The God of Small Things
Treatment of Women Characters in Arundhati Roy’s The God Of Small Things
The God of Small Things is entangled with women characters rather than male characters. Arundhati Roy concentrates on the provoked lives of women, their insignificant attitudes and the disguised cultural entities. Roy explicates the wide horizon of cultural and traditional domination suffered by women through the characters like Ammu, Baby Kochamma, Rahel, and Margaret Kochamma. The writer is judgmental in characterization, she portrays a real sketch of every woman in a patriarchal society. The characters are prominent and they appear throughout the novel making a continuous sequence, all the characters of the novel suffer a tragic life. Arundhati Roy also introduces to the reader, the caste conflict in the traditional and educated minds. This paper highlights the treatment of women in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.
Arundhati Roy is an Indian writer in English. She was born in Meghalaya on 24 November,1961 to Rajib Roy, a Hindu from Bengal and Mary Roy, a Syrian Christian from Kerala. Having completed her schooling in Tamil Nadu, Roy went to School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi. Roy was awarded the 2006 Sahitya Akademi Award and 1997 Man Booker Prize for her debut novel The God of Small Things, becoming the first Indian woman writer to receive the Man Booker Prize. This is a semi-autobiographical book of Arundhati Roy. She recollects her life in Ayemenem, her mother’s hometown and the days in her father’s tea plantation in Meghalaya, also about her career and personal acquaintance.
Ammu Ipe is the tragic heroine of this novel. The title of the novel directly implies the character of Ammu. Ammu’s life is sophisticated, she fills her mind with all the shattered dreams. She dies at a young age of 31 which is “not old, not young” or “viable diable age”.
Ammu finishes her schooling in Delhi and returns to Ayemenem due to her father’s compulsion. She tries to do her higher studies but is denied. Ammu tries to escape from Ayemenem, finally succeeds by staying at her aunt’s house in Calcutta. She marries a misfit from Calcutta and manages to live, endures unbearable pain, strives to make a good living for the sake of her children. She returns to her parent’s house as an unwelcomed guest. She is unaware of her womanhood, fails to love her children and lives a fateful life. Ammu is rejected in her family also she is fond of Vellya Paapen who belongs to a downtrodden caste, which creates a further commotion in the family. She is fused into a vulnerable situation everything in her life seems to be vague. She has contact with the outcast Vellaya Paapen, she is humiliated by the police in front of her children, cries for her inability, loses her mind and suffers insanity. She finally attains a tragic death. People find her dead in a lonely room, her death remains a confusion. The character of Ammu is insignificant even in death, her death ceremony is denied by the church premises, her brother Chacko tries hard to make a ceremony for his lovable sister, but in vain. Finally, he decides to take his sister’s body to the electric crematorium, Ammu’s body is wrapped by a bedsheet and is given a receipt number Q 498673. Though being brought up in a traditional and high class family, Ammu is unable to escape the fateful life of hers. She remains a weak character throughout the novel. Though she is educated and is free to an extent, she is unable to make her own living due to the cultural barriers. Right from her childhood, Ammu is controlled by people who are around her, she becomes a victim of her own emotions. Only beggars, abandoned people or the homeless are burnt in electric crematorium but here a woman with relations and a reputed background is burnt inside an incinerator, “The whole of her crammed inside a little clay pot”. The only person to love her and stay with her till the end is her brother, Chako Ipe.
Another prominent woman character in this novel is Rahel. Rahel is the daughter of Ammu. Rahel is a rebellious child in school but is a lovable child of her mother. She is alienated from other students in school also blacklisted for the first time at the age of eleven in Nazareth Convent School for her “perverted quality”. Rahel grew up as a solitary child since the separation of her twin brother Estha. “Rahel grew without a brief”, “she remained free to make her own enquireies”(17). Having completed her schooling, Rahel acquired an admission at College of architecture in Delhi. Later she meets Larry McCaslin who takes her along with him to Boston after their marriage. Unlike Ammu, Rahel is not left in the middle yet she is free to move away from her husband at any time without any restriction. Larry McCaslin is a pleasing male character who seeks love despite being chauvinistic like Comrade Pillai or Pappachi. Rahel returns to her hometown to find her long lost twin brother, finds the unchanging humans and the changed surrounding. While entering into the village of Ayemenem Rahel is taken aback by her old memories of her life in the village. The mild memories of her cousin Sophie Mol flashes in her memory lane. Rahel remembers the impolite police “the Kottayam Police did not take statements from veshyas or illegitimate children”(8). Like her mother she too is dominated by her grandmother and other men of the family. She is not secured around her uncle either, loses faith in her father and finally her love for her brother is also shallowed. All her emotions are tied up, they have no more effect in her life and she faces the reality with her vagueness.
