Table of Contents
Summary and Analysis.
Chapters 16--20 6
Chapter 1, Paradise Pickles and Preserves!
Chapter 2, Pappachi’s Moth.
Chapter 3, Big Man the Laltain, Small Man the Mombatti
Chapter 4, Abhilash Talkies
Chapter 5, God’s Own Country.
Chapter 6, Cochin Kangaroos;
Chapter 7, Wisdom Exercise Notebooks.
Chapter 8, Welcome Home Our Sophie Mol.
Chapter 9, Mrs. Pillai, Mrs. Eapen, Mrs. Rajagopalan
Chapter 10, The River in the Boat
Chapter 11, The God of Small Things.
Chapter 12, Kochu Thomban.
Chapter 13, The Pessimist and the Optimist.
Chapter 14, Work Is Struggle
Chapter 15, The Crossing
Chapter 16, A Few Hours Later.
Chapter 17, Cochin Harbor Terminus.
Chapter 18, The History House.
Chapter 19, Saving Ammu.
Chapter 20, The Madras Mail.
Chapter 21, The Cost of Living
Reverend E. John Ipe
The Kathakali Men.
Baby Kochamma (Navomi Ipe)
Mammachi (Shoshamma Ipe)
Pappachi (Shri Benaan John Ipe)
Inspector Thomas Mathew
Comrade E. M. S. Namboodiripad
Orangedrink Lemondrink Man.
Paravan, Paryan and Pulyan
Indian History and Politics
Class Relations and Cultural Tensions.
Point of View.
Language and Meaning
Critical Essay #1.
Critical Essay #2
Critical Essay #3
Critical Essay #4
Topics for Further Study
Compare and Contrast.
What Do I Read Next?.
Table of Contents
For Further Reading
Arundhati Roy's debut novel The God of Small Things rapidly became a world-renowned literary sensation after it was published in New Delhi in 1997. Immediately recognized as a passionate, sophisticated, and lushly descriptive work, it won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize and launched its author to international fame. The novel tells the story of the Kochammas, a wealthy Christian family in a small village in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Based loosely from the perspective of Rahel Kochamma, who has returned to her hometown to see her twin brother, it pieces together the story of the dramatic events of Rahel's childhood that drastically changed the lives of everyone in the family.
The God of Small Things is an ambitious work that addresses universal themes ranging from religion to biology. Roy stresses throughout the novel that great and small themes are interconnected, and that historical events and seemingly unrelated details have far-reaching consequences throughout a community and country. The novel is therefore able to comment simultaneously on universal, abstract themes, and a wide variety of ideas relating to the personal and family history of the members of the Kochamma family as well as the wider concerns of the Kerala region of India. Some of the novel's most thoroughly developed themes are forbidden love, Indian history, and politics. It is in love and politics that Roy's carefully constructed, multifaceted narrative tends to dwell, and it is when love, politics, and history combine that Roy is able to communicate her most profound authorial insights.
Born circa 1960, Roy grew up in Aymanam, a village in the state of Kerala, in southern India. Her father, a Hindu tea planter from Bengal, was divorced from her Syrian Christian mother when Roy was very young, and Roy was raised by her mother, who ran an informal school. Roy left home when she was sixteen and lived in a squatter's colony in New Delhi, selling empty beer bottles for a living. She eventually went to architectural school and married a fellow student, Gerard Da Cunha. Both quit their studies and moved to Goa, which is in Southwestern India. Roy eventually left Da Cunha and moved back to New Delhi where she found a job at the National Institute of Urban Affairs.
While living in New Delhi, Roy met the film director Pradeep Krishen (whom she later married) and accepted a small acting role that he offered. Soon afterwards, she traveled to Italy on a scholarship to study monument restoration. Roy began to write screenplays while she was in Italy, and she and Krishen later collaborated on a television series that was cancelled after they had shot several episodes. She then wrote two screenplays that became films, and she began to write prose until her critical essay of the celebrated film Bandit Queen caused considerable controversy. Roy withdrew to private life to work on her debut novel, which took her nearly five years to complete.
The God of Small Things rapidly became an international sensation, winning Britain's Booker Prize. After its publication, Roy began to work as a political activist, writing essays and giving speeches on a variety of issues, including capitalist globalization, the rights of oppressed groups, and the negative influence of United States culture and governmental policy on the rest of the world. She has been imprisoned for her positions and activism, but she continues to fight for a variety of liberal causes. Roy received the Sydney Peace Prize in November of 2004.
Summary and Analysis
The God of Small Things begins with Rahel returning to her childhood home in Ayemenem, India, to see her twin brother Estha, who has been sent to Ayemenem by their father. Events flash back to Rahel and Estha's birth and the period before their mother Ammu divorced their father. Then the narrator describes the funeral of Sophie Mol, Rahel and Estha's cousin, and the point after the funeral when Ammu went to the police station to say that a terrible mistake had been made. Two weeks after this point, Estha was returned to his father.
The narrator briefly describes the twins' adult lives before they return to Ayemenem.
In the present, Baby Kochamma gloats that Estha does not speak to Rahel just as he does not speak to anyone else, and then the narrator gives an overview of Baby Kochamma's life. Rahel looks out the window at the building that used to contain the family business, Paradise Pickles and Preserves, and flashes back to the circumstances surrounding Sophie Mol's death.
The second chapter describes the trip in which Rahel, Estha, Ammu, Chacko, and Baby Kochamma travel to the town of Cochin in order to pick up Margaret Kochamma and Sophie Mol from the airport. They are on the way to see The Sound of Music, but they are delayed at a train crossing by a Marxist demonstration in which Rahel sees her friend Velutha, who is a Paravan, or Untouchable Hindu, employed by the Kochamma family. When she yells to him out the window, Ammu scolds her furiously.
Summary and Analysis
A flashback describes Velutha and his relations with the Kochamma family, and then one of the protesters opens Rahel's door and makes Baby Kochamma wave a Marxist flag. Before they drive away, Chacko says that Ammu, Estha, and Rahel are "millstones around his neck.” In chapter 3, which takes place in the present day, the narrator describes the filthiness of the Ayemenem House. Estha comes home, goes upstairs, and takes off his clothes to wash them while Rahel watches.
Chapter 4 continues the story of the family trip at the point when they arrive at the movie theater. Ammu makes Estha go to the lobby because he cannot resist singing along, and the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man at the refreshments counter forces Estha to masturbate him. The family leaves early because Ammu sees that Estha will be sick, and on the way out she comments on the sweetness of the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man. Rahel says "why don't you marry him, then?" Ammu tells her that comments like these make people love you a little less. Rahel worries that Ammu will love Sophie Mol more than her. The twins fall asleep next to each other in Chacko's room.
Back in the present day, the narrator describes the filthiness of the river, just a stream now because of a saltwater barrage, and the five-star hotel that has taken over the "History House," which was formerly the home of an Englishman who took on traditional Indian customs. Rahel then answers Comrade Pillai's invasive questions and remembers his son Lenin.
In chapter 6, the family picks up Margaret and Sophie Mol from the Cochin Airport. Baby Kochamma tells the twins they are the ambassadors of India. Chacko happily introduces everyone, but Estha does not say "How do YOU do?" as Ammu requests, and Rahel hides behind a curtain. Ammu later scolds them angrily, and the twins talk with Sophie Mol.
Chapter 7 is in the present day, when Rahel finds her and Estha's "Wisdom Exercise Notebooks" and reads the corrections that Ammu made in them. She remembers Ammu's last visit before she died and the lonely circumstances of her mother's death.
When the family arrives at the Ayemenem House with Margaret and Sophie Mol, the narrator compares the situation to a play. Rahel escapes from the distribution of Sophie Mol's cake to play with Velutha, and Ammu exchanges a meaningful glance with Velutha.
In chapter 9, Rahel remembers her and Estha becoming friends with Sophie Mol, and, in the present day, she walks into the abandoned factory. Chapter 10 describes Estha's thoughts while he wandered from Sophie Mol's reception at the house and into the pickle factory. He and Rahel decide to take a stockpile of things to the History House. The twins find a boat by the river and Velutha helps them repair it. In chapter 11, Ammu dreams of a one-armed man until the twins wake her, and she realizes that Velutha is the man of whom she dreamed, the God of Small Things.
In the present day, Rahel goes to see the traditional kathakali dancing in the Ayemenem temple and Estha shows up as well. Chapter 13 recalls the story of Margaret and Chacko's relationship and then describes the circumstances leading up to Sophie Mol's drowning, beginning with Vellya Paapen's visit to the Ayemenem House. Vellya Paapen tells Mammachi of Velutha's affair with Ammu and offers to kill his son, and Mammachi shouts, spits at him, and pushes him to the ground. Mammachi and Baby Kochamma then manage to lock Ammu in her room, and the next morning they receive the news that a white child was found drowned in the river.
At the police station, Baby Kochamma lies to Inspector Thomas Mathew that Velutha threatened them and tried to force himself on Ammu. The inspector then interviews Comrade Pillai about whether Velutha has any political support and, discovering that he does not, instructs his men to attack Velutha.
In chapter 14, Chacko visits Comrade Pillai and asks him about Velutha. Comrade Pillai, because of his own ambitions in the Communist Party, tells Chacko that Velutha is a dangerous party member who should be fired. Velutha comes to see Comrade Pillai, after Mammachi screams at him and fires him, and Comrade Pillai tells Velutha that he has no support from the party. In chapter 15, Velutha swims across the river to the History House.
The twins and Sophie Mol run away from home in chapter 16, and Sophie Mol drowns after their boat tips over on the way to the History House. Chapter 17, in the present day, describes Rahel and Estha lying in bed, remembering their childhood. In chapter 18, the Kottayam police find Velutha sleeping next to Rahel and Estha at the History House, they and beat him until he is nearly dead.
Inspector Mathew interviews the twins in chapter 19 and discovers that Velutha is innocent. He tells Baby Kochamma that if the children do not identify Velutha as their abductor, he will accuse Baby Kochamma of filing a false report. Baby Kochamma tells the twins that they and Ammu will go to jail unless they accuse Velutha, and Estha goes into Velutha's cell to condemn him. It is not until the next morning, after Velutha has died, that Ammu goes to the police station to set the record straight.
Chapter 20 describes the scene at the train station when Estha is leaving for Calcutta, and then changes to the present tense, when Estha and Rahel begin to make love. Chapter 21 flashes back to the point at which Ammu finds Velutha at the river and she and Velutha make love for the first time.
Chapter 1, Paradise Pickles and Preserves
Chapter 1, Paradise Pickles and Preserves Summary
Rahel returns to her childhood home on a rainy summer's day after twenty-three years' absence. The reason that she is coming back is to see her twin brother, Estha. The only members of her family living in the house now are Baby Kochamma, Rahel's grandaunt, and Estha. Rahel recalls how very close she and her twin were, like one spirit. The twins are now thirty-one, the age that their mother was when she died. On entering the house, Rahel sees the bright blue Plymouth parked outside. Thoughts, memories and recollections come to her, with tastes, visions and smells.
Rahel's first memory is the day of the funeral of her eight-year-old cousin, Sophie Mol. Rahel, Estha and their mother Ammu stand alone and ignored in the church. The rest of the family gathers close together in the family pew. Chacko, their uncle, is grieving deeply over his daughter's death. Mammachi, his mother, grieves because her son is grieving. Margaret Kochamma stands in mourning next to Chacko. Baby Kochamma, their grandaunt, is solemnly singing hymns.
Young seven-year-old Rahel seems not to believe that Sophie is dead. After the funeral, Ammu takes the children to the police station, where she tries to speak to the officer in charge, telling him that there has been a mistake. The officer insults Ammu and her children, telling her that it is too late. Ammu cries that she has killed "him." Ammu leaves her home soon after the funeral.
Two weeks after the funeral, Estha is sent to live with his father in Calcutta, where he is put into a boy's school. Estha has always been a quiet child, but slowly he becomes more and more withdrawn until he never speaks at all to anyone. He silently helps with the household chores. He silently shops at the market. He walks alone for miles
Chapter 1, Paradise Pickles and Preserves on end. He returns to his childhood house when his father goes to work abroad. It is in this silent state that Rahel finds him, twenty-three years after the tragedy. Rahel's presence, even though she is quiet, makes a noisy disturbance in Estha's mind.
After Rahel's cousin's death, Rahel stays in her family home until at the age of eleven she is sent to a boarding school, where she is in constant trouble. She is expelled from this school and the next two schools she goes to. When she finishes school, she is admitted into a mediocre college of architecture in Delhi. She spends eight years at the college until she meets an American whom she marries. They go to live in the States. After a short while, the marriage falls apart, and Rahel returns to India and to her family home.
In the twenty-three years that followed Sophie's death, much has changed in the Kochamma home. Chacko, Sophie's father, eventually emigrated from India to Canada. Mammachi, the grandmother, has passed away.
This chapter also tells Baby Kochamma's story. She is an elderly and bitter spinster.
As a young girl, she goes into the convent to become a nun, but she does not take her vows. She falls hopelessly in love with a priest who is very friendly with the family. The love seems to be unrequited, but she lives in constant memory of that hopeless love.
Chapter 1, Paradise Pickles and Preserves Analysis
Rahel Kochamma returns to her childhood home with mixed feelings, anxious to see her beloved twin brother. She has not seen him for twenty-three years. The reader receives glimpses of the past mixed with views of the present, just as if one were reading Rahel's mind. Thought flows are interrupted and disconnected, and memories jump back and forth. The author makes readers feel the depth of the tragedy, without telling us what actually happened. In this chapter, Arundhati Roy gives us an initial introduction to the main characters. This chapter also describes what life is like in the Ayenemen house, twenty-three years after the death of a child.
Chapter 1, Paradise Pickles and Preserves
Estha's deep silence seems to be a reflection of some very deep pain and suffering. He has withdrawn from the world. Rahel is a character no one can understand and no one can reach. Her marriage falls apart because her husband feels that he cannot get through to her; there are depths he can't reach. The reader realizes that there must be many factors at play here, deeper than the untimely death of a young cousin.
Roy makes it clear that cultural, political and historical backdrops are an intrinsic part of the characters and their stories. What is the story about, and when did it begin? The author explains the story's roots in the following final statement: "...it really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much."
Chapter 1, Paradise Pickles and Preserves
Chapter 2, Pappachi's Moth
Chapter 2, Pappachi's Moth Summary
In this chapter, readers learn more about the Kochamma family. They are a Syrian Christian family of upper middle class. Ammu, the twins' mother, grows up in Delhi with her brother and parents. When her father retires, the family goes to live in the small town Ayemenem. After a couple of years, with nothing to do and no marriage proposals in sight, Ammu goes to visit a distant cousin in Calcutta. There, she meets a Bengalese Hindu who is the assistant manager at a tea estate in Assam. The couple is married and moves to Assam. Soon, Ammu discovers her husband's drinking and his violent nature. Upon the threat of being fired, he is willing to let his English boss take Ammu as a mistress. This is when Ammu walks away from her marriage, gets a divorce and goes home to her parents' house with her baby twins.
The twins' grandfather, Pappachi, is an Imperial Entomologist working for the Pusa Institute. His full name is Benaan John Ipe, and he is the son of a reverend who founds a school for the Untouchables. He is a bitter man who beats his wife. Part of his bitterness comes about when he discovers a new species of moth; however, it is not recognized as a species by other scientists. Years later, another entomologist claims the same discovery and receives the glory.
Chacko is a Rhodes scholar who studies at Oxford. There he meets Margaret, who he falls in love with and marries. After a short time, Margaret can no longer take the cultural differences between them or his instability, and she asks for a divorce shortly after their baby girl is born. Margaret marries another man with a more stable position. When Margaret's second husband dies, Chacko invites her and their daughter out to India for the Christmas holidays. A change of air will help them to recover from their loss, he says.
Chapter 2, Pappachi's Moth Mammachi, the grandmother, makes very good pickles and preserves, which she begins to sell. With this, she builds up a profitable little business. The business has no name until her son Chacko returns home after his father's death. Chacko buys machines, increases employees and takes out loans to expand the business. Paradise Pickles and Preserves is soon badly indebted.
One of the factory employees is Velutha, a black man. In the caste-ridden Hindu and Christian Indian society, Velutha is a Paravan, or an Untouchable. He lives with his father and paralyzed brother in a hut by the river. Mammachi first notices Velutha when he is eleven, because Velutha is good with his hands. He makes toys and decorations out of tapioca stems and cashew nuts. He respectfully presents these to Ammu, who is three years older than he is. Mammachi takes Velutha under her wing, and he does odd jobs around the house. He completes a carpentry course with some German missionaries, where he also learns to read and write, even though his social caste does not allow him to be a carpenter. He is also very good with machines and becomes a very valuable employee, though he cannot have any position of authority. The twins love Velutha, who teaches them to fish. They are forbidden to visit him, but they do anyway. He is their friend.
