Study Guide

Sold Slavery

By Patricia McCormick


I do not know what they have agreed to. But I do know this: he gives her nearly enough money to buy a water buffalo. (53.Numbers.9)

What we have started to realize—though Lakshmi hasn't yet—is that she is what has been bought.

"Leaving," I say. "I'm going home."

Mumtaz laughs. "Home?" she says. "And how would you get there?"
I don't know.

"Do you know the way home?" she says.

"Do you have money for the train? Do you speak the language here? Do you even have any idea where you are?" (70.Sold.8-11)

One way that Mumtaz has enslaved Lakshmi (and one way that traffickers enslave the trafficked) is to isolate her from everything she knows. At Happiness House, Lakshmi has nothing—no money, no language, no idea of even where she is. And Mumtaz uses this to her advantage.

"You belong to me," she says. "And I paid a pretty sum for you, too." She opens to a page in her book and points to the notation for 10,000 rupees.

"You will take men to your room," she says. "And do whatever they ask of you. You will work here like the other girls, until your debt is paid off." (70.Sold.16-17)

Focus on the word "debt." A debt implies that Lakshmi owes Mumtaz something, and it gives Mumtaz not just physical power but financial power in the situation. Moreover, Mumtaz has just offered Lakshmi a glimmer of hope, one that Lakshmi grasps with all her strength. Why might Mumtaz offer Lakshmi hope of paying off her debt?

I am gathering up my bowl and my bundle when the aging bird girl comes in. With her is another girl, a much younger girl. She is wearing a bright yellow dress and clutching a bundle of rough homespun clothes in her arms. (91.NewGirl.1)

Lakshmi is allowed out of her room because she has lost some of her value as a slave—she is no longer a virgin. And yet another girl is led in immediately. What can we infer about Mumtaz's business and each girl's journey to Happiness House?

The strangeness of walking—moving more than a few paces to the window and back—makes the journey of a dozen steps feel like a million. And the hallway, a stretch of bare floor and cracked walls, seems to me wonderful, new and foreign and vast, and strange. (92.WhatIsNormal.3)

Lakshmi was locked in the room for weeks as Mumtaz used her and broke her spirit. How does Lakshmi feel about the tiny bit of freedom she gets to move about the house now? How might this be a strategic choice on the part of Mumtaz?

That new girl, the one in your old room, she says.
Yesterday morning Mumtaz found her handing from the rafters. (95.EverythingINeedtoKnowNow.18)

Lakshmi chose not to commit suicide, but the new girl decides death is better than sexual slavery. Why didn't Lakshmi take this course of action, and why might a girl choose to end her life after arriving in Happiness House?

But sometimes I find myself hating him.
I hate him for having schoolbooks and playmates.
For having a mother who combs his hair on the mornings she's feeling well enough.
And for having the freedom to come and go as he pleases. (100.AnOrdinaryBoy.4)

Although Lakshmi says that she "hates" Harish, what is the primary emotion she's feeling? And why does this make sense given where she came from and her captivity by Mumtaz?

I am too shy to answer. If I weren't, I would tell him that I am saving all my money so that someday I can go home. But I am ashamed to have this boy from my country see me in this shameful place, and so I flee the room and say nothing. (113.TheStreetBoy.4)

What do Lakshmi's emotions and actions imply about what she believes about her slavery at Happiness House? Does she have anything to feel ashamed about? Also, she says she's saving money to go home, which demonstrates the lasting effects of Mumtaz's lies about the debt that Lakshmi owes.

Her eyes begin to gleam like new rupee coins.

"There is something you could do," Mumtaz says.
Pushpa looks up expectantly.

"Sell her to me." She points to little Jeena, asleep in her bedroll. "In a few years, when she is old enough, I can make a lot of money with her." (131.BeyondWords.8-10)

Jeena is a toddler. Do you think that Mumtaz is able to see the humanity of the women she keeps at Happiness House, or are the women just investments for her? How does this fit with what you know of slavery?

I am afraid. Afraid that Mumtaz will beat us senseless. And I am afraid that the Americans will shame us and abandon us in the streets.
But most of all, I am afraid to imagine a life outside this place. (139.ASecret.19)

Why might Lakshmi fear a life outside Happiness House? How has slavery affected her emotions, her conceptions of what freedom is, and her hope in a better life?

"You are a clever girl, but not so clever, are you?" she says.
I simply stare at her.

"Let me do the calculations for you," she says.
She pretends to be adding and subtracting.

"Yes," she says. "It's as I thought. You have at least five more years here with me." (153.ARecalculation.18-20)

We tend to rely on Lakshmi's calculations—she was first in her class in school in her village, and she seems to have a pretty good concept of money. Why does Mumtaz lie? Why does she specifically add five years to Lakshmi's time? And why does she get away with it?

"You will never pay off what you owe," she says. "Mumtaz will work you until you are too sick to make money for her. And then she will throw you out on the street."

I shut my eyes and shake my head from side to side. She is wrong. Because if she is right, everything I've done here, everything that's been done to me, was for nothing. (162.Revelation.8-9)

Slavery is pretty closely related to lies and truth, and Shilpa tells Lakshmi a truth that we've suspected, but only now have confirmed. Think about Lakshmi's reaction, that "everything […] was for nothing." How does this truth affect her view of her own slavery? How might this truth affect what she believes about herself and any hope she has?

It took me a moment to realize, though, that Pushpa has long been gone. And a moment more to realize that this time, it is Anita. (167.Coughing.1)

Lakshmi is thirteen. The other girls have been thrown out of the house, taken from the house, and, still, the cycle of the brothel continues. We can predict the hopelessness of Anita's future based on what we saw happen to Pushpa—disease and homelessness.

"She cannot force you to do these things," he says.

This American is not so magical after all, I decide.
He doesn't know about Mumtaz's leather strap.
And the goondas.
And the chain on the door. (169.Believing.4-5)

For the first time in a long time, Lakshmi has hope of escaping her slavery. But even someone who is trying to help her, who has helped other girls, doesn't know the extent of the slavery and abuse Lakshmi has experienced. Can the people who rescue slaves ever really know what they have gone through?

What I am leaving behind:
the makeup and nail paint Mumtaz made me buy,
the condoms under my mattress,
everything that happened here. (171.Ready.3)

Is it going to be that easy for Lakshmi to heal from everything that happened to her at Happiness House? What lasting effects might her time as a slave have on her future?