Analysis Of Arundhati Roy’s Rebel Against English Grammar And Literary Tradition In The God Of Small Things

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Arundhati Roy’s criticism of traditional literary form through her fragmented narrative in The God of Small Things allows her to respond to the moral decay of the traumatized colonial body in India. This essay sets out to examine the undoing of the Ipe family and argue that Roy’s ability to rebel against English grammar and literary tradition enables her to use the ‘small things’ in the novel to question the nation’s representation of authority. Postmodernism resulted in a new found creative literary freedom, this said freedom offered writers the opportunity to challenge language and form. The novel begins with its frame narrative and ends with a flashback from the other central narrative, making the novel appear to go back in time. However, through Roy’s playful use of time, it becomes apparent that both of the dominant narratives have different temporal directions. Linda Hutcheon claims that ‘Postmodernism is a contradictory phenomenon, one that uses and abuses, installs and then subverts, the very concepts that it challenges’, Roy challenges literary norms through her narrative form and uses her omniscient narrator as a tool to take the reader on a journey, allowing them to experience the world she has created through a collection of smaller narratives. The temporal direction of the frame narrative is linear, it begins in 1992 in Ayemenem, whereupon Rahel’s return home ‘boundaries blur as tapioca fences take root and bloom’. The noun ‘boundary’ means when a line limits an area or situation, Roy within the first few lines of the novel introducing the idea of blurred boundaries is significant not only because both storylines are kept blurred due to the lack of a temporal focus, but because one of the main things that the novel explores is boundaries being crossed and unclear. The luxuriant language in the exposition of the novel does not prepare the reader for the disruption in the narrative that is about to come. The other dominant narrative in opposition to the first is non-linear. It begins at Sophie Mol’s funeral in 1969 and freely travels back and forward within the two-week time frame in which it is constrained; eventually ending with Velutha and Ammu’s inter-caste affair. Elizabeth Outka suggests that ‘trauma re-orders time itself’, Roy therefore instead of letting these two narratives flow in their natural temporal direction, manipulates the narrative form and gradually reveals a string of traumatic events through flashbacks, allowing her to expose the personal horrors the characters face through reordering time.

Roy’s use of fragmentary narrative questions the authority of English literary form, which further questions the boundaries created socially within India as a result of English colonization and the impact trauma has had on the nation. Roy’s somewhat confusing use of literary devices adds to the fragmented nature of the novel. Her use of metaphors and allegory argue against what this essay set out to examine, as it suggests that despite rebelling against some literary norms, that Roy still relies on tradition. For instance, Roy uses Sophie Mol’s death as a metaphor to emphasize how the family’s personal conflicts in the novel reflect on the wider conflict created through colonization in India. The day Sophie Mol arrives in India is used to symbolize the arrival of the colonizers. Sophie Mol’s death fractures the Ipe family and its community, destroying the tranquil situation in India. Roy introducing Sophie Mol in the novels first chapter serves as a reminder of the permanent damage left by the colonizers, this is empathized throughout the novel, as the episodic narrative means the reader is continually reminded of the events leading to Sophie Mol’s death and the impact of it. Thus suggesting that Roy uses Sophie Mol as a metaphor to represent the destruction left by colonization and the impact this said destruction still has on India. The omniscient narrator even explicitly alludes to Sophie Mol’s death representing something bigger, suggesting the trauma began before she visited Ayememnem when the ‘Christians arrived on a boat and seeped through Kerala like tea from a tea bag’. Roy also uses the Ipe family as an allegory that moves parallel to the story of India post its Independence; the diasporic condition of the family extends to the history of the country. This connects the local to the global and is significant in Roy deconstructing the representation of authority in India, more specifically the authority of the colonizers. This suggests that Roy’s use of the fragmentary is not significant in the text, as she is seemingly still able to explore and challenge the representation of authority through her use of traditional literary devices. Which leaves the reader to consider whether the novels temporal fragmentation is salient in her telling of the story. In an attempt to peel away the intricate layers of her complex postcolonial world Roy uses her characters personal situations to reflect the politics of Indian societal standards, which enables her to bring the unspoken wishes, dreams, and desires of a collection of displaced people to light. The reader through Roy’s collection of smaller narratives is able to piece together India’s complex political history and understand the impact of colonization. Baby Kochamma being envenomed by her failure to escape the social constraints that hegemonize her community results in her governing her family’s attempts to transgress such social rules.