Velutha s father, Vellya Paapen, fears Velutha's self-confidence and assuredness. It is Vellya Paapen who tells Mammachi of Velutha's hidden love affair. Baby Kochamma overhears this confession from the next room.
In this chapter, the reader also accompanies the Kochamma family on their way into Delhi to pick up Chacko's ex-wife Margaret and daughter Sophie. The family decides to make a holiday of it. The plan is to go to the cinema to watch The Sound of Music once again and then to pick Sophie and her mother up at the airport the next day.
On the drive into Delhi, in the blue Plymouth, the family is delayed by a communist manifestation. Even though Chacko is a self proclaimed Marxist, due to their social position, the family is very uncomfortable about communists. One manifestor forces a red communist flag into Baby Kochamma's hand. Therefore, it is very upsetting when
Chapter 2, Pappachi's Moth the twins say they recognize Velutha in the crowd of manifestors.
Chapter 2, Pappachi's Moth Analysis
The author has a fascinating way of jumping from the past to the present. Rahel's disconnected memories give readers a further glimpse and hints of the tragedy that is about to unravel. In this chapter, the reader gets a very close insight into the complex Indian social caste and religious system. The society is not only divided into castes, but there is religious separation. Christianity does little to improve the lot of the Untouchables or pariahs. Actually, it worsens their situation. They become neither one thing nor the other, but remain Untouchable by all.
The Hindus keep their Indian or Kerala traditions. Chacko mentions that the Kochamma family members are Anglophiles. They follow the English traditions and make a point of speaking the English language perfectly. Still, they are not accepted by the English. Social, cultural, idealistic and religious discrimination and racism run strong in all sects of the Indian society.
Chapter 2, Pappachi's Moth
Chapter 3, Big Man the Laltain, Small Man the Mombatti
Chapter 3, Big Man the Laltain, Small Man the Mombatti Summary
The author takes the reader back to the day that Rahel returns home to Ayenemen to see her long-lost brother. The house is filthy, and Baby Kochamma has taken to watching television all day. Rahel is waiting to see her brother Estha, who has been out walking for hours in the rain. When he comes in, he looks neither at Rahel or Baby, but he walks silently straight to his spotlessly clean and neat room. Rahel follows and watches while Estha peels off his sopping clothes in the bathroom and washes them in a bucket of water. Rahel reaches and touches Estha's ear, but Estha ignores her.
Chapter 3, Big Man the Laltain, Small Man the Mombatti Analysis
This chapter portrays a very strong and poignant scene. The twins, who were inseparable when they were young children to the point that they considered themselves the one and same person, now see each other after twenty-three years of compete separation. Rahel's vision of him is mixed. At the same time, she sees him as a brother, a son, a man, a stranger and a twin. Estha's silence tells the reader of his pain.
Chapter 3, Big Man the Laltain, Small Man the Mombatti
Chapter 4, Abhilash Talkies
Chapter 4, Abhilash Talkies Summary
The author takes the reader back to 1969, and the Kochammas happily finally arrive at the cinema house to watch The Sound of Music. Chacko drops the ladies and children off, while he goes to make arrangements at the hotel. After the long drive and the delay caused by the communist manifestation, the movie has already begun. The children are excited.
The twins love this film. When the singing begins, Estha can't contain himself and sings along in a loud voice. The other spectators, disturbed, hush him. He tries to keep quiet but can't, so he asks his mother if he can go outside to the lobby to sing. Out in the lobby, he sings his heart out, waking up the soft drink vendor (the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man). The sleazy-looking vendor speaks to the little boy in a threatening way, asking him a series of question about himself and his family. Estha, frightened, innocently answers. The vendor then forces the boy to have a drink. He also forces the boy to hold his penis. Folding his own hand over Estha's, the vendor masturbates. Estha feels defiled and disgusted. He rushes back into the theater.
The twins think together as they watch the film about the lovely clean white children, and they feel that they do not come up to par with the film characters. They feel that they will also not come up to par with their white, half-English cousin, Sophie. These thoughts together with the ugly experience with the soft drink vendor make Estha feel physically ill. He feels like vomiting and runs up a fever. The family leaves the cinema house in the middle of the movie because he is sick. They want him to be well for Sophie. On the way out, the drink vendor maliciously says that he will go to Ayemenem to visit. This terrifies poor little Estha, who doesn't have the courage to tell his mother what has happened. Ammu, who thinks the man is just being polite, comments on how nice he seems. Rahel sasses her mother by asking why she doesn't marry the man if she thinks he is so nice. Ammu is furious and tells Rahel that she has
Chapter 4, Abhilash Talkies made her mother love her a little bit less.
At the hotel that night, the children and Chacko have a hard time falling asleep, mainly because of the impending visit of Sophie and Margaret Kochamma. Chacko still loves his ex-wife and daughter, even though he has hardly seen the little girl. Chacko is also worried about communist rumblings in the factory, even though he supposedly is a Marxist himself. The children are reliving Estha's unpleasant experience at the movies.
Chapter 4, Abhilash Talkies Analysis
Innocence is stolen from a small and happy boy. This child abuse makes Estha feel dirty, insecure and unloved. Rahel, through telepathy, knows and feels exactly what Estha goes through. The whole world changes for the twins. They now feel unworthy and inferior. These happenings make the children worry even more about the arrival of the English cousin, whom everyone will love. On top of it all, Rahel gets into trouble with her mother, who threatens her with less love. Will they be loved less? Will they lose their mother's love? Will everyone love their cousin more?
Chapter 4, Abhilash Talkies
Chapter 5, God's Own Country
Chapter 5, God's Own Country Summary
The author takes the reader back to Rahel's return to her childhood home and memories. She takes a walk along the river. She sees the familiar old sights. The History House is on the other side of the river, now a hotel. She stops to speak to Comrade Pillai. He was the leader of the Communist Party years before. The chat brings back more childhood memories, such as when Pillai's son, Lenin and Rahel coincidentally found themselves at the same clinic at the same time to remove objects they had shoved up their noses.
Pillai shows Rahel a photo taken those many years ago with herself, Estha, Sophie Mol and Lenin outside the Ayemenem house. In the photo, taken by Chacko, Sophie is posing with a thimble in her mouth and a set of false teeth made out of lime peel. She is wearing bell-bottoms. The other children are standing stiffly with their hands at their sides and frozen smiles on their faces. The photo was taken just a few days before Sophie died. Rahel recalls that at the time Sophie was arguing that Rahel and Estha were probably bastards. Pillai doesn't really recall the incidents of so many years ago. He remembers that something happened, a death and a scandal, but not exactly what. He's not really that interested either.
Chapter 5, God's Own Country Analysis
Returning after many years is always difficult. Some things change, while others remain exactly the same. Details that are unimportant to some have a tremendous meaning to others. Seeing the photo brings back further details of the tragedy. Childhood incidents, which seem unimportant to adults, can remain in one's memory with enhanced importance. The difference in clothing and behavior of the twins and their cousin Sophie is beginning to become evident.
Chapter 5, God's Own Country
"She arrived on the Bombay-Cochin flight. Hatted, bell-bottomed and Loved from the Beginning.” The last sentence of this chapter is also very revealing of how the twins initially feel about their cousin. They see her with awe, love and jealousy. In this chapter, as in the others, the author is giving us glimpses of life in India.
Chapter 5, God's Own Country
Chapter 6, Cochin Kangaroos
Chapter 6, Cochin Kangaroos Summary
Sophie Mol and her mother Margaret finally arrive. The family is at the airport to receive them. The twins have been reminded so many times lately to be on their best behavior that they are nervous and very timid. Everyone is dressed in their very best.
The children are fascinated by the airport and especially with the concrete trashcans shaped like kangaroos. The airport is crowded, mainly with people of all classes waiting for those who work abroad to come home for the holiday season. By Baby Kochamma's comments and behavior, it is quite obvious that the Kochamma family feels superior.
When finally Margaret and Sophie arrive, everyone is feeling a bit nervous and uncomfortable. Chacko makes a point of formally introducing everyone. Baby Kochamma, in her typical snobbish way, immediately broaches the subject of Shakespeare, trying to impress the little girl. When Estha answers, "Fine thank you," to Sophie's, "How do you do?" he is publicly corrected by his mother. Ammu insists that he repeat the correct form of speech, but Estha stubbornly refuses, further angering his mother. When Rahel is introduced, she hides behind a curtain in shyness. This behavior infuriates and embarrasses Ammu.
The children are left to their own devices, and they soon seem to get along, talking about things that only other children understand. They make lists of the people they love best. On Rahel and Estha's list, the first is Ammu, then Chacko, Mammachi and then Velutha. After Velutha, they add Sophie to the list of people they love, simply because she is their cousin.
Chapter 6, Cochin Kangaroos Analysis
Chapter 6, Cochin Kangaroos
This chapter brings out clearly the complex and deep-rooted social class structure. The Kochammas have an ingrained snobbishness. They are educated people, and they are very concerned with speaking English and keeping up English traditions and manners, even though they are Indian.
Small and seemingly unimportant things build up in a child's mind. They see things in a different way. Love to them is a very important thing. They consider how much they are loved, whom they love, and who loves them. These are all serious issues. The difference between the twins and their cousin is that the twins love Sophie simply because she is their cousin. Their Uncle Chacko, who they love, loves her. They have been taught to love her. They love simply and freely.
Chacko loves his daughter very much, but Sophie feels nothing for him. Has she not been encouraged to love him? Does she simply not love him because her mother no longer loves him?
Chapter 6, Cochin Kangaroos
Chapter 7, Wisdom Exercise Notebooks
Chapter 7, Wisdom Exercise Notebooks Summary
Rahel, as an adult, finds her childhood treasures hidden in the same place she left them years before. Estha silently watches her, thinking of trains. Amongst the treasures she finds their old school notebooks, where the twins did their first lessons. In Estha's notebook, he wrote a happy little story about his mother's birthday. They gave Ammu a diary as a present, and then they lay on the bed talking and had a little feast. It was such a happy scene Estha had written about.
Rahel sadly recalls the last time she saw her mother. Rahel was eleven at the time and already being expelled from school. No longer living in Ayemenem because Chacko said she had destroyed enough already, Ammu was weak and sick with asthma. She couldn't keep a job because of her illness. When she came back to visit that time, she brought presents for Rahel that she really couldn't afford. She told Rahel of her plans to get a good job and rent a room so that her two children and her could be united again. Ammu's sick bloated face, endless coughing and phlegm disgusted Rahel at the time. When Ammu left, Rahel didn't see her to the door. She never saw her mother again. Ammu died shortly after the visit, alone in a little lodging room in a strange town. Ammu was cremated. Rahel was at the cremation, with her Uncle Chacko holding her hand. Estha was not brought from his father's. The family wrote to him about his mother's death. Rahel recalls that Ammu always said that she loved them doubly because she had to be their mother and father.
Chapter 7, Wisdom Exercise Notebooks Analysis
In this chapter, the author shows readers part of the very sad consequences of a tragedy. The reader does not yet know what happened or how it happened. All the reader knows is that a young girl died those many years ago. The depth of the tragedy can be felt in simple scenes, as Rahel looks at old notebooks, as Chacko holds Rahel's
Chapter 7, Wisdom Exercise Notebooks hand at the cremation and as Estha is left out of it all. The author imbues these small scenes with an amazing depth of feeling.
Chapter 7, Wisdom Exercise Notebooks
Chapter 8, Welcome Home Our Sophie Mol
Chapter 8, Welcome Home Our Sophie Mol Summary
The reader is taken back to the day that Sophie arrives. Mammachi is waiting to receive them all. Though blind, she still manages to play the violin and does so now. Mammachi has a very soft spot in her heart for her son Chacko, especially as once he stopped Pappachi from beating her. She knows that her son has affairs and relationships with the girls at the factory. She has had a separate entrance to his room made so that he can care for his "Men's Needs."
Kochu Maria, the maid, has baked a cake for Sophie. Kochu raises Sophie's hands to her face and smells them. Both Sophie and Margaret are taken aback by this gesture. It is explained that this is a local habit, like kissing. Margaret asks whether that is how men and women kiss. Ammu makes a sarcastic reply, arousing Chacko's anger. The atmosphere is stilted and uncomfortable.
Meanwhile, Rahel sees Velutha walk by the terrace. She runs outside to play with him. Ammu watches admiringly as Rahel rides on Velutha's strong black back. Ammu is surprised at the easy relationship that exists between the man and her children. Ammu recalls when Velutha was a child. Chacko mentions that he thought Rahel and Velutha were too familiar.
A big fuss is made of Sophie and Margaret. Rahel, in her child's mind, calls the welcoming the Play. To her, they are all playacting. While Sophie is being fussed over, Rahel and Estha are practically ignored.
Chapter 8, Welcome Home Our Sophie Mol Analysis
Chapter 8, Welcome Home Our Sophie MolThis chapter highlights different cultures, different habits and different colors. Both the newcomers from England and the family expecting them have differences that take them by surprise and need adapting to. The Kochammas are proud of their English relatives, while Sophie, though not actually ashamed, does not accept her Indian family so easily.
Chapter 8, Welcome Home Our Sophie Mol
Chapter 9, Mrs. Pillai, Mrs. Eapen, Mrs Rajagopalan
Chapter 9, Mrs. Pillai, Mrs. Eapen, Mrs. Rajagopalan Summary
This chapter starts back with Rahel as an adult. She is at a loose end. She has no definite plans. Having just come back from the States, Rahel has only seven hundred dollars and a gold bangle. Baby Kochamma is pressuring her, asking how long she is planning to stay. More importantly, she is asking what Rahel is going to do about Estha.
Baby Kochamma has become a TV addict and bought herself a satellite dish. She watches the TV all day. Rahel wonders idly if she and Estha could go and live in the dish, or whether the world's happenings would invade their privacy. Rahel's thoughts take her back to her childhood. Sophie Mol Rahel and Estha are quite pleased with Sophie because she does nothing to endear herself to the family. Sophie tells Chacko that she loves him less than Joe, her mother's second husband. She turns down Mammachi and Baby Kochamma's overtures. To top it all off, she cries because she is lonely.
At this point, the twins decide to let Sophie join in their play games. They all dress up in saris and go to visit Velutha. They pretend to be Mrs. Pillai, Mrs. Eapen and Mrs. Rajagopalan. Velutha receives them and plays with them. He whittles them each a little spoon. The children paint Velutha's nails with red nail varnish. Rahel recalls the Touchable policeman making fun of Velutha's painted nails. Rahel remembers that Velutha was the only true victim of the tragic day.
Chapter 9, Mrs. Pillai, Mrs. Eapen, Mrs. Rajagopalan Analysis
When the twins realize that their cousin is no threat to them, they allow her into their
Chapter 9, Mrs. Pillai, Mrs. Eapen, Mrs. Rajagopalan life and play games. They do this not because they like her and not because they feel sorry for her, but simply because she will not make them be loved any less. The author shows us children's simple logic. Is this always the rule for humans? Do we only accept those who are not a threat to us?
In this chapter, the scene shows a big, strong adult playing with three little children. His generosity to these kids is very touching. Velutha is open and receptive to their innocent playing. Even though he is an Untouchable and they represent the top echelons of society, Velutha shows no resentment to them or their social class. He goes out of his way to make them happy.
Chapter 9, Mrs. Pillai, Mrs. Eapen, Mrs. Rajagopalan
Chapter 10, The River in the Boat
Chapter 10, The River in the Boat Summary
The incident with the soft drink vendor affects Estha badly. He is always afraid the "Orangedrink Lemondrink Man” will walk in at any moment to find him. Estha is in the pickle preserve kitchen, his favorite thinking place. His thoughts are actually very deep for a seven-year-old. "Anything can happen to Anyone. ... It's best to be prepared." These two thoughts determine his actions. Estha picks up the communist flag given to Baby and decides to prepare to be prepared. If the soft drink vendor comes, Estha will need a place to go. This is when he decides to slowly start taking a few little things out of the house to the riverside.
Estha finds his way to the river and sits outside Velutha's house. He waits for Rahel. When Rahel joins him, they plant the flag in front of Velutha's hut and sit on a hump in the grass. The twins look at what they are sitting on and discover it is an old boat.
The twins can swim very well and can cross the river easily. They have been taught to do so by Chacko. They need the boat to take things in, though, so they pick up the little boat and put it in the river. They see it sink. Not discouraged, they pick up the boat and head to Velutha's hut. The hut is tiny but clean. It contains things that have been discarded from the Kochamma household.