The highly educated woman as described by Arundhati Roy is Baby Kochamma. She is the daughter of Rev. E. John Ipe, a priest in Mar Thoma Church. Rev. John is a strict father and is very cautious of his family. It is the time when Baby Kochamma is introduced to Father Mulligan, a handsome young Irish monk with whom she falls in love. Though her father fails to notice her daughter hovering around father Mulligan, Mulligan never fails to notice the young girls flirtations around him. Mulligan leaves Ayemenem, Baby Kochamma is frustrated and decides to join in a Catholic Convent in Madras to maintain her contact with him. She learns the sophisticated sisters in the convent waiting for a chance to prove their intelligence to Bishop and other fathers, find a chance to impress them. Tired of the so called spiritual life in the convent Baby Kochamma writes regularly to her family recounting the story of Kohinoor. It is Kochamma’s mother who finds it is her daughter describing herself in the name of Kohinoor. Convincing her family Baby Kochamma returns to Ayemenem and manages to study in foreign. She returns to her home with the idea of developing an ornamental garden which never existed in and around the village. She strives to provide and buys a television. She stands as a strong feminine character with a lost love, perhaps making an independent life. She lives with very young dreams with all her will. After her return from foreign she never falls in love with someone, she makes her living in her own house by managing a pickle factory.
Margaret Kochamma is an English woman who is a part of the Ayemenem house. “Margaret Kochamma, however, was a different kettle fish altogether”(169). Margaret Kochamma used to be the wife of Chacko, Ammu’s brother. They both met when they were in England it was the time when Chacko was pursuing his studies at Oxford. Margaret is a free spirited woman, with her modernised ideals and resistance towards the other members of Chacko’s family she is disliked by them. She moved out of her family home with a “youthful assertion of independence”(240). Unlike other women characters of the novel Margaret Kochamma does not limit herself but strives to make an independent living by working as a waitress in a café while saving money to join a teacher training course. “Faced with the Real World, she clung nervously to old remembered rules, and had no one but herself to rebel against”(241). When she finds that Chacko is not the man of her dreams he immediately leaves him without any regret. She marries another man called Joe. “Joe was a biologist. He was updating the third edition of a dictionary of Biology for a publishing house. Joe was everything that Chacko was’nt. Steady. Solvent. Thin”. Margaret found herself attracted toward Joe like a ray of light in darkness. The whole family is devastated when Margaret left Chacko leaving all the good memories still bearing the fruit of Chacko’s love in her womb. She returns to Ayemenem on the call of Chacko after losing Joe in an accident.
Arundhati Roy, as an Indian writer chronicles the life of women in India who undergo miseries in their daily life through her novel The God Of Small Things. The characters of the novel are educated to an extent but are unable to escape the societal norms that tie them up from becoming empowered rather than existing. All the characters undergo certain sufferings which make their lives mostly tragic. Bringing up the contemporary issue, dealing with untouchability, Roy sketches the clear picture of women in reality.
The God of Small Things and Psychoanalysis
The author often uses dreams and thought as instruments in her novel, to help make readers clear about the unconscious condition of the mind of the characters. The psychological effects of all the major characters in the novel are distinct. The twins’s mother constantly dreams of the one-armed man, that is obviously Velutha. One of the twins, his son, accurately says:
‘She dreams a lot.’ If he touched her, he couldn’t talk to her, if he loved her, he couldn’t leave if he spoke, he couldn’t listen, if he fought, he couldn’t win. Who was he, the one-armed man? Who could he have been? The God of loss? The God of Small Things? The God of Goose Bumps and Sudden Smiles? Of Sourmeal Smells – the steel bus –rails and the smell of the bus conductor’s hand from holding them? (Roy 217).
