

When the hugging man comes, we see Lakshmi reveal herself for the first time since she realized she was a slave. This intimacy that Lakshmi experiences with the hugging man is in direct contrast to the pretending Lakshmi does when she's with other men.

"Do you want to leave here?"

I know about these Americans. Anita has told me all about then. I will not be fooled into leaving here only to be stripped naked and have people throw stones at me and call me a dirty woman.

I shake my head no. (137.AStrangeCustomer.17-19)

So many lies here. The lies about Americans. And the lie Lakshmi tells both the man and herself. She does want to leave… so what's holding her back from trusting the first American?

I had a drunken customer yesterday. When he fell sleep afterward, I went through his wallet and helped myself to 20 rupees more. (155.WhateverItTakes.2)

Lakshmi was quietly outraged and indignant when her stepfather stole her cucumbers and gambled the money earned from her mother's earrings. But now she has become a thief as well. Why is this so much more acceptable in the context of the story?

"But the rest—the money from the customers—goes to Mumtaz. Your family will never see one rupee more." (162.Revelation.6)

This truth from Shilpa destroys Lakshmi's (perhaps fragile) hope that working in the brothel is actually helping her family. We're not sure if this is self-deception on the part of Lakshmi or deliberate deception on the part of Mumtaz, but we know that this truth causes Lakshmi's world to tilt askew. Arguably, this is the point where she begins to actively search for a way to escape.

Every day I have prayed for an American to come. Now that one is here I don't know what to do.

I hear a noise from the counting room and see that Shilpa is watching. So I go to the man like a thirsty vine. (168.DigitalMagic.1-2)

At the beginning of the novel Lakshmi had to learn to hide her true feelings about her stepfather… But now, she is a practiced enough liar to use deception to her advantage.

"Do you want to leave here?" he says.

I cannot answer.
How do I know if he is a good man?
What if he is like the drunken American?
What if he is like the ones Anita talks about, the ones who make young girls walk naked in the streets? (168.DigitalMagic.19-20)

This is a theme that pops up throughout the novel. Because of repeated betrayals, Lakshmi's fear of a new betrayal has the potential to hold her back from grasping freedom. So fear, betrayal, and deception are all intertwined in the novel.