At the beginning of Sold, Ama explains that women are meant to endure their lives to Lakshmi, and that's what we see throughout the novel—women enduring. But despite their lower social status in the novel, we see women—namely Mumtaz, Auntie Bimla, and Bajai Sita—who seek power in whatever ways possible, even though that power means that they degrade and enslave other women.
And the roles of men are complicated too. There are men who sell Lakshmi, but also men and boys who are kind, who teach her, and who help her escape slavery. So on both sides of the gender lines, it's hard to make definite associations with good or evil.
The setting of the novel Sold introduces readers to a culture and social world they might not be familiar with. Nepal and India are fairly patriarchal, with rituals and actions that reinforce the differences of power between men and women. Does this mean that Sold is a commentary on gender inequality? Not really. Many societies have a power structure based on gender within them.
And the social customs around gender within Sold are only one of the factors that permit Lakshmi's story to take place. In some ways characters defy gender expectations—being female doesn't necessarily make a character sympathetic, and being male doesn't necessarily make a character evil. Gender is much more complicated than that both in the novel… and in real life.
Lakshmi is too independent to be a subservient woman in the novel.
McCormick characterizes women as either subservient or power-hungry.
The lies and deceit that occur in Sold are underhanded and often lies of omission. In fact, the lies are often found in what is unsaid. For instance, Lakshmi's never really told what work she will do until she is in not in a position to say no.
But the lies don't end there. At Happiness House, deception becomes more complicated. There are Mumtaz's lies to Lakshmi about her debt and to Anita about the nature of Americans; and there are the ways in which Lakshmi and the other girls (and Harish) deceive themselves to make their situations more livable. We're stuck wondering which lies are unforgiveable and which lies help the girls in the house survive, because one thing's for certain: not all lies are created equal in this book.
Lakshmi must lie to herself to maintain her identity.
Mumtaz's lies to the girls are a kindness.
It's the classic chicken-or-the-egg issue: does power corrupt characters, or are characters already corrupt and therefore seek power in the book Sold? It's hard to tell because power is generally sought and used for different ends.
Some characters—like Mumtaz, Uncle Husband, and Auntie Bimla—use the power they have over others for financial gain. Other characters—like the stepfather and the men who visit Happiness House—use power granted to them by social norms and values to take advantage of women. In this novel, then, power is tied closely to manipulation, social values, control, and violence. So we need to keep our eyes open for how Lakshmi regains enough power to orchestrate her rescue.
Mumtaz is as powerless with the policemen as the girls are with Mumtaz, and this lack of power makes her a more sympathetic character.
Violence and the threat of violence are the only ways for characters to maintain power in Sold.
Friendship in Sold develops in the most unlikely places. Yes Lakshmi had a friend in Gita before she was sold into prostitution, but the more developed and meaningful relationships in the novel occur at Happiness House. And thank goodness, because they provide a much needed bright spot in the novel.
Shahanna's kindness gets Lakshmi through her awful transition into the brothel, and Monica and Harish each give Lakshmi the smallest and sweetest of gifts. These kindnesses give Lakshmi the strength she needs to endure Happiness House. Even so though, friendship isn't easy. When Shahanna is taken, Lakshmi almost loses it, and in the end she has to choose between friendship and freedom. So while friendship keeps hope alive for Lakshmi, it also hurts her in deeper ways than she imagined possible.
Without her friends at Happiness House, Lakshmi would have lost all hope.
Harish saved Lakshmi's life by being her friend.
Slavery in Sold is most likely different than what Americans think of when they hear the word slavery. Many of the girls in Happiness House are victims of human sex trafficking. They are stuck at the brothel either by force or by lack of other choices—their families reject them or they have no other place to go or other options. And many of the girls have been manipulated to fear the outside world and the very people who can save them.
The psychological and physical torment the girls endure is downright brutal, so much so that at least one unnamed girl commits suicide. So slavery is integrally tied to force, fear, manipulation, abuse, and—most of all—the removal of choice from one's life.
The novel is not only meant to illustrate the extent of suffering brought about by enslavement in Happiness House, but also how sex slavery is perpetuated. Though we follow Lakshmi's story intimately, we catch glimpses of the larger pictures of sex trafficking in that part of the world: the supply chain, the monetization of a human being, the demand for girls, the options that are available to brothel workers. Because of the other characters' story lines, we come to believe that Lakshmi's move toward freedom is the exception, not the norm. And that is heartbreaking.
The people most to blame for the perpetuation of sexual slavery are the men who visit the brothel.
The Americans who try to rescue Lakshmi will never be able to understand the psychological and physical effects of slavery on her unless they, too, have experienced slavery.
In Sold sex is a violation of self, a physical representation of power with serious and long-lasting physical and psychological effects on its victims. Above all, sex is monetized. It—and the women in the novel—is bought and sold, and this brings a whole host of repercussions with it. The role sex plays in the novel affects how women view the act of sex, their own sexuality, themselves, their worth as humans, and—perhaps most heartbreakingly—how others see them.