In addition to her mother, Rahel constantly dreams of an unknown over-weighted male figure who symbolically represents the words of Chacko to Ammu. Chacko said that Ammu couldn’t stay in the house any longer, and if she did, he’d break Ammu’s bones one by one without any compassion. “After that for years Rahel would dream this dream: a fat man, faceless, kneeling beside a woman’s corpse. Hacking its hair off. Breaking every bone in its body. Snapping even the little ones. The fingers. The ear bones cracked like twigs. Snapsnap the softsound of breaking bones. A pianist killing the piano keys. Even the black ones.” (Roy 225). In his book Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud states that for a patient with neurosis, through the type of Dream, their mind often plays back the circumstance or the traumatic event that it had experienced before, from which they wake up with different struggles and that surprises people much less.
As in the case of Estha, this is a parallel processing of vision and thought: “The Orangedrnk Lemondrnk Man could walk in any minute. Catch a Cochin—Kottayam bus and be there And Ammu woulf ofler him a cup of tea. Or pineapple squash perhaps. With ice Yellow in a glass.” (Roy 194). This is the product of the Lemon drink man’s encounter with Estha who, molests him physically outside talkies near the refrigeration counter. Although Baby Kochamma is different from the others, she grows in a situation in which she must be very aware of all. All of the leading character in the novel are partly the survivors of their own past, troubled by their childhood trauma.
Rahel and Estha had no portrait of a father to accompany them in their lives and they grow up without a father figure. As a result, in their third stage of development between the ages of 3 and 6, these two children would probably never have developed castration anxiety like that faced by other abnormal children. According to Sigmund Freud, the phallic stage has a critical role to play in improving the psychological fitness of the child. For him, this is the stage in which the ego opens up something referred to as defence mechanism to defend the self from feeling depressed. One of the defence mechanisms is repression, an unconscious emotional action that drags the problems down to the id or the subconscious mind, which is unbearable to an individual’s ego or conscious mind.
This third stage of development which takes on the concept of the ego’s defense mechanism is the second developmental mental process after the id or the unconscious mind. This stage is a vital development in a child, and plays an important role in the growth of the child’s psyche in order to prepare a strong personality physically and mentally for a healthy adult life. In this way, the individuals who are fixated in the third stage of their developmental process are called mother/father fixated. These people are most likely attracted to the person who resembles their parents. In Estha’s case it’s Rahel. His Sister.
A significant viewpoint is the entangled identity and insight that he and she have between them: “In those amorphous years when memory had only just begun, when life was full of Beginning and no Ends, and Everything was For Ever, Esthappen and Rahel thought of themselves together as Me, and separately, individually as We or Us.” (Roy 2). After the Madras Mail Incident for twenty-three long years, she never wrote to her brother, not even to inform him about their mother’s death, she clarifies, saying that “Rahel never wrote to him. There are things that you can’t do – like writing letters to a part of yourself. To your feet or hair. Or heart. ” (Roy 163-64). This is very crucial to understand the vastness of their separation.
As Rahel saw Estha after the partition, she tailed him to his room that once belonged to Ammu. “This room was where he kept all her secrets. It gave nothing away. It was like a room in a hospital after the nurse had just been” (Roy 91). The bond that the twins shared was out of standard, they knew each other so well simply like one knows the rear of one’s hand. In the wake of reading him for the great fifteen minutes, she considered him to be an outsider.“A dark brown man in pale honey clothes. Chocolate with a twist of coffee. High cheekbones and hunted eyes. A fisherman in a white – tailed bathroom, with sea-secrets in his eyes” (Roy, 92). The Estha that she knows as her twin sibling “the spoiled little boy” is no more. This is the significant point where Rahel acknowledges how far he had gone to keep his feelings covered, where nobody could get to them.
The following episodes can be viewed as Rahel’s endeavors to retouch her sibling’s uncertainties, insecurities. Esthappen had consistently been the mother’s boy from the earliest starting point, was both blameworthy and pain stricken about his mom’s state and his resulting division from Ammu. The author of the novel, on the one hand repeatedly fortifies the image of Ammu through Rahel, on the other hand Rahel is the one in particular who could empathise with Esthappen, “Except perhaps that no watcher watched through Rahel’s eyes” (Roy 328).