Only Velutha's bedridden brother, Kuttapen, is at home. The children show Kuttapen the old boat and ask his advice. He tells them to plug the holes. Velutha returns home to find the children. He helps them fix the boat, but he warns them not to do anything dangerous. Velutha looks at the twins lovingly and sees their mother in them. This will be the boat that Ammu uses to meet her love on the other side of the river.
Chapter 10, The River in the Boat Analysis
Chapter 10, The River in the Boat
In this chapter, the author shows the very precarious and sad living conditions of the Paravan or Untouchables. Kuttapen has been paralyzed and bedridden for years. His mother died in the same corner of the four-cornered hut. They have no medical help and no support. The author mentions that Kuttapen is a good, safe Paravan, or Untouchable. He does not know how to read or write. Apparently, he cannot upset the established order. He is an Untouchable who apparently keeps to his own place. At the end of the chapter, he has a short conversation with Velutha, showing his concern that the twins might have seen him in the demonstration, which shows the reader that Kuttapen is not as ignorant as he might seem.
The story is slowly unfolding. The love and friendship the children have for Velutha, the Untouchable, can only bring heartbreak in a caste-ridden society. It also is becoming evident that Velutha has deep feelings for Ammu, who he has known since childhood.
Chapter 10, The River in the Boat
Chapter 11, The God of Small Things
Chapter 11, The God of Small Things Summary
The twins come back to the house to find their mother asleep in a deep dream. At the beginning of her dream, Ammu is with a cheerful one-armed man. He is holding her close. There is tenderness. There is confusion. The man with her leaves no footsteps in the sand and no ripples in the water. He is the God of Small Things.
The children are frightened by Ammu's changing sleeping expressions, and so they wake her up by make small noises and disturbances in the room. When she wakes, she tells them she was dreaming. On seeing the twins, Ammu realizes that they have been at Velutha's. Without mentioning his name, she gently reprimands them for having gone to his house. At this moment, she becomes aware of her feelings for him.
The twins lie down with their heads on her tummy and ask her questions about the day they were born. They spend very tender and loving moments. Ammu rises and locks herself in the bathroom. Here, she slowly studies her body and the firmness of her breasts. The dream has aroused her. She is a young woman still. At that moment, she sees her future as a loveless dead end in the pickle factory. She longs for the unknown and for adventure.
Ammu cannot foresee that a few days later, four days after the funeral, Chacko, crazed with grief, will expel her from the house. She does not foresee that she will be packing Estha's belongings in a trunk and promising to write to him. She will be making her children promise to always love each other.
Chapter 11, The God of Small Things Analysis
With each chapter, the author makes the reader feel the depth of the tragedy, even though the story is not yet told. This chapter shows us the extreme love between
Chapter 11, The God of Small Things
Ammu and her two-egged twins. Readers also realize that Ammu is a young and beautiful woman, trapped in a humdrum life. She has her womanly desires and needs. It becomes evident that somehow her womanhood is to play an important part in the tragedy which is unfolding.
Chapter 11, The God of Small Things
Chapter 12, Kochu Thomban
Chapter 12, Kochu Thomban Summary
Rahel makes her way to the temple to take a coconut to the temple elephant, Kochu Thomban. The elephant has aged. That night, the kathakali performers come to the Ayemenem temple. Kathakali are storyteller performers who put on all-night plays. The kathakali are a part of the old Indian culture, and nowadays, they are being forgotten and pushed aside. When once children were proud of their kathakali parents; now they deride them. The modern day world has no more room for them. The kathakali have become part of the Regional Flavor, and their audience is made up mostly of tourists.
Tonight, Rahel watches the performers act out their dramatic story of love and violence. Estha silently joins her. Now once again as adults, their silent communication is at work. When the play is over, the two walk silently back to the house. On their way back, they run into Pillai, who was the first to take them as children to see the kathakali. Pillai is pleased to see they are still interested in Indian culture. The twins ignore him.
Chapter 12, Kochu Thomban Analysis
In previous chapters, the reader has been made aware of how close the twins were as small children. How they feel as if they are one person. They have now been separated from each other for twenty-three years. Their lives have taken them to completely different places. They are now different people. Estha, who was a very smart, talkative and alert boy, is now a silent and withdrawn man. Rahel, who was once a happy and curious little girl, is now an adult who does not know where she belongs. However, the silent and telepathic communication still exists.
Chapter 12, Kochu Thomban
Chapter 13, The Pessimist and the Optimist
Chapter 13, The Pessimist and the Optimist Summary
Little Sophie Mol wakes in Chacko's room and feels lonely and homesick. Chacko has temporarily moved out of his room so that his ex-wife and daughter can use it during their visit. On the bedside table, there is a photo of Chacko and Margaret's wedding day. The only family member present that day was Margaret's mother. Her father did not approve of the marriage, as he disliked Indians.
The reader now learns Chacko and Margaret's story. While Chacko is a Rhodes scholar, Margaret is a waitress in an Oxford cafy. An untidy and cheerful Chacko first strolls into the cafy, and after giving his order, he strikes up a conversation with Margaret. He tells her the story of the man who has twin sons, one a pessimist and the other an optimist. The man gives the pessimist son a watch, a carpentry set and a bicycle for his birthday. To the optimist, he gives a room full of dung. The pessimist complains about all the presents. The optimist is anxiously looking for the pony that has created the dung.
This story brings on a laughing fit from Margaret. This is the beginning of a happy friendship, deepening into love and marriage. Margaret is Chacko's first female friend and first lover. They get married to her family's disapproval and his family's ignorance. When they wed, Chacko has just lost his scholarship, so they live in a very tight financial situation. Just after their baby Sophie is born, Margaret leaves Chacko for a more stable partner. Chacko, broken hearted, returns to India. They keep up correspondence, though, and over the years, they establish a very strong friendship. When her second husband dies, Margaret is devastated, so Chacko invites her out to India for a change of air. She accepts the invitation, but it is a decision she will always regret, as she sees her little daughter laid out in a coffin. She never forgives herself for
Chapter 13, The Pessimist and the Optimist leaving her little daughter in Ayemenem while she and Chacko go off for two days to Cochin to confirm her passage home.
The author now takes the reader to the morning when Mammachi and Baby Kochamma receive the news that a little white girl's body has been found floating in the river. Rahel and Estha still have not been found. When the three children do not appear for breakfast, Baby Kochamma goes to the room that Ammu was locked in to ask if she knows where the children are. Ammu goes into a panic, remembering the last words she spoke to the twins. The twins came to her bedroom door and asked why she was locked in. Emotionally upset and not measuring the consequences of her words, she put the blame on them, telling them to go away and leave her alone.
On that rainy afternoon Vellya Paapen, Velutha's father, appears on the Kochammas' doorstep in a very excitable state. Even though Koch Maria tries to send him away, he insists on staying to speak to Mammachi. When he does speak to her, he first humbly tells Mammachi how much she has done for him and how his family is indebted to her. He then tells her how Velutha has shamed him. Crying, Vellya tells how he saw Ammu crossing the river to meet Velutha in the History House. Ammu and Velutha are lovers.
Mammachi and Baby Kochamma are shocked and disgusted. Baby wonders how Ammu could stand the smell. How will the family get over the scandal of an affair with an Untouchable? They concoct a plan. First, they lock Ammu into her room.
They then send for Velutha to get him to leave Ayemenem before the scandal gets out.
The next morning, Baby goes to the police station and reports how they have to fire their employee, Velutha, since he tried to force himself on Ammu. She invents that he has threatened the family. She goes as far as to hint that now Sophie's drowned body has been found, and the twins are missing. Little does she know that eventually Ammu will go to the police to try to set things straight.
Chapter 13, The Pessimist and the Optimist With this information in hand, the chief of police first checks with Pillai. Pillai does not mention that Velutha is a member of the Communist Party. He also does not say that the Untouchable passed by his house on the previous evening and denied the rape charges. Pillai does tell the officer that Velutha does not have the patronage or protection of the Communist Party. The chief then gives the orders to his force.
Chacko and Margaret return from Cochin to find their daughter dead. They are naturally devastated. Margaret takes out her anger on the twins and for some odd reason puts the blame on Estha. Some time later, she writes to apologize for this. By that time, Estha has been sent to his father and Ammu has been expelled from the house. Margaret has no thought for or recollection of Velutha. "He left no footprints in the sand and no ripples in the water."
Chapter 13, The Pessimist and the Optimist Analysis
In this chapter, the reader learns more about the facts. A little girl drowns. An upper class woman has an affair with an Untouchable. How do these facts relate? What is the worst tragedy for the family? It seems that the possible social scandal is the very worst thing that can happen. Just the thought of an upper class woman making love to an Untouchable is disgusting to the family.
The caste system is deeply ingrained. Velutha is considered a nothing in the end. He is helped by the family, and in his turn he proves himself hardworking and intelligent. The Kochammas consider themselves a strong Christian family. The grandfather founds a school for the Paravan. However, if a Paravan dares touch an upper-class woman, if he dares think he has rights, he is immediately scorned.
Chapter 13, The Pessimist and the Optimist
Chapter 14, Work Is Struggle
Chapter 14, Work Is Struggle Summary
This chapter takes us to the day after the communist march. Chacko, concerned about the situation of his workers and the fact that Velutha has been seen in the manifestation, goes to speak to Mr. Pillai, the Communist Party leader in Ayemenem. Pillai is also the owner of a printing shop, and he does label printing work for the Kochamma's Paradise Preserve and Pickle business.
To begin with, Chacko asks about the march and its success. Chacko is, after all, a known Marxist sympathizer. Just in order to know how things stand, Chacko asks about Velutha. Pillai admits that he is a good Communist Party worker and that he holds a Communist Party card. However, he warns that the Paravan is going to be trouble and goes so far as to advise Chacko to get rid of Velutha. This takes Chacko aback, especially as Velutha is such a valuable factory worker.
Pillai explains that the caste system is so strong that the other workers do not accept a Paravan working with them. They get especially jealous because Velutha is such a good worker, and he maintains a privileged position with the Kochammas. Chacko is very surprised by this attitude. He tells Pillai that Velutha is irreplaceable and that communists should be against the caste system. Sincerely concerned with the well being of his factory workers, he suggests to Pillai that the factory organize a workers' union, where the workers will elect their own representatives. Pillai refuses this offer, saying that the workers have to organize themselves and fight their own battles.
A few days later, Velutha answers Mammachi's summons and goes to the Kochamma household. Mammachi passionately riles him, insults him, spits in his face and fires him. Baby Kochamma silently supports Mammachi's tirade against Velutha. The foul language that the educated lady uses is shocking. Finally, Mammachi threatens to "castrate him like a pariah dog" if he ever appears again. To all this, stunned Velutha
Chapter 14, Work Is Struggle answers, "We'll see."
Stunned, Velutha goes to the only place he feels he can find protection - the Communist Party. Arriving at Pillai's house, Velutha is shunned. Pillai informs him that the Party is not responsible for personal lack of discipline. The Party will not defend him; it is not in the Party's interest to take up a Paravan cause. Pillai already knows about Velutha's affair, and so do his wife and the whole village.
Chapter 14, Work Is Struggle Analysis
The author is very strongly criticized by the Communist Party in India. In this chapter, readers begin to see why. This chapter shows clearly how ideology is manipulated for political interests, but not to defend the individual. Here two people's ideals are betrayed. At first, Chacko's sincere wish to help the laboring class in his own factory is refused. At one moment, according to interests, he is an important Communist Party supporter, and at the next he is marked as a capitalist oppressor. Pillai also betrays Velutha. Velutha, who thinks that at least as a Communist Party member, he will be treated as an equal, is proved wrong. Once one is a Paravan, one is always a Paravan.
Chapter 14, Work Is Struggle
Chapter 15, The Crossing
Chapter 15, The Crossing Summary
It is past midnight when Velutha goes to the river. He removes his clothes and swims naked to the other side. He goes to the History House. He is naked but for his nail varnish. He tells himself that things will get worse, and then they will get better.
Chapter 15, The Crossing Analysis
Velutha's world has just fallen apart. He has nowhere to go and no one to turn to. He is an anguished young man. The swim across the river soothes his anguish.
Chapter 15, The Crossing
Chapter 16, A Few Hours Later
Chapter 16, A Few Hours Later Summary
The three children are on the riverbank. They put their little boat into the water. They are running away from home. They put extra provisions in the little boat. For two weeks, they have been taking little things down to the river as a precaution. Estha fears that the Orangedrink Lemondrink man will come to get him.
The twins remember Ammu's angry words when she sent them away. They contemplate whether they would return home if Ammu came after them and asked them to. They decide that she would have to beg. Sophie Mol has convinced Estha and Rahel to let her come along with them.
The three get into the boat and start crossing the river. In the middle of the river, the boat runs into a log and turns over. The boat is swept with the current. The twins manage to swim to the shore. Sophie doesn't. The brother and sister run up and down the riverbank looking for their cousin. By four o'clock in the morning, they are exhausted. They go to the verandah of the History House and lay down to sleep. They don't see the man sleeping near them.
Chapter 16, A Few Hours Later Analysis
Three children run away from home. The reasons they go are diverse and complex. Estha has been nervous ever since the incident at the cinema house. His mother's angry words just top it off. For weeks, he has been preparing for something.
"Anything can happen at any time." This he instinctively knows. He just doesn't realize how deep a tragedy could affect them so suddenly.
Rahel just wants to be loved. Sophie wants adventure. She is lonely and wants to be accepted by her cousins. The children run from their protected world to what in their
Chapter 16, A Few Hours Later
childish innocence they think is safety. They have no idea of the real dangers. They are immortal. They know how to swim. They know all the tricks of the river. They never imagined that tragedy could happen. They are only very small children.
Chapter 16, A Few Hours Later
Chapter 17, Cochin Harbor Terminus
Chapter 17, Cochin Harbor Terminus Summary
Years after the tragedy, life at the Kochamma household has changed. With only Baby Kochamma and the cook Kochu Maria in the house, everything is run down and no longer cared for. The blue Plymouth is stopped outside unused, and the garden is overrun and uncared for. All Baby Kochamma and Kochu Maria do all day is to watch the television. Baby still pines over the priest, Father Mulligan, who she has been in love with since she was a young novice. He has kept up correspondence with her over the years. Four years before Rahel and Estha's return, the priest passed away. To date, Baby starts her diary each day with "P love you."
The Paradise Pickle and Preserve factory no longer exists. It has been taken over by the communists. Comrade Pillai claims that the management falsely accused Velutha of kidnapping to the police because he was a Communist Party member. The Communist Party alleges that Velutha was accused in order to stop union activities in the factory.
Baby Kochamma worries about how long Rahel and Estha will be staying and what they are doing. The twins after twenty-three years are once again inseparable. Rahel reminds Estha of their mother. He recalls the day he took that lonely train ride to live with his father. His mother said goodbye to her little boy alone on a big train. The train station was full of people: hungry people, homeless people, blind and sick people. An acquaintance of the family was supposed to care for the boy on the train. Ammu tried to think that it was for the best. Chacko expelled her. The family said they could only keep one twin. Estha was sent to his father.
Chapter 17, Cochin Harbor Terminus Analysis
Chapter 17, Cochin Harbor Terminus
The author here shows the hypocrisy and manipulation of idealism. Velutha, who was betrayed by Pillai, is transformed into a martyr for the communist cause. Any situation can be used for political manipulation.
Chapter 17, Cochin Harbor Terminus
Chapter 18, The History House
Chapter 18, The History House Summary
The story returns to the tragic day. Six policemen cross the river to find Velutha, accused of abduction. They invade the History House where Velutha and the twins are sleeping, totally unaware of each other's presence. The children are on one side of the verandah, and Velutha is on the other. The police kick Velutha awake. The children watch horrified while the Paravan is mercilessly beaten. They try to convince themselves that it is not Velutha they are seeing beaten. They don't know why he is being beaten. There is no need to beat the man like that, but the police do so anyway.
The police have no reason to beat Velutha so terribly. They crack his skull in three places and smash his nose and cheekbones. They splinter four ribs, piercing his lung. His intestine is ruptured. His spine is damaged, and both kneecaps are broken. Then, he is handcuffed and dragged off. This all happens in the presence of the two small children.
After the beating, the police turn to the children and treat them gently. Only then do they ask if the children are well and if they have been harmed. The police take the things that the kids have been stashing away over the days, toys and pens, to give to their own children.
Chapter 18, The History House Analysis
Is senseless brutality and savagery also a part of men's needs? What is it that brings about such violence? One wonders whether it is fear that one educated Paravan who dares touch a Touchable could upset a whole caste system that ingrained in the Indian culture. It could be that the fury is aroused by deep hidden frustrations in the policemen's own lives. They may be jealous that this Untouchable has the courage not to abjectly accept the social condition imposed on him. It could also be that the life of
Chapter 18, The History House
a Paravan is worth nothing. He can be kicked around like a stray dog. The Untouchables are considered less than human. Most likely, a combination of all these factors leads to the beating.