Mammachi son saved her from the violence of her husband, a patriarch, and tyrannizer who abused her daily and beat her with a brass vase, which in turn made her love for her son consume her, replacing one version of patriarchal power with another. Ammu divorced her husband for threatening to make her deliver a sexual service to his English boss, which results in her being distrusted and doubted by her family, who cannot imagine that a white man would desire to want another man’s wife. This reveals the attitude installed in the community Roy has created as a result of negative authority in India. Therefore the small things that occur between the characters in the novel act as a microcosm for the big things happening throughout India. Joanne Lispon Freed discusses how traumatic narrative ‘forces us to consider the limitations of trauma as a framework for constructing historical memory or engendering empathy’, the impact of the characters personal traumas being revealed gradually through Roy’s narrative fragmentation evokes a feeling of imbalance in the reader, which positions the them in the midst of the action allowing them to feel the disorientation, fear, and trauma that the characters experience. Magic realism is often used in postcolonial literature as explored by Seymour Menton to leave the reader in a dreamlike amazement, because it ‘…deals with the objects of our daily life, but contains an unexpected or improbable element’. Through examining Roy’s deconstruction of authority through the process of memory, I came across magic realism and how through deconstructing authority, Roy is able to reconstruct cultural identity by her exploration of magic realism and how magic realism distorts ‘objects of our daily life’. Those subject to cruelty and hardship rely on imagination to escape from reality. Roy’s non-linear narrative structure parallels with the process of memory, as the way that humans remember does not follow the rules of a linear sense of time, it is fragmented. Roy uses dreams to expose the characters experiences with the caste system to portray a surreal environment. This is evident in Ammu’s dream where she envisages Velutha as a ‘God of small things? The God of goosebumps and sudden smiles?’, as she consistently compares natural features with extraordinary ones, creating a more vivid account. Neil Lazarus suggests that colonial rule, was established and consolidated on the basis of ‘the domination of physical space’, Roy is able to claim Indian culture back from the colonizers by dominating form and space through dreams, memory and narrative form in the text. It is arguable that through the use of magic realism, Roy attempts to suggest that while the social issues she explores, the most significant being the Caste system and the treatment of women in Indian society, are grounded in reality they are so ridiculous it almost seems like a different reality with different social norms.

Roy’s position as an anglophone author allows her to subvert the standard conventions of English language, and appropriate it into Indian context. Roy’s fragmentary use of language is particularly clear in her sudden transition from English to Malayalam as prevents the reader from continuing without understanding the language. Her nativization of language is significant as it allows her to challenge English authority and in turn challenge the colonizers. Roy’s use of Malayalam words such as ‘keto’ ( do you hear) and ‘valarey’ (quite) demonstrate Roy attempting to claim back India and provides the text with its own distinctive cultural identity. The phonetic spelling of words such as ‘porketmunny’ and ‘Ameyrica’ allows the reader to further see the impact of colonization and illustrates the characters identity and language being taken away, as they have been forced to learn English and are not fluent; the colonizers have made them and their language and traditions feel inferior. This reinforces Meenakshi Mukherjee’s ‘anxiety of Indianness’ and makes the text appear to be disjointed as it presents language episodically, which reflects the fragmented and disjointed society the characters live in. However despite the Malayalam language creating fragmentation in the text, it, in turn, empathizes the Malayalam words and as a result evokes the interest in the Malayalam language, which aids to preserving the language and demonstrating the importance of other languages in literature. Which explicitly questions the authority of the English language. Roy’s use of disjointed sentences and alternative use of punctuation not only pulls the reader into a childlike perspective but is also a way of challenging authority. The breaking down of fragmented words is seen through the composition of groups of words that appear to be sentences, but are not due to them lacking an independent clause. Roy tends to arrange adjectival elements in a pattern and put together a fixed “like” sentence structure and constructing combined word forms and affective adjectives. On minor sentences, Roy separates adverbial phrases, sentence fragments starting with ‘like’, and clauses beginning with ‘which’, ‘and’, ‘or’. The impact of this not only creates a more natural speech but demonstrates Roy challenging English literary traditions through her experimentation with language, Roy introduces a fractured family, which represent a fractured community and nation through a fractured and episodic narrative. The small things in the novel connect the local to the global and highlight the issues and attitudes still prominent in India after colonization. Roy uses these problematic issues to challenge authority in the novel, she achieves this through her rejection of literary norms, which not only to lends to her unique creative style, but also opposes the colonial rule in India as it rejects English traditions and allows Roy to reclaim Indian culture. The fragmented narrative and disjointed use of language provide Roy with her own voice and as such restore some of the identity of the nation.


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