Rahel indeed goes further than the twin bond that the two of them share and consider him as her son who needs to be cherished. “She watched him with the curiosity of a mother watching her wet child..” (Roy 93). There are a lot of cases in the novel where Estha considers Rahel as his mom that he lost.“It was his fault that the faraway man in Ammu’s chest stopped shouting. His fault that she died alone in the lodge with no one to lie at the back of her and talk to her. Because he was the one that had said it” (Roy 325). He emphatically believes that he is the person who is exclusively liable for his mom’s passing and feels hopeless for what he had done to her.
In all the given chances, as the narrator Rahel and also the author of the novel desperately attempt patch the image of their mother and Rahel in her brother’s consciousness. In each symbol and image, the author of the novel never appears to disregard acquiring the image of Ammu. In the wake of leaving Baba, Ammu goes to Ayemenem’s nearest jewelry store and melts down her wedding ring, turning it into a bracelet with a two-headed snake for Rahel. When Rahel decides to approach Estha for the first time after the partition, this bracelet is the primary thing that the author presents the readers to recognize the presences of ‘Ammu’ in the scene. “A thin, gold, serpent-headed bangle glowed like a circle of orange light around her wrist. Slim snakes whispering to each other, head to head. Her mother’s melted wedding ring. Down softened the sharp lines of her thin, angular arms” (Roy 92). The author of the novel then proceeds to compare Rahel’s appearance with her mother. “She seemed to have grown into her mother’s skin at first glance. High cheekbones. Beautiful dimples when she smiled. But she was taller, harder flatter, more angular than her mother had been. Less attractive perhaps to those who liked roundness and softness in women. There was no question that her eyes were more beautiful” (Roy 92).
The author of the novel emphasizes the existence of Ammu for the second time by associating the figure of Rahel with Ammu. This time through Esthappen, the author continues to stress similarities between Rahel and her mother Ammu. When Estha notices Rahel for the first time after years, she looked alluring, her highlights reminded him about their mom and his past.
“A nagging sound started up in his head. The sound of passing trains. The light and shade and light and shade that falls on you if you have a window seat. He sat even straighter, he could see her. Grown into their mother’s skin. The light glint of her eyes in the dark. Her small straight nose. Her mouth, full lipped. Sometimes wounded-looking about it. As though it was flinching from something. As though long ago someone – a man with rings-had hit her across it. A beautiful, hurt mouth. Their beautiful mother’s mouth, Estha thought. Ammu’s mouth.” (Roy 300).
Esthappen envisions, his mom (Ammu) in each part of his sisters’ physical highlights, with her she bought every one of the things that Esthappen could identify with his ‘Beautiful Ammu’. To the readers it appears to be bizarre that he generally compared Rahel, his twin sister with his mom and not once with his sister’s childhood appearance.
TWENTY-THREE YEARS LATER, Rahel, dark woman in a yellow T-shirt, turns to Estha in the dark.‘Esthapappychachcn Kuttappen Peter Mon, she says.She whispers. She moves her mouth.Their beautiful mom’s mouth.Estha is sitting very straight, waiting to be arrested, takes his fingers to it. To touch the words it makes. To keep the whisper. His fingers follow the shape of it. The touch of teeth. His hand is held and kissed. (Roy 327).
In this scene he indeed brings back the memory of the railroad station, the seat by the window, his Ammu, the wonderful lips that she has, the lips that had touched his hand. Rahel, splendidly realizing what he throbs for, kisses his hand that followed her lips, much the same as her Ammu did in the station the last time where Estha saw his mom. Besides, the expressions that the author much of the time utilizes for both Rahel and Ammu ordinarily like “A viable die-able age. What a funny word old was on its own, Rahel thought, and said it to herself: Old.” (Roy 92), “once again they broke the love laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.” (Roy 328) are lines that symbolizes ‘Ammu’ and features her presence frequently in every one of the things that Rahel does to Esthappen like their mom. That is to say, this is actually how Esthappen sees Rahel, similar to his Ammu, their mom.