The budding adolescence and tentative sexual hopes that Lakshmi experiences in Nepal are cruelly ripped from her at Happiness House. Sex becomes humiliating and shameful. The most intimate encounter Lakshmi has with a man involves simple human touch, not sex. In fact, she tries to desensitize herself to sex that she is helpless to prevent.
The whole point of the novel centering around sexual slavery seems to be twofold. It seeks to tell the stories of human trafficking victims in realistic ways, and it seeks to outrage us enough to act. Because this book isn't just a novel—it's a call to action.
Lakshmi will never associate the act of sex with anything positive in her life.
Lakshmi will eventually get over her negative sexual experiences and repeated rapes to find love and joy in the act of sex.
Language and literacy have power in the novel Sold. Even in a society that is pretty male-dominated and power-oriented, Ama recognizes the value of education—and as a result, Lakshmi attends school at home on the swallow-tailed peak, and she knows how to read and write in her home language.
So when Lakshmi is removed from her home and taken to a place where she doesn't know the language, she loses the power that resides in education and literacy knowledge. In fact, the very fact that she can read, write, and do arithmetic puts her in danger at Happiness House. Yet this danger doesn't stop Lakshmi from satisfying her thirst for knowledge with Harish, and then—once he is gone—by herself.
Language and education are some of the only ways Lakshmi regains control over her world, and as such they keep her from spinning into despair and are instrumental in her escape. One of the images that convinces her to trust the third American is a picture of girls in a school. And indeed, it's the words at the end of the novel that Lakshmi speaks in Hindi—the language she learned from Harish—that begin her path to freedom.
Lakshmi's literacy levels and education experiences directly contribute to her escape of Happiness House.
Lakshmi would have escaped from Happiness House even if she didn't know how to read or write.
There are two major settings in Sold, and Lakshmi experiences suffering in each one. Life for Lakshmi on her mountain in Nepal is not easy, and struggles are a part of daily life—but in Nepal, Lakshmi can rely on Ama and her community to help her cope with her difficulties. So this type of physical and emotional suffering seems much more palatable than the suffering Lakshmi experiences at Happiness House because on the mountain Lakshmi's suffering is balanced with joys.
At Happiness House though, no such joy exists. Lakshmi experiences physical and emotional suffering, and it's easy to see how her systematic abuse could destroy her spirit and her health.
But Lakshmi's strong-willed, and she decides to try to find her own way out of this suffering. She does this by submitting, to some extent, to Mumtaz's will, and she also finds what joy she can in learning from Harish. Maintaining her hope though, is difficult because of what her life is like in the brothel. Even though she tries to form a community around her to help her deal with her suffering, one by one these friends disappear from her life. In the end, Lakshmi is left to save herself from her suffering and pain. It's definitely not fair, but it also seems incredibly realistic.
Suffering is inevitable in Sold—no one escapes it.
Lakshmi's suffering both in Nepal and at Happiness House has made her a stronger person, so it was worth it in the end.
Innocence is primarily associated with youth, sexual inexperience, and idealism in Sold. On the mountain, Lakshmi—to some extent—leaves the innocence for the role of womanhood when she gets her period for the first time, and this implies that she can't be an innocent child and a woman (who can be sexually active) at the same time.
But this simplistic view of innocence vanishes when Lakshmi leaves her village on her journey to the city and, unknowingly, a brothel in India. In the brothel, we see Lakshmi's sexual innocence forcibly and brutally ripped from her—and yet despite her sexual experiences, Lakshmi seems to maintain some semblance of spiritual innocence. How can this be?
So we have to ask ourselves some major questions as we read about Lakshmi: What, exactly, is innocence? Is it possible to maintain innocence after sexual entry into adulthood, and in what ways? And can we ever regain innocence that we have lost? None of these questions are easy to answer, but all are important to understanding Lakshmi's psyche.
Lakshmi never really loses her innocence despite her repeated rapes and suffering.
Mumtaz is more responsible for Lakshmi's lost innocence than the men who use her sexually.
In her mountaintop home in Nepal in the novel Sold, Lakshmi withstands extreme weather, poverty, and disappointment in her mother and her stepfather. Yet she and her family surge forward, because, as Ama says, "Simply to endure... is to triumph" (11.EverythingINeedToKnow.11).
It's this introduction into hardship and struggle that helps Lakshmi persevere at Happiness House. She withstands Mumtaz's abuse, the abuse by the men who rape her, and a growing isolation as her friends gradually disappear into the fringes of society.
But her hope is integrally tied to perseverance. Lakshmi hopes to be free of Happiness House, she hopes to return home, she hopes and believes that there is something more for her. Even on the mountaintop, she has goals that she wants to see realized. And without her hopes and goals, Lakshmi might not endure her struggles with the same determination.
So Lakshmi makes plans to achieve her hopes, and these plans allow her to persevere despite almost insurmountable odds. Without hope and plans, Lakshmi's ability to endure her captivity as a sex worker might come to a much different end.
Lakshmi has little control over her own rescue, so her perseverance and hope are actually pretty useless.
Lakshmi is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to hopes and perseverance of girls in Happiness House.