Chapter 18, The History House
Chapter 19, Saving Ammu
Chapter 19, Saving Ammu Summary
The children are taken to the police station, where they are given soft drinks. Inspector Thomas Mathew, the same one who heard Baby Kochamma's accusation, now questions the twins. Soon he realizes that a terrible mistake has been made. Velutha had not kidnapped them. Sophie's death was an accident.
The police officer has Baby Kochamma brought to him. He coldly explains to her that Velutha has committed no crime. Baby mentions the rape charges, but these would have to be placed by the supposed victim, Ammu. Mathew explains that Velutha will more than likely die from his beating. The police are in a very delicate situation. They beat an innocent man. The older lady assures the officer that she will solve it. While Mathew goes to get the children, Baby says her prayers.
The twins are brought to her. She accuses the two seven-year-old children of murder. She claims that they have always been jealous of Sophie and that they forced her to go with them. She goes so far as to accuse them of throwing Sophie out of the boat. Baby then threatens the children with prison, not only for them but for Ammu too. She tells the children that Velutha is going to die anyway. They must save Ammu from prison by simply going with the police and answering yes to one question. The frightened children agree to save Ammu.
The policeman takes Estha to the dark cell where Velutha is. The prisoner looks at the child and tries to smile. The little boy answers yes to the question. The light is turned off, and Velutha is left along in the dark. The children try to convince themselves that it wasn't Velutha, but an imaginary twin brother. Velutha does not make it through the night. Just after midnight, he dies. His body is dumped in the pauper's pit.
Chapter 19, Saving Ammu
Baby Kochamma is shocked when Ammu goes to the police after Sophie's funeral to try to put things right. She never thought that Ammu would expose her affair with Velutha and shame the family. She decides that Ammu must leave. Baby works on Chacko's deep grief to convince him that Ammu and her children are to blame for his little daughter's death. Baby manages to convince Chacko to send Ammu away.
Chapter 19, Saving Ammu Analysis
The lengths that people can go to in order to protect themselves, their position or their status are amazing. Anything can be justified, even using innocent children as a cover up. A little prayer beforehand makes it even more acceptable. What importance does a poor Paravan's life have in comparison to a family's name and reputation? What importance does the Untouchable's life have in comparison to the cover-up of a police force bungle? Baby Kochamma is indirectly responsible for the death of a man. She manages to ruin the life of two innocent children. Yet, she feels no regret or stirrings of conscience.
Chapter 19, Saving Ammu
Chapter 20, The Madras Mail
Chapter 20, The Madras Mail Summary
The chapter begins with Estha sitting on the train ready to be sent to his father's house. Through the window, he speaks to his mother and sister. They swear that they will write to each other. The three make plans. They will all be together soon. They will have school, and Ammu will teach. As the train pulls out, Estha cries to his mother that he is feeling ill. He fears that their dreams and plans will never be realized.
The twins take years to realize the part that Ammu has played in the whole tragedy. They saw her tears, but guiltily thought that they were to blame for her sadness. All those years later, Rahel and Estha lie together, comforted by the love they feel for each other. Breaking the laws of love, they complete each other.
Chapter 20, The Madras Mail Analysis
The children are separated from each other and from their mother. The trauma of this loss is tremendous. Estha tries to behave himself in the proper manner. He tries to be stoic and not cry. Estha does not become a bitter man, but he becomes a silent one. For twenty-three years he is isolated from all those he loves. For twenty-three years, Rahel feels empty. She also has lost all those she most loved in the world. When the twins finally do come together after all this time, their love for each other is even stronger. This love takes on new forms. All the emptiness and silence that has been a part of these two young adults for so long must be relieved. The twins have a need to totally complete each other in their love. They belong to each other, and they manifest this in every way.
Chapter 20, The Madras Mail
Chapter 21, The Cost of Living
Chapter 21, The Cost of Living Summary
Late on the night that Sophie arrives, Ammu finds her way down to the riverbank. Somehow she knows Velutha will be there, and he knows she will. Velutha is swimming in the river when Ammu arrives on the banks. He swims to her, and they come together. Velutha is afraid of the consequences. He worries about what could happen to him if they were to be found out. He would lose his job, his family and his livelihood. When they begin to make love, Velutha loses his fear. He is ready to pay the price for his love. They make love tenderly and passionately.
The lovers meet every night for the next thirteen days. During this time, they take pleasure in small things, and they speak about small happiness. The lovers just don't know how high the price of their love is.
Chapter 21, The Cost of Living Analysis
Everything in life has its cost. All actions and decisions have their consequences. Sometimes one does not realize how high this cost might be. Sometimes it is more than can be paid. Ammu and Velutha's love costs them more than they can possibly imagine. That is the price that society puts on them for having broken the rules. They break the laws of love. Yet, for Ammu and Velutha, it might just have been worth it.
Chapter 21, The Cost of Living
Aleyooty Ammachi is Rahel and Estha's great-grandmother. Her portrait hangs prominently beside that of Reverend Ipe in the Ayemenem House.
Baba is Estha and Rahel's father. Ammu divorces him when the children are very young. He was a violent alcoholic who not only beat his wife and children, but attempted to prostitute his wife to his English employer. Baba has remarried, resigned from his job on a tea plantation, and "more or less" stopped drinking when, after Sophie Mol's death, Estha moves in with him in Calcutta. When Estha is an adult,
Baba sends him back to Ayemenem and emigrates to Australia.
Reverend E. John Ipe
Estha and Rahel's great-grandfather, Reverend Ipe had been known as Punnyan Kunju, or "Little Blessed One," since he was blessed by the Syrian Christian Patriarch at age seven.
Joe is Margaret Kochamma's second husband, who dies in a car accident shortly before Margaret and Sophie Mol travel to Ayemenem.
The Kathakali Men
Karna and Kunti, the Kathakali Men, perform the traditional Hindu dancing that Rahel and Estha go to see.
Ammu is Rahel and Estha's mother. She is a beautiful and sardonic woman who has been victimized first by her father and then her husband. While raising her children, she has become tense and repressed. Ammu grew up in Delhi but, because her father said that college was an unnecessary expense for a girl, was forced to live with her parents when they moved to Ayemenem. She met her future husband at a wedding reception. She later divorces him and returns to the Ayemenem House when he starts to abuse the twins.
Ammu's latent "Unsafe Edge,” full of desire and "reckless rage,” emerges during Sophie Mol's visit and draws her to Velutha. After the horrific climax to the affair, Ammu sends Estha to live with his father and leaves Rahel in the Ayemenem House while Ammu looks for work; but Ammu loses a succession of jobs because she is ill. Ammu dies alone in a cheap hotel at the age of thirty-one. Chacko has her cremated because the Syrian Christian Church will not bury her.
Baby Kochamma (Navomi Ipe)
Nicknamed "Baby," Mammachi's sister, Navomi Ipe Kochamma, is a judgmental old maid with tiny feet. Rahel thinks, "She's living her life backwards," because Baby Kochamma renounces the material world when she is young, but becomes very materialistic when she is old. Throughout her life, Baby Kochamma is an insecure, selfish, and vindictive person.
The Kathakali Men
When she was a girl, Baby Kochamma fell in love with a handsome Irish monk named Father Mulligan who made weekly visits to her father. Although they did nothing more than flirt while talking about the Bible, when he moved to Madras she became a Roman Catholic and entered a convent in Madras in the hopes of being with him.
After her hopes were crushed, she left the convent and traveled to the United States to study, returning to India obese and devoted to gardening. During the time of Sophie Mol's visit, Baby Kochamma is a nuisance who pesters the twins because she dislikes them and Ammu. She is later revealed to be cruel and insidious, because she is the one that convinces the twins to condemn Velutha; and it was due to her manipulations of Chacko that Ammu is forced to leave the house and Estha is returned to his father. In her old age, Baby Kochamma becomes a bitter and lonely woman addicted to television, after having locked herself inside the family house.
Chacko is Ammu's intellectual and self-absorbed older brother. He was a charming but very unclean Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and he met Margaret while she was working in an Oxford cafA©. Deeply in love with Margaret, in part because she never depended on him or adored him like a mother, he marries her without telling his family. She grows tired of his squalor within a year, however, and divorces him around the time that their daughter is born.
Between his divorce and Sophie Mol's death, Chacko grew fatter and became obsessed with balsawood airplanes, which he unsuccessfully attempted to fly. He was also unsuccessful at running the pickle factory, which started to lose money as soon as he attempted to expand the operation. A "self-proclaimed Marxist," Chacko attempts to be a benevolent employer and even plans to organize a union among his own workers. However, he is insistent that he is the sole owner of his factory, his house, and other possessions that he actually shares with women. Sophie Mol's death is completely devastating for him. After her death, he emigrates to Canada.
Baby Kochamma (Navomi Ipe)
Estha, which is short for Esthappen Yako, is Rahel's twin brother. He is a serious, intelligent, and somewhat nervous child who wears "beige and pointy shoes" and has an "Elvis puff." His experience of the circumstances surrounding Sophie Mol's visit is somewhat more traumatic than Rahel's, beginning when he is sexually abused by the Orangdrink Lemondrink Man at the Abhilash Talkies theater. The narrator stresses that Estha's "Two Thoughts" in the pickle factory, which stem from this experience (that "Anything can happen to Anyone" and "It's best to be prepared") are critical in leading to his cousin's death.
Estha is the twin chosen by Baby Kochamma, because he is more "practical" and "responsible," to go into Velutha's cell and condemn him as their abductor. This trauma, in addition to being shipped to Calcutta to live with his father, contributes to Estha becoming mute at some point in his childhood. Estha never went to college and acquired a number of habits, such as wandering on very long walks and obsessively cleaning his clothes. He is so close to his sister that the narrator describes them as one person, despite having been separated for most of their lives.
Mammachi (Shoshamma Ipe)
An elegant woman in her old age although she is nearly blind, Mammachi is Rahel and Estha's grandmother. Brutally beaten by her husband, she nevertheless cries at his funeral and shares many of his values, including an extremely rigid view of the caste system. She began the pickle factory and ran it successfully, and she was an "exceptionally talented" violinist, although Pappachi disallowed her to take further lessons when he heard this. Mammachi loves Chacko with blind admiration and deeply dislikes Margaret Kochamma. Nevertheless, she tolerates and even facilitates Chacko's affairs with factory workers, although she is so horrified when she hears of Ammu's affair with Velutha that she attacks both Velutha and his father, and locks Ammu in her room.
Margaret is Sophie Mol's mother and Chacko's ex-wife. She is from a strict, working-class London family and was working as a waitress in Oxford when she met Chacko. Marrying him because of his uncontrolled personality that made her feel free, Margaret soon realized that she did not need him to accept herself, and she divorced him. When her second husband Joe dies, Margaret accepts Chacko's invitation to Ayemenem for Christmas, and she is haunted by this decision for the rest of her life. When Margaret sees her daughter's body, she feels an irrational rage towards the twins and seeks out Estha several times to slap him.
Pappachi (Shri Benaan John Ipe)
Shri Benaan John Ipe, known in the family as Pappachi, is Rahel and Estha's grandfather. He was an "Imperial Entomologist" under British rule and an Anglophile whose greatest setback was not having named a moth that he discovered because government scientists failed to recognize it as a new species until later. Seventeen years older than his wife, he was extremely resentful of her and beat her regularly with a brass vase until Chacko ordered him never to do it again. Pappachi Kochamma also beat his daughter and smashed furniture, although in public he convinced everyone that he was compassionate and neglected by his wife. In his old age, he rode around in his blue Plymouth that he kept entirely to himself.
Rahel is Ammu's daughter and Estha's younger sister by eighteen minutes. An intelligent and honest person who has never felt socially comfortable, she is something of a drifter, and several times the narrator refers to her as the quality "Emptiness." When she is a girl, her hair sits "on top of her head like a fountain" and she always wears red-tinted plastic sunglasses with yellow rims.
Although Ammu often chastises Rahel for being dirty and unsafe, she loves her very deeply, and Rahel is equally devoted to her mother. Rahel also loves Velutha and her brother, with whom she shares a "single Siamese soul." She is traumatized by Sophie Mol's drowning, Velutha's death, and Ammu's death. Although these events do not seem to deprive her of her quirkiness or brightness, they contribute to her sense of sadness and lack of direction in later life. After Ammu dies, Rahel drifts between schools, receiving little attention from Mammachi or Chacko. Rahel then enters an architecture school but never finishes the course, marries an American named Larry McCaslin, and lives with him in Boston until they are divorced. She moves to Washington, D.C. and spends several years as a night clerk at a gas station before returning to Ayemenem to see Estha.
Kochu Maria is the Kochamma family's "vinegar-hearted, short-tempered, midget cook." She does not speak any English and, although she has always "noticed everything," she eventually stops caring about how the house looks and becomes addicted to television.
Kochu Thomban is the Ayemenem temple elephant. When Rahel sees him in the present day, he is no longer "Kochu Thomban" ("Little Tusker") but "Vellya Thomban" ("Big Tusker").
Velutha's older brother, Kuttappen is paralyzed from the chest down and confined to his house, which he shares with his brother and father.
Inspector Thomas Mathew
The Kottayam police chief is a practical, cynical, and brutal man who deals carefully with the scandal of Sophie Mol's death and Ammu's affair with Velutha. He taps on Ammu's breasts and insults her when she comes to make a statement about Velutha because the police chief strongly believes in the conventional caste system.
Larry is Rahel's American husband, whom she met at the college of architecture in Delhi while he was working on a doctoral thesis, and with whom she moves to Boston. He holds her "as though she was a gift" and notices a hollowness in Rahel's eyes that seems to contribute to their lack of understanding and eventual divorce.
Rahel and Estha's tutor whom they dislike, Miss Mitten is a Born Again Christian who scolds the twins for reading backwards. She is killed by a milk van.
Father Mulligan was Baby Kochamma's would-be lover. An Irish monk who came to Kerala to study Hindu scriptures "in order to be able to denounce them intelligently," he flirted with Baby Kochamma while ostensibly talking about the Bible. Eventually, he converts to Hinduism, staying in touch with Baby Kochamma, and dies of viral hepatitis.
Inspector Thomas Mathew
Perched on the milestone of an intersection, Murlidharan is the "level-crossing lunatic" the family encounters on their way to Cochin.
Comrade E. M. S. Namboodiripad
Chacko's hero and the leader of Kerala's democratically elected Communist government, Comrade Namboodiripad is a moderate, particularly during his second term.
Orangedrink Lemondrink Man
The man who works behind the refreshments counter at the Abhilash Talkies movie theater forces Estha to masturbate him. He looks like an "unfriendly jeweled bear" and deeply traumatizes Estha, who believes the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man will find him in Ayemenem.
Comrade Pillai is "essentially a political man" who plots to become the leader of the Communist Party in Ayemenem. With many connections and building influence, he is involved in a number of business ventures, including making signs for the pickle factory. After he betrays Velutha because he wants to rid himself of any competition in the party ranks, Comrade Pillai lays the seeds for dissatisfaction among the workers of Paradise Pickles and organizes the unionization that contributes to the factory's collapse. This does not help him rise to power in the party, however.
Kalyani is Comrade Pillai's quiet wife.
Comrade Pillai's niece, Latha, recites a poem by Sir Walter Scott for Chacko.
Lenin is Comrade Pillai's son. He is a slightly awkward boy who grows up to be a secretary in Delhi.
Kari Saipu is the "Black Sahib," the Englishman who took on traditional Indian customs. The twins know his house, which was unoccupied after Kari Saipu shot himself, as "the History House." This house is the location of Ammu and Velutha's meetings.
Sophie Mol is Chacko and Margaret's daughter. She is a frank and spirited English girl characterized by her bellbottoms and her go-go bag. Although the twins are prejudiced against her because they have been so insistently instructed about how to behave when she arrives, she manages to win them over. This is partly because she is charming and outgoing, and partly because she rejected the advances of Chacko, Mammachi, and Baby Kochamma in favor of befriending Rahel and Estha.
One reason Sophie Mol's death is so important to the book's main themes is that she represents a combination of Indian and British identities. The narrator is careful to call her "Sophie," her English name, combined with "Mol," the phrase for "girl" in the local language of Malayalam. Although Sophie Mol never takes to Indian culture, she does make a great effort with the twins before she accidentally falls into the river and drowns.
Velutha's father, Vellya is an "Old-World Paravan" who feels he is indebted to Mammachi for paying for his glass eye. He is tortured about his son's affair with Ammu and tells Mammachi about it.