Taking everything into account by considering the conditions that prevailed in the novel, it is seen that the twins make great efforts to conceal their emotions, and grow up isolated from the outside world. They keep everything on their own. To take Rahel into consideration by applying Freud’s psychoanalytic criticism, she was fixated in her fourth developmental stage and this may have caused her not to be sexually satisfied with her partner all the time. As stated above, she marries Larry McCaslin and moves to America, but she and Larry are divorced when Rahel’s “Emptiness” becomes too much. To take Estha into consideration in the same way, there is a high possibility of him being mother fixated and affected by Oedipal complex, and this could likewise be one reason that he was so obsessed with cleaning and the cause for his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder remaining completely quiet and disconnected with the outside world. This novel can be taken as one of the many examples of children who are growing up in the abnormal situations with traumatic past, suffering its great influence as it impacts the shaping of their personality as adults.
Social and Class Obligations in The God of Small Things
In The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, the novel takes place in postcolonial India where an outlawed caste system still dictates India’ society. The premise of the caste system is to separate the lower class, or the Untouchables, from the upper class, and other classes in between. Roy depicts the Untouchables, also known as the Paravan, and women of the upper class, as marginalized groups. The untouchables are deprived from basic human rights that the upper class has and are treated with disrespect. Similarly, women, even from the upper class are too treated with a level of disrespect. Written in the 1990’s, but is written in a nonlinear style that jumps between the 1960’s and the 1990’s, the novel explains the struggles, differences and inequalities that the Untouchables face, and also the hardships women face from conflicting opinion from India’s caste built system. Roy uses the themes of social obligation and class to explain to readers how women and lower class citizens are magnified.
The themes of class and social obligations is important as the caste systems runs India’s society. India’s society was built upon the very strict caste system which set boundaries and laws to separate and label India’s population. In The God of Small Things, India is no longer legally dictated by the caste system, however the ideas of the caste still remain and dictate the characters lives in what they can and cannot do. However characters such as Ammu and Velutha, who come from very marginalized groups, also try and break free from their caste and rebell from the common ideas of society.
Roy first writes the character Velutha in 1969, as Baby Kochamma, Ammu, Rahel and Estha are driving to the movie theater to see the Sound of Music. Here we learn that Velutha is a communist and is also an Untouchable, which is the bottom cast of the cast system. Velutha works for Mammachi as a carpenter and is actually treated with some level of respect considering his caste status. Yet, most of Velutha’s life has been defined by his social status which hindered his abilities to move up the socal latter without being subjected to punishment. Strict laws called, “Love Laws”are put upon the cast which make relationships between different cast’s nearly impossible. Yet, when Ammu spots Velutha at Paradise Pickles and Preserves, she falls in love and soon starts a hidden relationship with Velutha. This is not only a big problem for Velutha as he is below Ammu, but poses many issues for Ammu due to her gender and strict laws of the cast. The theme of class is shown here as gender and social status hinders the ability of Ammu and Velutha to be together without consequences. Due to Velutha’s social class, he is natural ridiculed and seen as the bottom. Ammu is lowered due to the gende and is restricted on many levels of life.
Ammu, a female and unlike Velutha, is part of the upper class of the cast system. Ammu is mother to Estha and Rahel, and is daughter of Pappachi and Mammachi. Chacko is her older brother who, in contrast to Ammu, has a number of rights Ammu doesn’t due to her gender. Chacko attended Oxford College, while Ammu couldn’t get an education. Chacko married a white woman outsider of his cast, while Ammu married an abusive drunk within her cast named Baba. Eventually, Ammu divorces Baba to live back home with her parents and her two children. Although Ammu was denied and stigmatized because of her gender, she is a confident woman and even embraces her divorce. Her ability to rise above social stigma, leads her to fall in love with Velutha, and also leader her to break the “Love Laws.” Ammu’s social obligations as a woman, which are to follow the rules of the caste system and to prove honorable to the family, are broken. The romantic connection defies all ideas of the caste and the social boundaries put on her. And although her independent thinking proves her to be more resilient than marginalized, Ammu’s independence is taken away when she and Velutha were caught during their affair. And ultimately resulting in Ammu becoming stranded from her family and losing her lover.
