English 580: World Literature Spring 1998

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Discussion Questions and Talking Points on T. Sivasankara Pillai 's Scavenger 's Son

[pagination refers to Heinemann edition, isbn 0-435-95082-7]

1. In the legal sense discrimination based on caste was outlawed in the new state of India from its inception. How does Scavenger 's Son, however, show the differences between legal definition and society 's practices?

2. Why do you suppose Chudalamutta [C] won 't answer his father [p. 4] after completing his first day of work? How do the emotions first appearing here become part of what forms C 's character later on in the novel?

3. C clearly wants to improve his lot in life. How does he go about doing this? The narrator says C learned "from his experiences of this day one" [p. 6]. What lesson has he learned here and what others does he later learn?

4. The novel was perhaps the first to dramatize the lives of the very lowest of the low in India. What does Pillai show about the people on the bottom rung of the social ladder? What are their priorities, values? What are their strengths? Weaknesses?

5. Almost from the beginning of the novel the scavengers consider "uniting." Why don 't they? Why aren 't they successful? See especially chapter 2 "The Union." What is the "difficult moral problem" C faces [p. 26]? Why does he react as he does, do what he does? What are we to make of the reported changes (re scavengers) after C 's death?

6. Be prepared to describe the relationship between C and Valli. How does it change over time? How do C 's and Valli 's ideas differ on love, happiness, childrearing, success, and so on? What do you think of C 's treatment of Valli? How does his treatment of her reveal his character?

7. How do the scavengers react to the smallpox epidemic? How do the village 's administrators? What of C 's role during this time? What creates the tension between C and the other characters during this epidemic? How does C react differently to the cholera epidemic than to the smallpox epidemic? Why?

8. Who get betrayed in the chapter "Betrayed"? Why? What is to be gained? What is revealed about the characters?

9. How do his wife 's pregnancy and birth of his son strain C 's values and ambitions? Who do these affect the relationship of C and Valli? What affect on C 's sense of self? Explain why the choice of the son 's name is important.

10. Explain how the "Childhood" chapter demonstrates the difficulties for low caste persons to achieve even fundamental change for the next generation. See p. 90, for example, where C for the first time "examined his whole life."

11. How do you read the ending of the novel? What of Mohanan 's "vengeance"--is it effective, useful, justified? What seem to be Pillai 's main points in the final chapter?