Nectar in a Sieve


Kamala Markandaya

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Themes and Colors
Suffering Theme Icon
Women and Sexuality Theme Icon
Rural vs. Urban Poverty Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Agriculture vs. Education Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Nectar in a Sieve, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


Portraying the lives of Indian subsistence farmers, Nectar in a Sieve is permeated by unflinching depictions of unspeakable suffering. Even at the best of times, Rukmani­'s family is only precariously secure, growing just enough to eat. When beset by sickness or agricultural failure, they have no resources to sustain them, and when they are evicted from their land, they have no other way to make a living. In order to cope with the…

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Women and Sexuality

Rukmani marries her husband, Nathan, at the age of twelve, and the rest of her life is consumed by the grueling labor of maintaining a house and raising several children on scant resources. Although she represents an ostensibly conservative view of femininity, Rukmani actively endorses her way of life, asserting her contentment with Nathan. Moreover, by describing her loving and fairly equitable relationship with her husband, her unabashed sexual desire, and the authority she…

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Rural vs. Urban Poverty

Though Nectar in a Sieve’s protagonist, Rukmani, lives in poverty for her entire life, the novel tracks her initially rural surroundings as they become increasingly urbanized—from the arrival of the tannery to her self-sustaining village and the industrial slums it creates, to Rukmani and Nathan’s eviction from their land and decision to seek out their son in a large city. While Rukmani finds great happiness in her life as a poor farmer…

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While Rukmani’s life is difficult and tragic in many ways, the one thing that sustains her is her abiding love for her family. Nectar in a Sieve presents familial love and familial sacrifice as the most important aspect of life. While this point of view is beautiful and inspiring, it’s also poignant because Rukmani’s deep love for her family coexists with her inability to protect and provide for them. The novel points out that…

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Agriculture vs. Education

Nectar with a Sieve portrays a family living as subsistence farmers in rural India. The parents—Rukmani and Nathan—are totally committed their agricultural way of life, but most of their sons, who have a slightly higher level of education, question their parents’ values and eventually leave the farm for good. Rukmani idealizes the land and the lifestyle it provides, and initially views her children’s lack of interest as a tragedy; in her opinion, education…

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