This romance is arguably an escape for both Velutha and Ammu, from the strict rules of the cast system. It can be argued that Roy had purposely put the two marginalized groups together as Velutha and Ammu were written to have a romantic and secret relationship with one another. Ammu and Velutha would often meet at the history house across the river where they would focus on the small things in life as, “They knew that there was nowhere for them to go. They had nothing. No future.” The significance of the small things, although define the little things they would speak and observe in their time together, also defines them as people. Velutha was a “small thing” in the cast system and Ammu was a “small thing” within her family. The idea of Velutha and Ammu as small marginalised groups in society can be further seen with Velutha being beaten to death for being accused of a false crime, and partly for having a relationship with Ammu. Ammu then spent the rest of her life alone, with her lover dead and her two children taken away from her as she dies alone in a hotel room. The demise of both Velutha and Ammu are examples of the ultimate conclusion for both marginalized groups in society due to their class or gender. But their deaths were also examples of the consequences faced when classes act against what society expects from them as well. Further reinforcing the idea that they are nothing but small things in their world as society ultimately dictated their fate.
Arundhati Roy depicts the untouchables and women as marginalized groups within The God of Small Things. This can be explained with the characters Velutha and Ammu as they are marginalized, however they are rebelled against common ideas society put upon them. This rebellion ultimately causes Velutha’s death and Ammu’s lifetime of sorrow.
The Opposing Forces in Anundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things
In “The God of Small Things” by Anundhuti Roy, there are two opposing forces in various forms effecting each character. There is the “Small Thing” which constitute literally small things in nature but also the small things in life like secrets. “Big Things” include the controlling factors of life which is society and those governing everything around them. Velutha, a very crucial character in the novel is seen to be the God of Small Things as well. An analysis of Velutha representing “Small Things” and his role with the river shows him trying to break a barrier between the “Small Thing” and the “Big Thing” which is representative of how nature is being destroyed and thrown out like Velutha is by the end of novel.
Velutha’s role as being the God of Small Things is explicitly shown and represented through Ammu’s dream in Chapter 11. Her dream shows her having an intimate moment at sea with one arm man who left no trace, who gave her happiness. The chapter titled “God of Small Things” shows signs of Ammu’s attraction towards Velutha. On page 210, she says, “She knew who he was – the God of Loss, the God of Small Things. Of course she did.” This is a clear indication of how Velutha represents the God of Small Things.
Figuratively, Velutha is a small thing in society because of his status as an untouchable. That is transmitted literally into reality because of how he is dismissed in many places due to his social status. Ammu’s family and even his own family begin to detest him, and think that he will bring trouble to their families. However, the twins, Rahel and Estha, don’t see him in eyes of society and build a bond with him. They are unaware of his status as an untouchable or as a communist, and still continue a friendship with him despite the family’s protests. Firstly, we see him trying to break the barrier of the Big Things with the help of nature, the river specifically, when he teaches the twins how to fish. On page 75, it says “It was Velutha who made Rahel her luckiest-ever fishing rod and taught her and Estha to fish.” He’s trying to pass his knowing and knowledge of the river to the twins.
Moving on, when Velutha returns after a disappearance of few years, that is when his relationship with the twins is prospering. He’s able to surpass being a small speck in the background and become more to the twins, become more in the factory, and even become more for Ammu. He uses the river to travel beyond the “low hut” his family of three lived in. Living in a forest and away from society shows that he is opposite of the Big Thing, but rather that Velutha is the God of Small Things. He is in his own space in the hut, despite its circumstances, it brings him content and is home to him. The river is what separates the Big Things and the Small Things, specifically the untouchables and the rest of society. .
The river is the “forbidden territory” that all of members of the family cross over, and almost all the encounters led them to meet with Velutha, one way or another. “They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws…” (31) And the biggest rule broken was the forbidden love between Ammu and Velutha. Despite it being forbidden, they made it work till it led Velutha to his ultimate death. First of all, Velutha is seen floating before their meeting in the last chapter. “He was free to lie in the river and drift slowly with the current. A log. A serene crocodile. “(315) It is as if he is one with the river, and that he is content with it and his life at the moment. The description of him being a like a log and crocodile make it seem like he is a part of the river, a part of nature even, rather than a Small Thing or the enemy of the Big Thing. This can be related back to Ammu’s dream of a man who left no footprint or ripple in the ocean, who left no mark behind because Velutha is one with nature. This is also why he is able to carry out his feelings for Ammu in this moment, he is able to rid himself of society’s disapproving and use the river to meet his love. The river is seen as the only witness of their consummation that night, and that’s why the river is a crucial factor in how Velutha, the Small Thing, tries to break the barrier of the Big Thing, society and its rules, to be with Ammu.
