An Analysis of Metaphors and Similes in “The God of Small Things”
‘Her reality is magical. She has a heightened awareness of the natural world, of smells and sounds, of colour and light. And she renders palpable this world, at once strange and familiar, in prose of sinuous beauty… A small wonder of style and compassion.’ (Jason Cowley, The Times)
With her sharp imagery, logical thought and emotional sensitivity, Arundhati Roy presents before us a world we can very easily identify with. Her lucid language, witty puns and quick and sudden shifts into thoughts serve to make us more comfortable rather than to confuse us like Faulkner’s work does. She is more close to Steinbeck in style than she is to Morrison, with an additional quality of excessive use of similes and metaphors that help to lend more beauty to her work. Her ‘utterly exceptional masterpiece,’ The God of Small Things, justifies Rushdie’s statement that ‘Literature is self-Validating.’ Along with the brilliance of its inter-related themes and genuine tragic resonance, the novel appeals to our senses for its marvelous descriptions. Roy attempts to ‘show’ rather than just ‘tell’ and this she does, with great success.
Use of similes and the connections she makes between tangible objects and imaginary feelings, between apparent realities and the ones buried deep down in the untraded corners of our minds, between the objects we can visualize and the ones we can just see with the eye of our soul, make her writing very, very interesting. There is an abundance of similes on every other page and it appalls the readers to imagine that with every other thing that she talks about, she can think of something ‘else’ that simply and very interestingly connects with it. She describes situations, people and their feelings and none of her descriptions go without being compared to another natural object or feeling or action. Talking about the lives of Estha and Rahel, she writes: Edges, Borders, Boundaries, Brinks and Limits have appeared like a team of trolls on their separate horizons. Short creatures with long shadows, patrolling the Blurry End. Gentle half-moons have gathered under their eyes and they are as old as Ammu was when she died. Thirty-one. Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age. (Roy 3)
Very interestingly, we move with the flow and imagine where she makes us imagine, all the things that she visualizes herself. Feelings are described in the same fascinating manner. After Sophie Mol’s death, Mammachi is much grieved: ‘Her tears tickled down from behind them (glasses) and trembled along her jaw like raindrops on the edge of a roof’ (Roy 5). Estha, standing close to Ammu, is ‘barely awake, his aching eyes glittering like glass.’ But during all this, Rahel’s imagination is flying somewhere else: “Rahel thought of the someone who had taken the trouble to go up there with cans of paint, white for the clouds, blue for the sky, silver for the jets, and brushes and thinner. She imagined him up there, someone like Velutha, bare bodied and shining, sitting on a plank, swinging from the scaffolding in the high dome of the church, painting silver jets in a blue church sky (Roy 6).” This is not all, she further imagines him ‘dropping like a dark star out of the sky that he had made’ with ‘dark blood spilling from his skull like a secret.’ (Roy 6). Its all very visual and we can not only ‘see’ all the images, but see them as clearly as the writer or her characters do.
Here lies the strength of the description of the writer. Blessed with the power to create characters that appeal to our senses as vividly as the people around us do, Roy makes us meet each one of them in person. We meet Estha who occupies ‘very little space in the world’ because of the strange ‘silence’ that has encompassed his being. We see him ‘sweeping, swabbing’ and doing ‘all the laundry’. We accompany him to the market place where he ‘never bargained. They never cheated him.’ He appears to be a ‘quiet bubble floating on a sea of noise.’ The silence that overwhelms him is no ordinary silence. It has taken over his whole being: “Once the quietness arrived, it stayed and spread in Estha. It reached out of his head and enfolded him in its swampy arms. It rocked him to the rhythm of an ancient, foetal heartbeat. It sent its stealthy, suckered tentacles inching along the insides of his skull, hovering the knolls and dells of his memory, dislodging old sentences, whisking them off the tip of his tongue (Roy 12).” And further we see that he ‘began to look wiser than he really was. Like a fisherman in a city. With sea secrets in him.’ (Roy 13)
His twin sister, Rahel, who ‘drifted into marriage’ with Larry McCaslin, ‘like a passenger drifts towards an occupied chair in an airport lounge’ shares her twin brother’s emptiness. This feeling of void is only another form of ‘quietness in the other’. These ‘two things fitted together. Like stacked spoons. Like familiar lover’s bodies’. The description of these twins as toddlers is very interesting when we jump back to the time when they grew their teeth. While Estha’s teeth were ‘still uneven on the ends’, Rahel’s teeth were ‘waiting inside her gums, like words in a pen. It puzzled everybody that an eighteen-minute age difference could cause such a discrepancy in front-tooth timing’ (Roy 37)
The similes and metaphors that Roy employs very skillfully are simultaneously tactile and surreal, like an overly vivid dream, and her story telling style seems to be an amalgamation of the styles of Joseph Conrad, John Steinbeck and Toni Morrison. Her short and terse sentences deal with such vast notions that the readers, mesmerized with her ability to convey her ideas vividly, can’t help admiring her style. About Chacko, she writes, ‘He claimed to be writing a Family Biography that the Family would have to pay him not to publish’.(Roy 38)
When the twins were born, Ammu ‘counted four eyes, four ears, two mouths, two noses, twenty fingers and twenty perfect toe-nails’ but ironically enough, the father of the twins, ‘stretched out on a hard bench in the hospital corridor, was drunk.’ (Roy 41) Logically enough, with two children and ‘no more dreams’, Ammu returns to her parents after being mal-treated by her husband and we justify the act. Roy brilliantly juxtaposes the opposites through her comparisons. Describing Ammu further, she explains the inner working of her brain like an ‘unmixable mix. The infinite tenderness of motherhood and the reckless rage of a suicide bomber.’ Seen from the eyes of her twins, she sometimes seemed to be the ‘most beautiful’ woman they had ever come across. ‘And sometimes she wasn’t.’ (Roy 45). She shocks us with her sudden shift in her last sentences and this works really well.
I believe Roy slowly reveals the layers of her mind and what it carries in it to the readers. The tools she uses become stronger in her hands as she employs them with full force and interest. Her similes and metaphors turn somewhat sour and sweet simultaneously. The language she uses becomes her helper and sweeps the minds of the readers bare before she can plant the seeds of her own thoughts, as in the following synoptic quotation: “It was the others too. They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much. The laws that make grandmothers grandmothers, uncles uncles, mothers mothers, cousins cousins, jam jam and jelly jelly” (Roy 31). We can see that The God of Small Things captures our attention for various reasons, of which its style is the strongest. It is a work that validates the judgment of John Updike, who believes that, ‘A novel of real ambition must invent its own language, and this one does’ (New Yorker).
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