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Nectar in a Sieve

Author: Kamala Markandaya

Nationality: Indian

Genre: novel

Major Characters

1) Rukmani: wife of Nathan (a farmer), faithful & devoted to husband, later widowed

2) Nathan: rice farmer, husband to Rukmani, has affair with Kunthi, dies after failing to find son, Murugan

3) Kenny: volunteer doctor who tries to help the poor but is highly frustrated with their living conditions, helps Rukmani

4) Irawaddy: beautiful daughter of Nathan & Rukmani, deserted by husband, turns to protistution for money, has a son

Minor characters

Kunthi, Kali, Janaki, Granny, Biswas, Puli
Arjun, Murugan, Selvam, Raja, Thambi, Kuti--sons of Rukmani & Nathan

Literary Terms

Setting: Rukmani's childhood village, Rukmani & Nathan's rural village & rice farm, Murugan's town & the temple & stone quarry there

Themes: a) Work is precious, but without hope of success it is useless.
b) No matter what crises life brings, people can keep hope and go forward with their lives.

External conflict: a)the native villagers vs the tannery business
b) the farmers vs the severe weather
c) Rukmani vs Kunthi

Symbolism: The title, Nectar in a Sieve (nectar, a precious liquid, cannot be collected in a sieve)--the title symbolizes the theme that work, like nectar, is precious, but without hope of success it is useless.

The title is also an allusion to a line in a poem by Samuel Talor Coleridge which is found at the beginning of the book.

Internal conflict: a) Rukmani's struggle of being baren for 7 years
b) Rukmani's fear of Nathan misunderstanding her relationship with Kenny