An idea the reinforces his character being a part of Nature is the metaphor revolving around his name. In Malayalam, Velutha’s name mean “White.” This is such a contrast because in reality, Velutha is very dark colored. The meaning of his name can indicate the Velutha is all that is pure and natural, reinforcing the idea of him being a part of nature and disregarding all of society’s pressures and expectations.
Despite him trying to break the barriers, it is clear that he is not successful in doing so. Right in the beginning, we are told that Velutha is dead and we make an inference that is related to Ammu’s family somehow. When the twins and Sophie Mol try to run away and travel through the river, they lose Sophie Mol and the police charge Velutha with this horrific incident. But in the end, we come to know that he dies due to the beating he endures the by the Touchable policemen despite being innocent of all the crimes he was accused of.
As mentioned earlier, Velutha is all that is pure and nature, thus the river’s life is analogous to how Velutha’s life becomes as well. In the beginning of the novel we see told about the beautiful view of the river, then how it shrinks in every May. Estha even goes on to describe the river to be “warm, the water. Gray green. Like rippled silk.” (116) But right after the death of Sophie Mol, the river has changed its appearance. It “was no more than a swollen drain now. A thin ribbon of thick water that lapped wearily at the mud banks on either side, sequined with the occasional silver slant of dead fish.” (116) The river no longer had the beauty and power that it once held, similar to how Velutha was beautiful and one with nature at one point but was killed at the hands of the Big Things.
A way the river goes along with the “Big Things” is when it protects them. While Chapter 5 starts off by describing the foulness of it, the smell, the swollen drain it has become, it signifies everything it holds for the people. (117) It holds Ammu and Velutha’s secret love, it holds the separation of the caste systems (Paravans and the Touchables), and it holds the secret to Sophie’s death. These are topics that were present but never publicly acknowledged by anyone. So, the “Small Things” are in fact actually helping to cover what the “Big Things” have continuously tried to suppress or do not approve of. But unfortunately, in the end, it is the Small Things that end up destroying itself, the river and Velutha.
A Study of the Theme of Forbidden Love As Illustrated in Two Different Novel: The Guide and The God Of Small Things
Forbidden love is a prominent theme in both The Guide and The God of Small Things. While R.K. Narayan utilizes Raju’s affair as a plot device, Arundhati Roy displays several sexual taboos as part of a broader theme to challenge societal expectations in India.
In “The Guide: A Study in Transcendence,” Mary Beatina Rayen explains that The Guide depicts Raju’s life in “three phases: his position as a tourist guide, ‘Railway Raju,’ his adventure with the dancer Rosie and her husband Marco; and finally his life at the village, Mangala” (Rayen 57). According to her analysis, Raju is on a spiritual journey and his affair with Rosie is just a step along the way that brings him to prison. She cites Balarama Gupta’s analysis which describes Raju as “a selfish swindler, an adroit actor, and a perfidious megalomaniac.”
There’s a sense of karma throughout the novel, which has Raju end up in prison as the result of his own carelessness. Rayen discusses how Raju “is an accommodator” and “unable to say no to anyone,” This character flaw leads him to sleep with a married woman after he notices “Rosie’s loneliness and dazzling beauty.” This leads Marco to pursue his revenge, resulting in Raju’s imprisonment for a crime he didn’t commit. Without this happening, Raju would never become the enlightened man that Velan considers holy. Thus, his affair with Rosie is a plot device that doesn’t challenge Indian society as Roy does in her novel. In “R.K. Narayan’s Raju: A Symbol of Sin, Suffering, and Salvation,” Naveen K. Mehta explains that “happiness comes to [Raju] only when he begins to act as a selfless man,” and mentions that once Raju experiences hunger, he begins a “process of purification” which leads him to the role of the swami. Every action has a purpose in The Guide, with Raju’s sexual indiscretions playing an equally crucial role as his imprisonment. So although one is used as a plot device, the other one is used as a tool for character development.
The role of the mother is significant in both texts. While Ammu, the mother in The God of Small Things transgresses the sexual taboos of Indian society, Raju’s mother is against his relationship with a married woman. In reaction to Raju’s forbidden love, she asks why Rosie won’t “go to her husband and fall at his feet” and voluntarily moves out of their house, while Ammu is forced out of her house for her transgressions (Narayan 136).The two novels differ in the sense that sex is presented more figuratively in The God of Small Things. Ammu’s affair with Velutha, a man of the untouchable caste demonstrates rebellion against the outdated social order in India. The consequences of this affair make it clear that although the caste system had technically ended, it was still a taboo to have associate oneself with members of the Dalit class.