An Untouchable worker at the pickle factory and a close friend to Rahel and Estha, Velutha is blamed for killing Sophie Mol and raping Ammu. In fact, he has nothing to do with Sophie Mol's death, and he carries on a brief and voluntary affair with Ammu until Inspector Thomas Mathew's police officers beat Velutha until he is nearly dead.
Velutha's name means "White" in Malayalam, so-called because he has such dark skin. Mammachi noticed his prodigious talents in making and fixing things when he was young and convinced his father to send him to the Untouchables' School founded by her father-in-law. Velutha became an accomplished carpenter and mechanic, and acquired an assurance that scared his father because it was unacceptable among Untouchables. Velutha disappeared for four years and was hired by Mammachi upon his return to Ayemenem. A member of the Communist Party, he never quite fits into his role as an Untouchable, and he begins an extremely passionate affair with Ammu when Sophie Mol arrives in Ayemenem. After Comrade Pillai refuses to help him, the police officers beat him, and Estha identifies him as their abductor. Velutha dies in jail.
Syrian Christian is an Indian Christian religion established by Apostle St. Thomas, who established Christianity in Malankara.
The History House is an abandoned house on the other side of the river. The house was built and lived in by an Englishman who had "gone native."
Mol is a term of endearment meaning little girl.
Mon is a term of endearment meaning little boy.
Kochu Thomban is the Hindu temple elephant, whose name means Little Tusker.
Kathakali Man is a Hindu storyteller and public performer.
Paravan, Paryan and Pulyan
The terms Paravan, Paryan and Pulyan are used to define the Untouchable castes in different regions of India.
Untouchables are members of the lowest Indian caste who are not permitted to touch Touchable caste members in any way.
The difficulty of living in a caste-based society, for those towards the top, and those near the bottom, is the focus of this novel. The family around which the novel centers, descendants of the Reverend Ipe, are at a comfortable level in society. The family is comprised of all ages and attitudes, from the twins, Estha and Rahel and their mother Ammu and her brother Chacko, to the strict Baby Kochamma, to Pappachi and Mammachi at the head of the family.
They maintain a certain level of decorum and have become even better known with the creation of their company, Paradise Pickles and Preserves, based on the natural culinary abilities of Mammachi. The existence of the company itself demonstrates the opportunities afforded to higher class members, as they are able to move in and out of whatever positions they choose, and do what they wish to do. They have great freedom, but their position comes with the price of the same social constraint that those who are not as well off must suffer. They may be allowed to do what they would like to do, but if they want to do something that goes against the codes developed by their society, they will be expelled and the social fabric will be destroyed. This is the difficulty of being near the top; one has enough freedom to look down upon others, but not enough to make things happen the way you would like. As for those at the bottom of the caste system, the Untouchables, they have no freedom, except that which is granted by the Touchables. The people at the bottom of the social structure have no freedom to do anything except what they are told. The caste system is stretched to a breaking point when Ammu, a Touchable, finds love and desire in Velutha, an Untouchable. Since this threatens the structure of society, those involved must be broken down emotionally and the relationship must be destroyed.
In Roy's novel, it is this aspect of the caste system in India that is brought into the foreground. Ammu has made the mistake of finding value and desire in one who has been placed on the outside of her society, and as a result, her life, and his, is destroyed.
One manifestation of the caste system is the act of naming and categorizing people and groups of people. It is a necessary exercise, because people who are placed outside must be marked and recognized for what they are. Velutha, Ammu's lover, belongs to the class of Paravans, who are referred to collectively by this demeaning title. Working against this social construct of the caste system, Estha and Rahel, throughout the novel, rename themselves and others. They allow themselves to take on different identities to counteract the role into which they are pigeonholed as a result of the caste system. This is also their way of dealing with being the children of a woman who has taken the liberty of living her life independently of the family's wishes.
In a way, it is one way in which they deal with the tragedies in which they find themselves a part, such as the death of cousin Sophie Mol and Estha's molestation by the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man. Baby Kochamma resents the children's ability to escape the social constructs to find happiness and closeness within each other, and works to humiliate and punish them both for this ability.
The culture of the Ipe family becomes even more complex due to the interaction of Western principles with Indian society at several levels. Later in the chronological development of the story, Rahel marries an American and lives in the States for a time.
Her husband is unable to understand her and they subsequently divorce. In this case, American meets Indian and the result is a lack of understanding and sadness. In another instance, Baby Kochamma buys a satellite dish, and all other things fall to the wayside as television becomes the center of attention for Baby Kochamma and Kochu Maria. Baby Kochamma's garden, for which she and her house are well known, falls into disrepair as she wiles away the hours watching English and American television shows.
Ironically, television becomes a uniting factor as Baby Kochamma and Kochu Maria, master and servant, become connected as they are lit from the same glow of the television screen.
Television aside, the primary occasion in which the West collides with the Indian culture of this family forms the center of the story Sophie Mol's visit. She and her mother bring Western ideas and values, which are in turn raised to a higher level by Baby Kochamma and Mammachi. This is true especially for Chacko, for whom, after attending Oxford, the value of Western ideology has never been surpassed. Chacko's frequent use of his "Reading Aloud" voice and frequent referral to his Oxford experiences are indications of this affinity. Ammu and her children react against the preference for the Western over the native Indian, and the seemingly patronizing tone that some take when expressing their preference for the Western. This conflict comes to a head with Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma's visit, who are favored and fawned over. Because of Baby Kochamma, Mammachi, and Chacko's desire to please and impress the two visitors, Estha and Rahel are asked to ignore their Indianness and try to appear more English. Baby Kochamma makes them speak only English, rather than their native tongue, they are taught English car songs for the ride from the airport, and they are dressed up in their uncomfortable best in order to make the best impression possible. They are forced, against their will, to conform to an uncomfortable and unnatural standard because of the family's belief that English is almost always necessarily better than Indian. Ammu in turn allows this to happen but can only take so much of the pageantry, especially when it appears that Margaret herself insults Indian customs. The children, likewise, try to escape from the pageant that Chacko and his family are putting on for the English visitors by playing with Velutha, an Untouchable. The fact that they are more comfortable with an Untouchable than with any other member of their family, except their mother, speaks to the unnatural and disabling segregation that the caste system establishes. This becomes completely clear as Ammu and Velutha's affair destroys the fabric of the family.
As this story focuses on two children and their impressions of the world, Roy uses various techniques to represent the children's viewpoint and their innocence. One technique that Roy employs is the capitalization of certain words and phrases to give them certain significance. Similarly, the children will restate things that the adults say in a new phonetic way, disjoining and recombining words. This echoes the children's way of looking at the world differently from the grown-ups that surround them. They place significance on words and ideas differently from the adults, thereby creating a new way of viewing the world around them. They pick up on certain feelings and ideas that the adults around them either fail or refuse to recognize, and give new significance to things that the adults may or may not ignore for their own purposes. The children use and repeat these phrases throughout the story so that the phrases themselves gain independence and new representational meanings in subsequent uses.
Roy also employs a disjointed, nonsequential narrative that echoes the process of memory, especially the resurfacing of a previously suppressed, painful memory.
The uncovering of the story of Sophie Mol's death existing concurrently with the forward moving story of Rahel's return to Ayemenem and reunion with Estha creates a complex narrative that reiterates the difficulty of the subject of the story and the complexity of the culture from which the story originates. Time is rendered somewhat static as the different parts of the one narrative line are intertwined through repetition and nonsequential discovery. This is also part of the way in which Roy uses real life places and people that she has shifted and altered for use within this story. All of the multifarious elements come together to construct a diverse look at one instance of Indian culture and the effect of the caste system on life and love during a time of postcolonialism. As the children attempt to form their own identities, naming and renaming themselves in the process, Roy places in parallel the effect of the process, by intertwining the past and the present.
Similarly, this process echoes the progression of the Indian people, like all other cultures that attempt to find ways to maintain their traditions within a time of increasing globalization.
Indian History and Politics
Indian history and politics shape the plot and meaning of The God of Small Things in a variety of ways. Some of Roy's commentary is on the surface, with jokes and snippets of wisdom about political realities in India. However, the novel also examines the historical roots of these realities and develops profound insights into the ways in which human desperation and desire emerge from the confines of a firmly entrenched caste society. Roy reveals a complex and longstanding class conflict in the state of Kerala, India, and she comments on its various competing forces.
For example, Roy's novel attacks the brutal, entrenched, and systematic oppression at work in Kerala, exemplified by figures of power such as Inspector Thomas Mathew. Roy is also highly critical of the hypocrisy and ruthlessness of the conventional, traditional moral code of Pappachi and Mammachi. On the opposite side of the political fence, the Kerala Communist Party, at least the faction represented by Comrade Pillai, is revealed to be much more concerned with personal ambition than with any notions of social justice.
Class Relations and Cultural Tensions
In addition to her commentary on Indian history and politics, Roy evaluates the Indian postcolonial complex, or the cultural attitudes of many Indians towards their former British rulers. After Ammu calls her father a "[sh t]-wiper" in Hindi for his blind devotion to the British, Chacko explains to the twins that they come from a family of Anglophiles, or lovers of British culture, "trapped outside their own history and unable to retrace their steps," and he goes on to say that they despise themselves because of this.
A related inferiority complex is evident in the interactions between Untouchables and Touchables in Ayemenem. Vellya Paapen is an example of an Untouchable so grateful to the Touchable class that he is willing to kill his son when he discovers that his son has broken the most important rule of class segregation that there be no inter-class sexual relations. Nearly all of the relationships in the novel are somehow colored by cultural and class tension, including the twins' relationship with Sophie Mol, Chacko's relationship with Margaret, Pappachi's relationship with his family, and Ammu's relationship with Velutha. Characters such as Baby Kochamma and Pappachi are the most rigid and vicious in their attempts to uphold that social code, while Ammu and Velutha are the most unconventional and daring in unraveling it. Roy implies that this is why they are punished so severely for their transgression.
The many types of love in Roy's novel, whether they are described as erotic, familial, incestuous, biological, or hopeless, are important to the novel's meaning. However, Roy focuses her authorial commentary on forbidden and taboo types of love, including Ammu's love for Velutha and Rahel's love for Estha. Both relationships are rigidly forbidden by what Roy calls the "Love Laws," or "The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. / And how much." Although breaking these laws is the worst of taboos, and those who break them are brutally punished, desire and desperation overcome the Love Laws at the key moments of Roy's novel.
One interpretation of Roy's theme of forbidden love is that love is such a powerful and uncontrollable force that it cannot be contained by any conventional social code. Another is that conventional society somehow seeks to destroy real love, which is why love in the novel is consistently connected to loss, death, and sadness. Also, because all romantic love in the novel relates closely to politics and history, it is possible that Roy is stressing the interconnectedness of personal desire to larger themes of history and social circumstances. Love would therefore be an emotion that can be explained only in terms of two peoples' cultural backgrounds and political identities.
This book is basically about love. Although the book is tragic, it is a most beautiful love story. The beauty of Ammu and Velutha's love for each other is that it is forbidden. It is a wild and dangerous love. This is what gives it its special flavor and intensity. Arundhati Roy gives the reader a deeper understanding of all of the different dimensions of love.
Chacko's love for Margaret is forgiving and undemanding. No matter how badly Margaret has hurt him, he will always be there for her. His love is secure and comforting. Baby Kochamma finds a meaning to her life through an impossible and unrequited love for a priest. Life without love is no life at all.
The book speaks about family love. Here readers see the love between brother and sister. Rahel and Estha's love for each other is so strong and deep that they instinctively know what each other is thinking and doing. Ammu's love for her children is so deep and demanding that they all seem to belong to each other body and soul.
Other examples of love are found throughout the book. Mammachi dotes on her son, Chacko. He is her world who can do no wrong. Chacko adores his daughter Sophie, though he doesn't really know her at all. Chacko's love for his niece and nephew is simple and cheerful. Rahel and Estha feel they should love Sophie, simply because she is their cousin. Velutha's tender and unselfish love for the twins is a reflection of his love for their mother.
The story is set in the caste society of India. In this time, members of the Untouchable Paravan or Paryan were not permitted to touch members of higher castes or enter their houses. This extreme form of discrimination was deeply embedded over centuries in the Indian society. The Untouchables were considered polluted beings. They had the lowliest jobs and lived in subhuman conditions. In India, the caste system was considered a way to organize society. Arundhati Roy's book shows how terribly cruel such a system can be.
Along with the caste system, readers see an economic class struggle. The Kochammas are considered upper class. They are factory owners, the dominating class. Mammachi and Baby Kochamma would not deign to mix with those of a lower class. Even Kochu Maria, who has been with them for years, will always be a servant of a lower class.
However, Roy shows other types of less evident discrimination. For example, there is religious discrimination. It is unacceptable for a Syrian Christian to marry a Hindu. In more than one passage of the book, the reader feels Rahel and Estha's discomfort at being half Hindu. Baby Kochamma constantly makes disparaging comments about the Hindus. On the other hand, there is discomfort even between the Christian religions, as is shown by Pappachi's negative reaction when Baby converts to Catholicism.
Chacko suffers more veiled racial discrimination, as it seems his daughter also did.
His English wife's parents were shocked and disapproving that their daughter should marry an Indian, no matter how well educated. Sophie Mol at one point mentions to her cousins that they are all "wog," while she is "half-wog."
The Kochammas are very class conscious. They have a need to maintain their status. Discrimination is a way of protecting one's privileged position in society.
Betrayal is a constant element in this story. There are big and small betrayals. Love, ideals and confidence are all betrayed, consciously and unconsciously, maliciously and innocently. It seems that everyone has suffered some type of betrayal.
Comrade Pillai betrays not only Velutha's trust and ideals but also Chacko's. Pillai does this with no qualms, to further his own and his party's interests. Another character prepared to further his own interest at any cost is Ammu's ex-husband who, in order to save his job, would have been willing to allow his boss to take Ammu as a mistress. Chacko is betrayed by his wife.
Baby Kochamma is capable of lying and betraying everyone, even innocent children, to protect her own social position. Vellya Paapen, also in fear of his own position, betrays his son by telling Mammachi about Velutha and Ammu. Little Esthappen has his innocence betrayed by a dirty old man.
Velutha, the purest of all, is the one who is most betrayed. He is even betrayed by a little seven-year-old boy who loves him dearly. Estha suffers guilt for years after, maybe because his betrayal was unintentional. The novel asks the question: up until what point can we trust others, or even ourselves? How easy is it to put our own interests and convenience over loyalty?
The God of Small Things is not written in a sequential narrative style in which events unfold chronologically. Instead, the novel is a patchwork of flashbacks and lengthy sidetracks that weave together to tell the story of the Kochamma family. The main events of the novel are traced back through the complex history of their causes, and memories are revealed as they relate to each other thematically and as they might appear in Rahel's mind. Although the narrative voice is omniscient, or all-knowing, it is loosely grounded in Rahel's perspective, and all of the episodes of the novel progress towards the key moments in Rahel's life.
This non-sequential narrative style, which determines the form of the novel, is an extremely useful authorial tool. It allows Roy a great deal of flexibility as she chooses which themes and events are most important to pursue. The author is able to structure her book so as to build up to the ideas and events at the root of the Kochamma family's experience.
Throughout Roy's novel, the narrative voice emphasizes that it is building towards a mysterious, cataclysmic, and all-important event. Roy even provides details and glimpses of the event, which she refers to as "The Loss of Sophie Mol," and quotes characters remembering it and referring to it vaguely far before the reader discovers what has happened. Because of this technique, called foreshadowing, Roy builds considerable tension and intrigue into The God of Small Things, and she is able to play with the expectation and anticipation that the reader feels.
Point of View
The book is narrated in the third person. However, during a great part of the narrative, the reader sees everything through Rahel's eyes. This gives the reader a very special insight into the happenings and characters. The are various moments which cross each other all through the book. One moment is in 1969 when Rahel is a seven-year-old child. At these moments everything is seen through a child's eye with a child's feelings and rationale. Facts, objects and people are seen in a complete different light. The child's view gives the book a very special charm and poignancy. It also brings in moments of light comic scenes.
Another moment is twenty-three years later of an adult woman, searching for something she has lost in her childhood. The adult's eye is more critical. Through her eyes, the reader feels the sadness and horror of how the facts came together, causing such a terrible tragedy.
Some other parts of the book are written from the point of view of an observer who has no direct involvement in the scene. The background information on the family and facts are written in pure impartial narrative form, as is the last love scene. The impartial view, which purely relates the facts, brings the story together, making it real and believable.
The author uses this style to create an exquisite atmosphere and a beautiful but very sad story. Roy imbues the plot with a mixture of innocence, love and malicious manipulation.
