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Nectar in a Sieve

  • Study Guide
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title Nectar in a Sieve

author Kamala Markandaya

type of work Novel

genre Social novel; pastoral novel (novel of the countryside); naturalist novel; love story; parable

language English

time and place written England in the early 1950s

date of first publication 1954

publisher The John Day Company

narrator Rukmani narrates her story as reminiscence approximately ten years after the events she describes.

point of view Rukmani tells the story of her life in the first person, narrating her own direct observations, motivations, and feelings and describing other characters through her own eyes.

tone Rukmani’s voice in the novel is direct, simple, clear, and unrelentingly honest, even when she recounts painful and shameful events.

tense The story is told in the past tense, except for the opening lines and occasional commentary, in which Rukmani uses the present tense to establish herself as an older woman looking back on her life.

setting (time) A span of about thirty years in the first half of the twentieth century

setting (place) An unspecified small village and large city in a rice-growing region of India

protagonist Rukmani

major conflict On the surface, this is a story about the struggle between life and death for the very poor in an unjust society, but the novel’s transcendent struggle is between the forces of good and evil in a human life, characterized by generosity and greed, compassion and selfishness, and joy and sorrow.

rising action Rukmani turns to Kenny for help with her infertility without telling Nathan, allows wrath to overtake her when Kunthi threatens to expose her to Nathan, and puts her family at risk of starvation during the famine to satisfy Kunthi’s extortion demands.

climax The night Rukmani loses herself to a rage so intense that she tries to kill her daughter, mistaking her for Kunthi, is the moment when there can be no turning back for her in the choice between good and evil.

falling action Rukmani finds peace by telling Nathan the truth, and she grows in love, compassion, and generosity despite the death of their sons, the loss of their land, and the degradations they face in the city.

themes Hunger as threat to dignity; knowledge as power; the strength of truth; the importance of fertility

motifs Drumbeats; confronting the stranger

symbols Rice; bullocks; the sari


 · Rukmani’s restriction of Ira’s freedoms to protect her from the tannery workers foreshadows the troubles Rukmani’s sons will have with them.
 · Ira’s marriage that is “too good to be true” foreshadows future troubles with her fertility and security.
 · Kunthi’s prostitution foreshadows Ira’s similar choice.