The story is set in the small town of Ayemenem in the Kerala province, southwest India. The main part of the plot takes place in 1969, a time when the caste system in India was still very strongly imbedded. It is also the time of increased awareness around the world and a peak of communist ideology and influence.
India is a very complex society with various cultural and religious habits and beliefs. Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims share the same space. Society is divided not only by the very strict caste system but also by class consciousness. There are a number of languages spoken in India, but the higher classes make a point of speaking English, sending their sons to study in England and adopting certain English habits.
The God of Small Things is a book about India, not India as seen by the western world or by western standards. This is a story about the real India, beautifully written by one of its own nationals. The book is filled with deep emotion that is closely tied to place.
Arundhati Roy describes her book as "an inextricable mix of experience and imagination."
Language and Meaning
The book is written in English because English is the most commonly used language throughout India, and it is the natural language for Arundhati Roy to write in. Throughout the book, there are also a few sentences written in the Indian Malyaman dialect.
The author makes very free use of the English language in this book. She uses languages in a completely unique and fascinating manner. Sometimes her writing takes on a poetic dimension. Playing with words and phrases, she manages to give a whole new dimension to the language.
At times during the book, Roy's writing expresses a child's thought process. Using a child's language, Roy gives readers whole new and interesting definitions of people, objects and facts. For example: "Aristocrats were people who didn't blow spit bubbles or shiver their legs. Or gobble."
As a child, Arundhati Roy studied free style writing. She does this brilliantly by putting different emphasis on words. The author seems to have fun playing with words. Sometimes she has the children split words apart, and other times the children glue them together. For example, "Later" becomes "Lay. Ter." and "An owl" becomes "A Nowl."
Roy writes as if she were thinking. Sometimes thoughts ramble on illogically, and other times random thoughts and remembrances just melt together. It is this free style of writing that makes the book convey such a depth of emotions.
The book is divided into twenty-one chapters. Some chapters have subdivisions in them. Other chapters are very short. The story is not told in a linear time frame. The author takes the reader back and forth from the present to the past. Facts, thoughts and recollections are interrupted in one chapter and further expanded on a few chapters later.
At certain points, Roy follows no sentence or paragraph rules. This deviation from a formal style serves to enhance the atmosphere of the book.
In the first chapter, Roy gives readers an outline of the story. The other chapters have no chronological order. The last chapter, depicting the love scene, is actually the middle of the story itself. It ends the telling of a very sad story in a beautiful way. There is no real end to the story itself. The author lets the reader imagine what the future may hold for Rahel and Estha. Will they ever find happiness and how?
The author has structured the novel in this way in order to put more emphasis on the events that lead up to the story, the consequences and the characters themselves involved. This is very effectively accomplished.
Because of the efforts of the political and religious leader Mohandas Gandhi, India became independent on August 15, 1947 at the stroke of midnight, after more than three hundred years of a British colonial presence. The British partitioned the former colony into the nations of India and Pakistan (comprised of East and West regions), but this was unsuccessful in quelling agitations between Hindus and Muslims. The borders were only rough designations of religious majorities, and millions died as Hindus in Pakistan moved to majority-Hindu India, and Muslims in India moved to majority-Muslim Pakistan. Ammu was five years old in 1947, living with her family in the Indian capital of New Delhi.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India from Independence until his death in 1964, struggled to foster economic growth and became involved in various territorial disputes. In Kerala, the Communist Party of India (CPI) was elected to power in a state government led by E. M. S. Namboodiripad in 1957, but Nehru dissolved it in 1959. In 1962, the year Rahel and Estha were born, India fought a limited war over a border dispute with China. As a result of the Chinese conflict, the CPI split between a pro-Russian faction, still called the CPI, and a faction that grew to be less influenced by foreign governments, called the Communist Party of India (Marxist). In the mid-1960s, a further split in the Indian communist parties formed the Naxalites, who advocated an immediate communist revolution, while tensions between Pakistan and India flared into war in 1965.
After Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died of a heart attack in 1966, Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mohandas Gandhi) assumed the post amidst a severe draught and growing unemployment. These conditions contributed to the major losses that Gandhi's Indian National Congress Party suffered in the 1967 elections. As Gandhi's intentions for the Congress Party became clear, tensions arose between liberal and conservative members of the party, and in 1969, the year of Sophie Mol's visit to Ayemenem, the Congress Party split. Although Indira Gandhi remained in control of the larger, liberal faction, she was forced to forge alliances with left-wing parties in order to maintain control of the government.
Further tensions with Pakistan led to India's involvement in a conflict between East Pakistan and West Pakistan in 1971, which led to the independence of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan). Indira Gandhi was convicted of minor election law violations in 1975, but she declared a state of emergency in order to stay in power. Widely unpopular, this move allowed her to arrest opposition leaders and censor the press, and she was defeated in the 1977 elections. Gandhi was elected once again in 1980, however, and began to meet with foreign leaders while dealing with several insurgencies in India. In 1984, she sent Indian troops to storm a Sikh temple, killing the Sikh guerillas inside, and this event led to her assassination by two of her Sikh bodyguards. Gandhi's son, Rajiv, succeeded her to the leadership of the Congress Party and was elected prime minister in 1985. Rajiv Gandhi sponsored economic reforms, but he was criticized as an indecisive leader and lost the 1989 election.
Roy wrote her novel in the early 1990s, during a period in which Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a Sri Lankan Tamil in 1991 while campaigning for an election that political analysts believe he would have won. The present-day events in The God of Small Things occur in 1992, when Congress/I (formerly the Congress Party) leader P. V. Narasimha Rao was prime minister. Rao became known for his sensitive handling of Hindu-Muslim tensions, his economic reforms, and his progressive foreign policy in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union. He lost power in 1996 amidst charges of corruption, however, and this began a series of leadership struggles that continued through India's announcement in 1998 that it was a nuclear power; Pakistan made a similar announcement shortly thereafter.
The God of Small Things was an unprecedented international success for a first-time author. It won a publishing advance reputed to be near one million dollars, and it won Britain's most prestigious writing award, the Booker Prize, in 1997. Reviews in the United States were very positive, often including high praise such as that of Ritu Menon in her review for Women's Review of Books: "The God of Small Things is a seduction from start to finish." Although the novel was generally well-reviewed in Britain, there was some controversy about its success, and a minority of critics, including the previous Booker Prize Committee Chairperson Carmen Callil, said on television that it did not deserve the prize. The novel has also caused some controversy in India, where it was first published. Communists, including E. M. S. Namboodiripad, took exception to Roy's portrayal of communist characters, and the lawyer Sabu Thomas filed a public interest petition claiming that the novel was obscene.
Critics generally group the novel into the genre of post-colonial Indian literature that takes Indian politics and history as its subject. For example, the anonymous reviewer in the March 15, 1997 edition of Kirkus Reviews characterizes Roy's style as "reminiscent of Salman Rushdie's early work." Like the novels of the influential Indian-British author Salman Rushdie, The God of Small Things is written in English, for a Western readership as much as an Indian readership, and it takes on a variety of historical and political themes.
• Critical Essay #1
• Critical Essay #2
• Critical Essay #3
• Critical Essay #4
Critical Essay #1
Trudell is an independent scholar with a bachelor's degree in English literature. In the following essay, Trudell discusses the significance of the sexual encounters between Rahel and Estha, and Ammu and Velutha.
The God of Small Things builds an incredible amount of anticipation and expectation for the definitive moment of the story. With all of its foreshadowing, its emphasis on tracing one's steps, and its insistent suggestion that everything, from politics to erotic desire, is intimately connected, Roy's novel places a great deal of emphasis on the central event of the twins' childhood that caused the momentous changes in the Kochamma family. The reader comes to expect, because of the narrator's many references to "the Loss of Sophie Mol," that everything will boil down to one key moment, and that this moment will involve Sophie Mol's death.
It eventually becomes clear, however, that Sophie Mol's actual drowning is an accident, an understated tragedy in which she simply vanishes in the river. Like all of the characters' lives and the events of the plot, Sophie Mol's death is intimately tied to many other elements, including Estha's sexual abuse, Sophie Mol's relationship to the twins, and the host of factors that led to the tragedy. But the actual loss of Sophie Mol does not reveal much about the deep historical forces at work in Ayemenem, and it does not explain what truly causes or defines the Kochamma family's experience.
Instead, Roy's trajectory of foreshadowing and anticipation leads to the two forbidden, taboo erotic relationships of the novel between Ammu and Velutha, and Estha and Rahel. These are the episodes at the core of the unraveling plot and the crux of the book's meaning. All of the tension, desire, and desperation beneath the surface of the narrative converges into these expressions of love, which are examples of perhaps the greatest, most unthinkable taboos of all. This essay will discuss why the two forbidden sexual episodes in the final two chapters of The God of Small Things are so crucial to the history of the Kochamma family and the emblematic of the meaning of the novel.
Before discussing the significance of these episodes, however, it will help to establish how and why they are so closely connected. It is immediately clear that they have much in common as doomed, forbidden love trysts, and it is no coincidence that they are revealed and described next to each other, at the end of the narrative. However, there are other, less obvious connections. During Estha and Rahel's erotic encounter, for example, there are repeated references to Ammu such as calling Rahel's mouth "Their beautiful mother's mouth" and there is the statement that the twins are at the "viable die-able age" of thirty, Ammu's age between her affair with Velutha and her death. Equally important is the phrase, "They were strangers who had met in a chance encounter," because it is more applicable to Velutha and Ammu than to the twins.
Also key at this point, late in chapter 20, is the narrator's statement about Rahel and Estha that "once again they broke the Love Laws," which uses the term that had previously been applied to Ammu and Velutha and implies that the twins' situation is a reoccurrence of the affair of 1969.
By closely connecting Rahel and Estha's sexual relationship to Ammu and Velutha's, Roy suggests that present-day events converge with the events surrounding Sophie Mol's death, and that each strain of the plot has the same thematic resolution. The two instances of breaking of the Love Laws form a key to understanding the rest of the book; they are both the result and the cause of the novel's action. This is why the narrator writes that the story "really began in the days when the Love Laws were made," back through the colonial and pre-colonial history of Kerala. The Love Laws represent the strict confines on human behavior the caste systems, social pressures, and political restrictions that horrify people beyond expression when they are broken. The central action of the novel is about breaking them, and the tragedy that results from breaking them.
For one thing, therefore, the forbidden love affairs at the end of the novel are crucial because they reveal the disgust and horror with the lovers that is at the root of the violence and tragedy directed against them. Present-day Western readers probably do not consider inter-caste romance repulsive, but they are quite likely to be shocked and offended by incest. Incest is as taboo in twenty-first-century Western society as an inter-caste sexual affair would have been in the 1960s, and probably still is, in Kerala. The reader's reaction to such violations of the Love Laws allows him/her to understand how and why such drastic social and political consequences could have resulted from the transgressions at the end of The God of Small Things. Roy allows the reader an insight into the emotional basis behind the careful, planned brutality of those dedicated to Kerala's social code, such as the Touchable Policemen who believe that in beating Velutha to death they are enforcing the Love Laws and "inoculating a community against an outbreak."
However, the love affairs also allow the reader to identify with the transgressor, and they inspire a sympathetic reaction for four people who are abused, tortured, and betrayed by their society's most fundamental rules. The reasons for Ammu's turn to Velutha are sharply drawn and inspire a great deal of sympathy when she studies her body, the body of an "inexperienced lover," in the mirror and peers "down the road to Age and Death through its parted strands." Ammu's love affair is, in a sense, the cause of the novel's tragedy because it shatters her family, condemns Velutha to a brutal death, traumatizes Rahel and Estha for the rest of their lives, and results in her own decay and death. It is also, however, the result of an entire lifetime of abuse, confinement, and imprisonment in a stinting social code. This code not only fails to protect Ammu against her father beating her with a brass vase, her father imprisoning her in the house even when she is an adult, and her husband beating her; it actually leads to these consequences. When she recognizes that Kerala's social code is in the process of forcing her down Baby Kochamma's path of bitter, joyless confinement to the house until death, she acts in perfectly understandable desperation and attempts to find some brief joy with Velutha.
Similarly, Rahel's affair with Estha can be interpreted as the result of a social code, both in Kerala and in the United States, that has traumatized her and deprived her of her childhood. The "Quietness and Emptiness" that characterize Estha and Rahel stems from Velutha's death and their parents' difficulties in raising them, but also stems from a society that is cruel, harassing, and violent towards a single mother and her children. From Baby Kochamma to Chacko to the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man, people are prejudiced towards Ammu and her children, and take advantage of them. Rahel and Estha's incestuous contact is their attempt to find comfort in each other, although, unlike Ammu and Velutha, they are not even able to reach a joyful release from their problems, and "what they shared that night was not happiness but hideous grief."
In addition to what they reveal about the cultural and political content of Roy's novel, the two affairs communicate a great deal about the novel's psychological subtext. In the course of the book, both Ammu and Rahel experience identity crises whose primary goals are, in a sense, discovering who and what they are in relation to their culture and family. Rahel travels back to Ayemenem to see her brother, but her journey is perhaps better described as a quest, through her memories, to discover herself and the roots of her history. The third-person narrator of The God of Small Things is omniscient, and not strictly confined to any particular perspective, but the narrative voice is grounded in Rahel's memories. Events and remembrances weave into the story as they might appear in Rahel's mind, and the novel is structured around her search to understand herself and her past.
Rahel's incestuous contact with Estha is so crucial and definitive in this identity search because, as the narrator stresses insistently, her brother is herself. In opening passages of the novel, the narrator relates that, during their childhood, "Esthappen and Rahel thought of themselves together as Me, and separately, individually, as We or Us. As though they were a rare breed of Siamese twins, physically separate, but with joint identities." The twins' love-making is a metaphor for their search for this fractured and traumatized joint identity in their adulthood, and it is a real, physical and emotional expression of their grief and longing.
Ammu's affair with Velutha is also, in a sense, a search for herself; this is clear from the lengthy passages in which the narrator describes the desperation in Ammu's strictly confined life and her need to live and experience joy. When Ammu studies herself in the mirror and tests whether a toothbrush will stay on her breast, she reveals that she understands herself through her body and her sexual identity, and she seeks out Velutha in order to discover the beautiful part of herself.
The forbidden love affairs that come at the end of Roy's novel, therefore, work together to provide a single metaphor for the key struggles and meanings of the novel. The twins' incestuous contact and Ammu's affair with Velutha are metaphors for, and physical enactments of, the psychological identity struggles of the novel's protagonists. These struggles extend, by implication and because they are so closely connected to the political subtext of the novel, to the wider political and psychological identity struggles of all those afflicted by the oppressive social code of southern Indian culture.
Source: Scott Trudell, Critical Essay on The God of Small Things, in Novels for Students, Thomson Gale, 2006.
Critical Essay #1
Hart is a freelance writer and author of several books. In the following essay, Hart goes behind the story contained in The God of Small Things to study Roy's poetic language and unique writing style.
Arundhati Roy's novel The God of Small Things has many excellent qualities. The setting is exotic; the voice is unique; the characters are complex; and the plot line is mysterious. Any one of these, done as well as Roy's skills have provided, might have been enough for the author to win the Booker Prize, one of the most distinguished literary awards; but with one more distinctive characteristic added to the mix Roy's poetic and imaginative writing style there is no question that this book will long remain one of the most fascinating novels of the twentieth century.
Upon the first read of The God of Small Things, one cannot help but be drawn into the story that Roy has created, wondering, with each succeeding chapter, what could possibly happen next. There are questions about who these characters are; where the plot line is going; and what the missing details are that the author has purposefully left out, taunting the reader to hurriedly move forward. Even the setting of the story is alluring with its freshly conceived scenery, unusual town names, striking tropical flora and fauna, as well as the strange social customs. The storyline twists around unsuspecting corners, as the narrator takes readers into the dark depths of the characters' souls. And even though, after reading this book, one might sense the quality of writing of this gifted novelist, it might take a second, and maybe even a third, reading before one can actually pay attention to the underlying style that makes this novel so invigorating to read. The purpose of this essay is to do just that: to examine not the story but Roy's unique writing technique; and to point out the poetic qualities of her writing.
One of the first elements of the author's writing that readers confront as they begin this novel is Roy's creative vocabulary creative in the sense that she makes up new words. In the first pages, for example, Roy uses the words "dustgreen trees" and later portrays a smell as "sicksweet." Two things happen when she puts two words together like this (which she consistently does throughout the novel). First, she captures the attention of the reader. There are no such words as "dustgreen" and "sicksweet," which her audience will immediately realize, and yet readers will know exactly what the author has intended by using such new words. Secondly, the words not only make sense, they describe the objects they are referring to with much greater depth than most single adjectives and metaphors could possibly do, and the author accomplishes this with minimum verbiage. "Dustgreen," for instance, is used to describe both a color and a condition, and with this one inventive word, Roy gives her readers a fully sensual image. Dust is gritty and dry, like the weather she is trying to depict. So in using a word such as "dustgreen," Roy helps readers not only to visualize the setting but also to feel it. A similar double sense is created with the word "sicksweet." Readers not only can taste and smell it, they can feel it in the pit of their stomachs, just as Rahel and Estha feel when they think about the world that Roy has created for them in her novel. The sweetness of the odor has attracted these characters to explore their world; but the consequences and the reactions of their world have made them sick. Thus, these "double words" are more than the sum of their parts. They are not just two words haphazardly added together, but rather they are almost like short poems. They offer the reader vivid images through short expressive words.
Other examples of combining words appear when the narrator pulls readers into the funeral of Sophie Mol, a flashback that occurs at the beginning of the novel. When a baby bat climbs up Baby Kochamma's sari, making the woman scream, Roy provides her readers with a sample of the noises of confusion in the congregation, which she represents with the words: "Whatisit? Whathappened?" and "a Furrywhirring and a Sariflapping." With these new words, readers are given a complex picture of the bewilderment that is occurring inside the church. Not only do these words refer to sounds, they also provoke a sense of movement. People are turning their heads back and forth, searching for the source of the yelling and its cause as they try to figure out what is happening ("Whatisit? Whathappened?"); bats are beating their wings, trying to escape ("Furrywhirring"); and women are flapping the material of their costumes to make sure that there are no bats climbing on them ("Sariflapping"). Once again, Roy has created vibrant descriptions in using her newly conceived words. It is as if she has captured a whole movie scene, filled with motion and sound, with just a minimum use of syllables.
There is another form of creative vocabulary that Roy makes up. This one reflects children trying to make sense of the adult world through little bits of information that they receive. For instance, again at Sophie Mol's funeral, the protagonist Rahel attempts to repeat words that she has heard during the religious ceremony. But in a child's world, not only is it hard to grasp the full meaning of language; it is also sometimes difficult to take hold of the full word. So in repeating the Biblical quote that refers to the body decomposing and returning to the dust from whence it came, Rahel tries to mimic the priests. But instead of saying "dust to dust," she says: "Dus to dus to dus to dus to dus." This is what the words sound like to her. And by Roy using this phrase (as well as other similar, child interpretations throughout the novel), she places her readers inside the mind of the very young. Readers thus are provided with a different view of reality, one that is seen through the eyes of her young characters, children who must face some very tragic circumstances very early in their lives.
Rahel, in this instance, cannot fully comprehend death, so she repeats the priests' words as best she can, twisting her tongue around them, attempting to make a kind of song out of them, hoping that eventually the phrase might help her understand. "Sophie Mol died because she couldn't breathe," Rahel believes. "Her funeral killed her." And it is Roy's creative use of language that makes readers not only mentally visualize what is happening inside Rahel's mind but to feel the confusion, the struggle with her conflicts, and the great challenges that confront her.
In the middle of the story, the narrator shines more light on Roy's understanding of how children perceive the world through language that they do not fully understand. While the family is awaiting the arrival of Sophie Mol and her family at the airport, Estha and Rahel are misbehaving. Their uncle suggests that their mother deal with them "later," a word that plays with Rahel's mind. "And Later became a horrible, menacing, goose-bumpy word. Lay. Ter. Like a deep-sounding bell in a mossy well.
Shivery, and furred. Like moth's feet." This passage sums up the foundation upon which Roy has built her literary vocabulary, her creative construction of language for this story. It explains why she is so focused on language, especially when dealing with her youngest of characters. Roy is sensitive to the distorted world that children must plow through, hoping to find their way. She remembers how difficult language was to understand and yet at the same time how powerful words could be for children. Even when words are not fully comprehended, or at least not identified with proper dictionary meanings, they are felt. Words for children have more than sound; they have lives of their own. And the tone of them can be frightening. Roy knows that sometimes words that children hear are creepy, furry insects. Other times they are slimy wells that threaten to swallow all who hear them.
One more way that Roy adorns her story is through the use of poetic images which are as colorful as the tropical paintings of Paul Gauguin. The author obviously does not paint with oils to do so but rather with vibrant words, such as when she is describing the first raindrops of the monsoon season when she writes: "Slanting silver ropes slammed into loose earth, plowing it up like gunfire." The first component that makes this sentence so beautiful is the alliteration with the letter s, which sounds slippery just like the rain she is portraying. Then there is the overall image of hard raindrops falling on the dry earth. The rain is so hard and the earth is so dry that when the water first hits the dirt, dust flies up into the air as if the earth is being shot at. This sentence is poetically powerful on many different levels. But besides creating an image, it also provides a psychological reference. Rahel has just returned in Ayemenem as the narrator describes this scene. Change is in the air as the edge of the monsoon season pushes the dry weather away. But there is also a sense of danger presented here. The author uses the word gunfire in her metaphor, as if a warning is being given. The timeframe of this novel is contorted, moving from the present to the past and back again, over and over again. So when the above sentence appears in the story, the damage to Rahel has already happened; but the reader is still in the dark because the story has just begun. So the warning is not given for Rahel's sake but for the reader's.
It is as if the author is alerting the reader that this is not going to be an easy, entertaining story. There are many events that will be hard to take, and Rahel's return is but one of the markers for these difficult changes.
There is another passage that serves a dual purpose. It appears on the first page of the novel. The narrator is describing the landscape as the monsoon season begins. "Boundaries blur as tapioca fences take root and bloom." Here there is another reference to great change, as dried out branches that once looked like a fence are now blossoming and thus fading into the rest of the vegetation around it. Whereas fences normally standout as rigid boundaries, in this instance the boundary itself becomes part of the garden. Besides creating a poetic image, Roy foreshadows a theme that will prevail throughout the story, one in which boundaries between sex, race, social status, and rational and irrational reality will cease to exist. As a matter of fact, the whole first chapter provides a foreshadowing of the rest of the novel. Roy either cleverly hints at events that will come, or else she completely throws her readers into very specific events but only gives readers quick, short glimpses, teasing them forward.
Examples of how Roy gives hints and glimpses into the future of the novel include her reference to the "Orangedrink Lemondrink Man" and her mentioning that he did something to Estha; but she does not say what that was. And Roy describes Rahel as being "brittle with exhaustion from her battle against Real Life," although readers have no idea what this battle entailed. Then later in the first chapter, Inspector Thomas Mathew toys with Rahel's mother, Ammu, when the woman goes to the police station: "He tapped her breasts with his baton. Gently. Tap tap. As though he was choosing mangoes from a basket." There is a lot suggested in this phrase. First there is the superior stance of the inspector. There is also the sexual overtone. And then there is the reader's curiosity, which is aroused by questions such as why has Ammu gone to see the policeman? And why is he intimidating her? Then shortly after this encounter, Ammu says: "He's dead." Readers do not know who has died nor what all these passages mean. Roy is fully aware of keeping her readers in the dark, but she does not worry about the confusion. The author does not rush to fill in all the gaps. This is because she is a profoundly confident and creative writer. Roy tells her story the way she wants to relate it. And she does it in a language that suits her characters' minds. And it is her confidence, creativity, and poetic style that make Roy's writing so refreshing, make her story so enticing to read over and over again.
Source: Joyce Hart, Critical Essay on The God of Small Things, in Novels for Students, Thomson Gale, 2006.
Critical Essay #3
Carter is currently employed as a freelance writer. In this essay, Carter considers the social malaise present in Roy's version of contemporary Indian society as a function of Western influence.
Permeating Arundahti Roy's The God of Small Things is an India devoid of a sense of history, one that has laid waste to the Western world. It is a desolation foreshadowing what lies, even eats away at, the core of the novel when a people, in this case, the people of India, lose their sense of history, the results are devastating to all. In the opening chapter of her work, Roy introduces the reader to world of what was. Relationships are broken, gardens go asunder, homes lay waste, victims of abject filth fueled by apathy and neglect. It is a circumstance Roy paints aptly and repeatedly from the opening pages until Sophie Mol's tragic end.
The British influence of the Indian culture insidiously lurks at the heart of the novel. Baby Kochamma appears at the beginning of the novel to Rahel to be a caricature of her former self, defined by her dyed jet-black hair along with its by-product, a pale gray stain imprinted on her forehead. She has also begun to wear makeup, that when applied in the dark confines of her home, appears to be slightly off, "her lipstick mouth having shifted slightly off her real mouth." The silence between Baby Kochamma and Rahel when they are reunited, both now as adults, mirrors this strangeness, described as sitting "between grandniece and baby grandaunt like a third person. A stranger. Swollen. Noxious." Conversation is stilted, and the two struggle to find words. But the reader soon learns that circumstances were once different. The narrative recalls a past featuring a different Baby Kochamma, one who had previously spent her afternoons in a sari and gumboots, where she tended to an ornamental garden fantastic enough to attract attention from neighboring towns.
But much has changed. The garden is as toxic as the reunion between relatives, abandoned, having "grown knotted and wild, like a circus whose animals have forgotten their tricks. The reason for Baby Kochamma's neglect, stems from her "new love," a satellite dish antenna. This event generates "impossible excitement" in Baby Kochamma literally overnight, hypnotic in its intrusion into her existence. She abandons her love for gardening for the sake of the WWF and other televised amusements. "In Ayemenem," says the narrator, "where once the loudest sound had been a musical bus horn, now whole wars, famines, picturesque massacres and Bill Clinton could be summoned up like servants." This newfound attraction, the reader also discovers, is the catalyst for Baby Kochamma's absurd new look, defined by badly dyed, brittle hair and painted lips, influenced by television programming the likes of The Bold and the Beautiful and Santa Barbara.
The social malaise framing the events of the novel is aptly described by Chacko, an India-born, Oxford educated man who sees, yet cannot transcend, the hypocrisies of his westernized culture. It is Chacko who is quick to point out that the family's desire to see The Sound of Music is "an extended exercise in Anglophilia." He tells the twins that they are all Anglophiles, "pointed in the wrong direction, trapped outside their own history and unable to retrace their steps because their footprints had been swept away." He explains to them that history is "like an old house at night. With all the lamps lit. And ancestors whispering inside." To understand one's history is to enter this house, to understand and hear the whispers, to see the books, pictures and smell the smells that linger within its walls. Yet in the next breath, he is apt to express himself in what is characterized as his "reading aloud voice," an affectation developed during his studies at Oxford. His fondness for his Oxford days culminates not only in his affinity for literature, but for the reverence he holds for both his American-born ex-wife and their daughter.
No one character seems to escape the tentacles of Western culture. An element of violence punctures the novel, first, in Baby Kochamma's husband, Pappachi, who beat her regularly yet fancied himself to be a proper English gentleman within the context of his own arrogance and exceedingly destructive nature. Then there is Ammu, his daughter, mother of Rahel and Estha, who returns home after surviving a violent attack from her drunken husband. The cause for the assault, the reader learns, stems from a request by her husband's British employer to sleep with Ammu as a way to preserve his position with the company. Ammu's refusal to comply spurns the attack from her spouse. When she decides to leave her husband, her family's response is surprisingly negative, according to the narrator. In the Kochamma family, Ammu's integrity takes a backseat to preconceived notions of British values. "Pappachi would not believe her story not because he thought well of her husband, but simply because he didn't believe that an Englishman, any Englishman, would covet another man's wife." It is this Western influence that further polarizes the family. As a result of this influence, Ammu is osterisized by her own people, as are her innocent children, predicated or based on a sort of high-flying, false perception of English decorum as having transcended Indian culture.
Velutha is in a similar, if not worse position in modern Indian society. When the British came to his town, his, among other Paravans, Pelayas and Pulayas, wanted to avoid "Untouchability" by Christian conversion and membership in the Anglican church. Rather than escape persecution, these groups found that they had instead relinquished any claims to government benefits, their Christianity rendering them "casteless" outcasts in their own society. Recalling Chacko's own lesson in histrionics, Roy says of the fate of Velutha's people, "It was a little like having to sweep away your footprints without a broom. Or worse, not being allowed to leave footprints at all." In so much as Velutha is loved, and even admired by Baby Kochamma, he remains a social outcast. Because of this imposed status and its perceived impact on the Kochamma family, i.e., the affair between Velutha and Ammu, Velutha is eventually betrayed by Baby Kochamma to preserve the family name. In the end, authorities misuse this information to their advantage to subdue the Indian community. A brutal beating meant to send a message to quiet rebellious rumblings results in Velutha's death.
Sophie Mol's death remains at the heart of the story, and weighs heavily on Estha and Rahel. It functions as a leveling force for all concerned. It is the pivotal point at which familial bonds are permanently severed. Her life is symbolic and central to the novel. She epitomizes all that is British, described upon her arrival: "She walked down the runway, the smell of London in her hair." Her father, Indian, her mother, American, Sophie Mol is a product of a biracial marriage. Ironically, despite these familial ties, she has little or no connection with India. She has instead been raised in England by her American-born mother, well-removed from the influences of the India people. Ironically, Sophie Mol's British affectations have elevated her status, somehow overshadowing her Indian origins. Her cousins, Estha and Rahel, stand in her shadow. Rather than being elevated or embraced for their Indianness, they are overlooked in Baby Kochamma's home. And when Sophie Mol tragically dies, the event tears apart core relationships in the Kochamma household. The family puts all of their energy into Sophie Mol, and her death, even though their history with the child suggests she is more or less a stranger, admired more for her golden hair, western mannerisms and dress. Instead of accepting responsibility for their part in the accident, tragically, both Chacko and Baby Kochamma blame Rahel and Estha, and begin to treat them as outcasts.
Roy speaks of India's history as if it were creeping in the shadows, represented by "History House" looming in the "Heart of Darkness" at the other side of the river. History House is haunted by an Englishman who had gone native, the "Black Sahib" who it was intimated had committed suicide after his family was permanently separated by his young lover's parents, presumably Indian and perhaps, ironically so, bent on the child's Anglicization. Driven by their need to escape from a hostile family life, the twins look to History House as a way to escape the constraints of their own world. What happens when they decide to cross the river, to be with Velutha, the man they "weren't supposed to love" on that fateful day on the back veranda changes the course of their lives, and their affinity to the world forever. Adds Roy, "While other children of their age learned other things, Estha and Rahel learned how history negotiates its terms and collects its dues from those who break its laws." Both of the twins hear history's "sickening thud," they in fact "smell its smell and never forget," a smell described as "old roses on a breeze."
Estha and Rahel's lost innocence culminates in the tragic events on the veranda at history house. It is there that Velutha's blood is spilled. He is violently beaten in front of the children as the result of lies Baby Kochamma has told merely out of vanity, to protect her "good name" and reputation. His death is also a function of the social climate in the area. Velutha is used as an example by the authorities of those who remain out of step with the new regime or the British way of life. He is beaten and killed, so preaches Roy, in an account as seen through Rahel's and Estha's eyes. What they witnessed in History House, the author contends, was "a clinical demonstration in controlled conditions" of "human nature's pursuit of ascendancy." She goes on to explain, "Structure. Order. Complete monopoly. It was human history, masquerading as God's Purpose, revealing herself to an under-age audience." Ultimately, it is the influence of outside political and social forces that kill Velutha both spiritually and physically, as well as permanently scar Estha and Rahel's psyches.
The author, when asked just what the god of small things is, simply stated that it is "the inversion of God," a "not accepting of what we think of as adult boundaries." Roy asserts that throughout the course of the narrative, "all sorts of boundaries are transgressed upon." It is, according to Roy, small events and ordinary things "smashed and reconstituted, imbued with new meaning to become the bleached bones of the story." Subsequently, it is these small events and ordinary things that form a pattern for her narrative. "A pattern," says Roy, "of how in these small events and in these small lives the world intrudes." She believes that because of these patterns, and what they imply, that people go virtually unprotected, "the world and the social machine intrudes into the smallest, deepest core of their being and changes their life."
Returning to the story, it is easy to identify the psychological undercurrent Roy speaks of. All of the events in the story are a by-product of Western influence in what has become, more or less, a British colony. Tepid river waters bloated with dead finish mirror the encroachment of the industrial machine, as does the hypnotic quality of the satellite dish holding the Kochamma house hostage. Throughout the novel, the twins are encouraged to speak English rather than their native language, to covet whiteness instead of their Indian heritage, yet they cannot transcend who they are and fail miserably. Compounding their failure is Sophie Mol, their English cousin, who manages to capture Baby Kochamma and Chacko's attention immediately with her
Western affectations. And when Ammu's affair fails miserably, she expresses her sorrow by directing her rage towards her own children, as did her husband and parents towards her. Like dominoes, these circumstances and others stack up, then collapse, setting into motion a tragic chain of events that cannot be controlled.
By the author's own admission, she does not attempt to define what modern day India is or what it means to be Indian. What she does do so aptly, is to weave a subtle tale of circumstances that collectively, permanently shape and form the lives of her characters, leaving an indelible mark that no doubt will be transferred, one generation to the next. Remarks the narrator of Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things,
Perhaps it's true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Dupler is a writer and has taught college English courses. In this essay, Dupler explores the relationship between individuals and the cultural forces acting upon them within the novel.
Arundhati Roy's novel The God of Small Things reveals a complex relationship between individuals and the historical and cultural forces that shape them and their society. In Roy's novel, a so-called Big God presides over the large happenings of the world, the "vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation." In contrast, it is a Small God that resides over the individual lives caught up in forces too powerful and large for these individuals to understand and to change. This Small God is "cozy and contained, private and limited," residing over people for whom "worse things" are always happening. Individuals ruled by the symbolic Small God adopt resignation and "inconsequence" in the face of mass movements, while at the same time their oppression makes them "resilient and truly indifferent."
The novel takes place in modern India, in the state of Kerala, during a time of social change and upheaval and as television is just beginning to broadcast "television-enforced democracy" into an insular world. The characters in Roy's novel exist in a culture of strict rules. There is a caste system and a class system that exert much force upon the characters. Conflict is created for the individuals who can't adhere to these systems of social organization and control. Indeed, the greatest conflict in the story, a love affair between Ammu and Velutha, is the result of individuals rebelling against the historical and cultural structures of caste and class; this is an affair between a Touchable and an Untouchable. In the beginning of the novel, the tragedy is foreshadowed and explained when the narrative states, "They all broke the rules. . . . They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how." As an entire culture strains against ancient laws and customs, Roy's novel brings this struggle down to the level of individuals, in a "time when the unthinkable became thinkable." That is, individuals have begun to question and act against the laws that had rigidly remained for so long.
The novel ranges in scope from the epic to the minute. The narrative gives lush detail of the everyday life in India, and contains colors, textures, and many characters. At the same time, the narrative also shifts to expose the larger forces that drive the characters. For instance, the narrative gives broad details about the trajectory of the lives of some of the characters, including Rahel, Ammu, Chacko, Margaret, and others. The novel also gives details about some of the political movements of the days, as when it describes the workings of Communism within the state of Kerala. The novel weaves several layers of perspective of the social order, including the simplicities of individuals in their everyday lives; broad views of character's lives and how they arrived at their places in the story; and larger events that provide glimpses of the historical and cultural forces at play in the world. The relationship between these levels of existence is complex and subtle, and the narrative states that this relationship is tenuous and that "things can change in a day" for any of the characters.
The narrative shows in several instances how casual comments and decisions can have deep repercussions, showing the power of choice that individuals have within their social lives. For instance, when Ammu angrily scolds Rahel by telling her, "When you hurt people they begin to love you less," this moment has far-reaching effects in the lives of the characters. This off-hand remark is instrumental in making Rahel run away from the family, an event that also brings about the death of Sophie Mol and then Velutha. In another example, when Margaret Kochamma decides to return to India after the death of her husband, this decision leads to the death of her daughter Sophie and will haunt her "for as long as she lived."
The narrative utilizes shifts in time to illustrate how the world for the characters has changed. The present moment of the novel occurs as Rahel returns to Ayemenem at the age of thirty-one. The narrative uses broad flashbacks to show the world that Rahel remembers as a young child, when the tragedy occurred that changed her life forever. When Rahel meets Comrade Pillai as an adult, there is an underlying tension in the meeting, because Pillai had played a role in the death of Velutha. This history will not go away and pervades the moment. This is recognized when the narrative states, "she and he knew that there are things that can be forgotten. And things that cannot."
One of the historical forces that shaped modern India is its colonial past under British rule. For the characters in the novel, this past is still alive. Chacko, who received his education in England, educates the twins Estha and Rahel on the ways of the world.
He tells them that their family is "all Anglophiles. . . . Pointed in the wrong direction, trapped outside their own history and unable to retrace their steps because their footprints had been swept away." This allusion to their footprints relates to the caste system in India. The narrative mentions a time, within memory, when Untouchables, or the lowest caste of people, were required to sweep away their footprints in public for higher caste members. When the British ruled, yet another form of class structure was imposed upon the society. This structure, according to Chacko, "locked out" Indians from their world, because of a war that made them "adore [their] conquerors and despise [themselves]." From Chacko, the twins "learned how history negotiates its terms and collects its dues from those who break its laws." For Chacko, Indians in relation to the English will always be "Prisoners of War."
Colonialism affects other characters in the novel as well. Baby Kochamma, in her youth, had defied her family's wishes and converted to a Roman Catholic, mainly due to her infatuation with a priest named Father Mulligan. Throughout the story, Baby Kochamma's bitterness and treachery plays a role in the tragedy, as though she is unwittingly making other people suffer for her own unrequited longings and heartache. There is also tension between Mammachi and Margaret Kochamma. Margaret is a British woman who married and then divorced Chacko. Mammachi "despised" her and refers to Margaret as the "shopkeeper's daughter," an insult containing the ring of class snobbery. Another telling collision of the two cultures occurs subtly during the scene in which Estha is molested, when the family had gone to see the film The Sound of Music.
The narrative states that the story being told, including the tragedy, began "thousands of years ago. . . . Before the British . . . the Dutch . . . [and] Christianity." The story actually "began in the days when the Love Laws were made." Indeed, the story, and the tragedy therein, show that it is human passion that cannot be controlled and contained by cultural rules. In their love affair, Ammu and Velutha are well aware of the dangers and taboos of their relationship, and yet they are powerless to stop their desire. Desire, or the force of life, overpowers the cultural forces that would deny it; the narrative declares that "biology designed the dance." One day, as Ammu is watching Velutha play with Rahel, she begins to feel her desire for him. In this scene, "centuries telescoped into one evanescent moment." Likewise, when Velutha notices that "Rahel's mother was a woman," in a brief moment he notices things that "had been out of bounds." In their attraction, the "cost of living climbed to unaffordable heights," and Velutha was about to "enter a tunnel" that would lead to his "annihilation." In the end, cultural forces would have their say over the individual's breaking the rules.
The relationship between Velutha and Ammu is symbolic of the conflicts in the culture. Velutha is from the Untouchable caste, but his many positive qualities cause Ammu to fall in love with him, while the twins Rahel and Estha adore him and play with him often. Velutha's excellence as a person illuminates the unfairness of the caste laws. When Velutha is seen marching in a Communist parade, it illustrates the changing structure of political power in the culture. Velutha's grandfather had converted to Christianity, but even the new religion could not overcome the entrenched caste laws of the society, and the churches became segregated for the Untouchables.
Velutha is hardly an obsequious slave. He is described as a handsome, kind, intelligent, and clever man. He has an "unwarranted assurance" about him and he bothers people because of the "way in which he disregarded suggestions without appearing to rebel." Velutha's qualities, the narrative states, might be desirable in Touchables, but in an Untouchable they could be "construed as insolence." With Velutha, the cultural laws are seen as restricting excellence. There is something about Velutha that represents escape for Ammu, who is from a higher caste. When she sees him, he represents something other that the "smug, ordered world that she so raged against."
The individual freedom represented by the love between Velutha and Ammu is short-lived, and other characters in the story act their parts in continuing the cultural constraint of such displays of rule-breaking. Baby Kochamma lies and betrays Velutha, as does the Communist Pillai, which leads to the murder, by official forces, of Velutha. Indeed, it is betrayal by individuals that sends Velutha on his "blind date with history," in which he is murdered unjustly for breaking the Love Laws. Estha gets caught up in the situation as well, when he is manipulated by Baby Kochamma into lying against Velutha. For Estha, this event has long-reaching effects in his life, as he loses his voice and lives numbly thereafter.
In the end, the novel shifts and the cultural forces begin to exert their power over the individuals. Baby Kochamma performs her machinations "not for Ammu," but to "contain the scandal" that has occurred when the Love Laws were broken. When the narrative notes that the characters are living in "an era imprinting itself on those who lived in it," it shows that the God of Big Things is again residing over the God of Small Things. When the cultural powers decide that Velutha must be held responsible for breaking the rules, the story provides a glimpse of the men in power, Comrade Pillai and Inspector Mathew. These men are "without curiosity" and are "terrifyingly adult" in the way they operate. So controlled are they by the rules of their culture, they have become "mechanics who serviced different parts of the same machine." When the police beat Velutha to death, it is an impersonal event, as the caste laws had severed "any connection between themselves and him . . . long ago." Later, many years after the incident, the culture protects the men who uphold its prejudices and injustices. When Rahel meets Comrade Pillai, she notices that he "didn't hold himself in any way personally responsible for what had happened. He dismissed the whole business as the Inevitable Consequence of Necessary Politics."
Source: Douglas Dupler, Critical Essay on The God of Small Things, in Novels for Students, Thomson Gale, 2006.
"Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story." Page 32
"Some things come with their own punishment." Page 109
"Anything's possible in Human Nature ...Love. Madness. Hope. Infinite joy." Page 112
"It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for so much longer than the memory of the life that it purloined."
"The air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these only the Small Things are ever said. The Big Things lurk unsaid inside." Page 136
"Must we behave like some damn godforsaken tribe that's just been discovered?" Page 171
"He left no footprints in the sand, no ripples in the water, no image in the mirrors." Page 206
"If you're happy in a dream, does that count?" Page 208 "Change is one thing. Acceptance is another." Page 265
"Men's subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify." Page 292 "What came for them? ... Not Death. Just the end of living." Page 304 "They had nothing. No future. So they stuck to small things."
Roy has published a great deal of political writing, has worked as an activist, and has been imprisoned for her political beliefs. Research her political views and activities, and read some of her political writings. How would you characterize Roy's position on issues such as globalization and terrorism? What have been the results of her activism in India and around the world?
As an Indian novel written in English, The God of Small Things is part of a genre of literature stretching back to the days of the British Raj. Research the ways in which Roy's novel relates to this tradition, which includes authors such as R. K. Narayan and Salman Rushdie. In what ways does Roy's novel fit into this tradition, and in what ways does it belong outside of it? What innovations does Roy bring to Indian literature in English, and why are they important? How does Roy's novel relate to Indian politics, and how is this similar or different to the ways in which the novels of her predecessors have related to Indian politics?
Some readers and critics have found elements of The God of Small Things offensive or controversial. Research the nature of the outcry against the novel, particularly in India and in Britain. Which aspects of the work were controversial, and why? What were the results of the controversy? Describe your reaction to moments of the novel such as when Estha is forced to masturbate the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man, when Ammu and Velutha make love, and when Rahel and Estha make love. Discuss how elements of the forbidden and the taboo relate to the central themes of the novel.
Communism has been a uniquely prominent force in the state of Kerala, India. Research the activities of the various factions of the Communist Party in Kerala. How did communism develop and spread in the region? What are the key ways in which communist thought has affected Kerala's history? How does the history of the communist parties in Kerala relate to the history of communism throughout South Asia? Discuss the state of communism in Kerala today.
Compare and Contrast
1969: E. M. S. Namboodiripad's communist government of Kerala falls for the second time, and the Indian National Congress Party dissolves into two groups.
1990s: Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated in 1991 and is succeeded by P. V. Narasimha Rao. A series of leadership struggles begins in 1996, when Rao is forced out of power.
Today: Manmohan Singh is appointed prime minister of India in May of 2004, after the Congress Party unexpectedly wins the election and its leader Sonia Gandhi, widow of Rajiv Gandhi, declines the post in order to appease Hindu nationalists. Communism remains a powerful force in Kerala politics.
1969: Kerala is a lush and warm region of southern India with a uniquely high literacy rate. Public welfare systems have become much more substantial since independence, but the agricultural economy remains similar to the economy in the days of the British
1990s: Kerala's economy is still based on rubber, coconut, and spice production, but economic reforms are placing much more emphasis on large private corporations, and India is opening up to foreign investment.
Today: India has one of the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world, and the trend towards privatization continues. Kerala has a literacy rate near ninety percent, which is the highest of any state in India.
1969: Post-colonial Indian literature written in English is becoming a popular genre of its own, developed by writers such as R. K. Narayan.
1990s: Salman Rushdie has been a dominant force in the Indo-British literary scene since he published Midnight's Children in 1981.
Today: Indian writing in English is a wide and diverse genre of literature, and Roy is one of its most successful stars, even though she has published only one novel.
What Do I Read Next?
The Guide (1958) is R. K. Narayan's popular tale of Raju, a former convict who is mistaken for a holy man upon his arrival in Narayan's fictional universe of Malgudi.
Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981) is a multifaceted and ambitious work about India's history since its independence from Britain. Focusing on the story of Saleem Sinai, who was born at the stroke of midnight marking Independence, it includes elements of magic and fantasy, and it is highly allusive to classic texts including the Bible and Arabian Nights.
Roy's nonfiction, War Talk (2003), is composed of fluent and engaging arguments about the negative impacts of globalization, the danger of nuclear proliferation, and the devastating impact of the Bush administration's foreign policy on the Third World.
E. M. Forster's A Passage to India (1924) is the classic modernist text about the clash of British and Indian cultures during the British Raj. The plot centers around the Indian Dr. Aziz, who is accused of raping an English woman.
The two main situations that provide the backdrop for this story are the former colonization of India by England and the caste system that works within Indian society.
As an Indian writer writing in English for a primarily English-speaking audience, Roy must negotiate her place within Indian society while making her commentary about it. Her fiction is not anti-English, but could be thought of as commenting upon the quick dismissal of Indian tradition by those who might be best served by a readjustment of attitudes towards their own people as well as those who they think of as superior.
1. Find information on the caste system in India, and information about the culture in general of the Southwestern area of India where this story takes place. Did Roy do a good job representing the ideas and cultural concepts of this time and place?
2. Look up information on the communist movement in India. What is its significance in this story in particular?
3. Look at A. A. Milne's original story of Winnie-the-Pooh. Although this seems an extremely unusual comparison, the use of capital letters to add significance to words within a sentence is common to both. What is the effect of this technique? Are the effects similar in both stories? How are they similar or different?
4. Can you think of ways in which "Englishness" plays a role in this story?
5. Is the way that Roy tells this story effective? Why would she choose a nonsequential narrative? How would that affect the way that the story is perceived?
6. How would the story have been different if Sophie Mol hadn't died? Would there still be a story to tell? How would it have ended differently?
Salman Rushdie's book Midnight's Children is especially relevant to Roy's chosen subject matter, as his novel centers on a family during the Indian fight for independence. Similarly, Amitav Ghosh's novel Shadow Lines follows two families, one Indian, one English, over three generations from 1939 to the present day. Each of these novels investigates the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized and what happens as they separate. Bharati Mukherjee, in her novel The Tiger's Daughter, looks at the collision of Western culture and India in the present time, as she follows Indian born, American-educated Tara's return to India.
From the English side of things, covering an earlier time period, E. M. Forester's A Passage to India is one of the best-known works by an English writer that also takes on the theme of England's colonization of India.
Although Roy's fiction takes place at a later time than Forster's or Rushdie's, the themes are similar, as the effects of colonization are still present today as Indians negotiate the intrusion of the English in their past and into their traditions.
For Further Reading
Dodiya, Jaydipsinh, and Joya Chakravarty, The Critical Studies of Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things," Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 1999.
This collection, published in New Delhi, is the earliest book-length volume of criticism on Roy's novel.
Eder, Richard, "As the World Turns," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 1, 1997, p. 2.
Eder provides a mixed review of Roy's novel, praising her evocative depiction of the story and characters but arguing that she loses control over the narrative.
Thornmann, Janet, "The Ethical Subject of The God of Small Things," in Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society, Vol. 8, No. 2, Fall 2003, pp. 299--307.
Thornmann's psychoanalytical interpretation of Roy's novel includes an argument about the applicability of the Oedipal complex to the work.
Truax, Alice, "A Silver Thimble in Her Fist," in the New York Times Book Review, May 25, 1997, p. 5.
Truax's descriptive review of The God of Small Things is an example of the very positive response to Roy's work in the United States.
Menon, Ritu, "The Age of Innocence,” in Women's Review of Books, Vol. 14, No. 12, September 1997, pp. 1--3.
National University of Singapore, Postcolonial and Post Imperial Literature online, www.postcolonialweb.org, March 29, 2005.
Review of The God of Small Things, in Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1997, p. 412.
Roy, Arundhati, The God of Small Things, Random House, 1997.
"The God of Small Things Overview." BookRags. BookRags. Web. 17 Sept. 2014.