In “Commodity Fetishism, Patriarchal Repression, and Psychic Deprivation in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things,” John Lutz argues that “Ammu’s affair with Velutha and her attempts to save him…assigns transgressive erotic desire a political role.” He considers Police Inspector Thomas Mathew and his violence a symbol of “patriarchy and capitalism,” quoting Brinda Bose’s explanation that Ammu and Velutha’s affair demonstrates the “subversive powers of desire and sexuality,” the “politics of gender divisions and the rules that govern them” (Lutz 58). This is a valid argument since Inspector Thomas Mathew exploits the situation by sexually harassing Ammu. But Inspector Mathew is the most lenient adult when it comes to enforcing the Indian caste system. He has Velutha beaten because Baby Kochamma convinces him that attempted to rape Ammu, not because he wants to enforce traditional love laws. When he finds out that Velutha is innocent, he threatens to have Baby Kochamma arrested. Thus, it could be argued that Inspector Mathew represents the idea that the caste system has been abolished, while Baby Kochamma represents the reality that the system is still in effect. Ammu is punished for sleeping with Velutha, even though the caste system had supposedly been abolished by then. Inspector Matthew enforces the literal interpretation of the caste system being abolished, while Baby Kochamma enforces it in practice.
This isn’t to say that Inspector Thomas is interested in enforcing justice. After harassing Ammu and telling her she should “go home quietly,” it’s specifically mentioned that “Inspector Thomas Mathew seemed to know whom he could pick on and whom her couldn’t” (Roy 5).This would Lutz analyzes Baby Kochamma through a Marxist lens, arguing that her destructive nature and “hidden impulse to dominate others” is linked with her consumerist nature (Lutz 59). He references the scene where she installs a satellite dish, enabling her to preside “over the world in her drawing room” (14). This demonstrates how Roy uses taboo sexuality to undermine the rigid class expectations in India. By having Ammu sleep with a man of the untouchable caste, she is therefore rebelling against the traditions of older family members, in this case Baby Kochamma. Still, taboo sex acts are not always used for a subversive purpose in The God of Small Things. An example of this would include Estha and Rahel having sex at the end of the novel. Expanding on the idea that Roy utilizes sex for symbolic purposes, the incest between Estha and Rahel is used as a bonding experience after they had been separated for 23 years.
Both Narayan and Roy depict forbidden love in their works, but for entirely different purposes. Narayan uses it as a plot device in a larger spiritual journey, while Roy’s depiction of taboo sexuality challenges the restrictive nature of the Indian social classes.
The Twins Have Nothing To Blame For Deceiving The God Of Small Things By Arundhati Roy
Velutha and Ammu has started to develop feelings for one another but their affair was discovered by velutha’s father and reported to Baby Konchamma and Mammachi leading to lock up of Ammu in the house. The twins opened the door for Ammu but she had them to blame for her lock and the twins ran away to an abandoned house. Sophie Mol realized the will of the twins to be taken along and their plans. As the three were crossing the river, their boat capsized but the twins Rahel and Estha managed to cross the other side of the river but Sophie was unfortunate and was carried away by the violent water current. Baby Konchama loathed Velutha which made her go to the police and give false allegations that Velutha had kidnapped the twins, killed Sophie and raped Ammu. Velutha was beaten up by the police but the kids later confessed that Sophie had drowned and thus Velutha was ill-treated for no reason. Baby Konachama was confronted for giving false allegations without supporting evidence, striking fear into her. Baby Konchama then manipulated the twins un confessing that Velutha had killed Sophie and abducted them lest their Ammu would be imprisoned and go through suffering because of them (Fox, 2002).
It is not fair to blame the twins for deceiving in court as they saved their mother Ammu who would have suffered severely in prison. The personality of Konchama of being destructive and spiteful is to blame as she intimidated the children into lying. The character of Rahel and Estha of being heartfelt makes them live a united delightful life in future while Baby Konchama lives as a hermit and have grown ugly overgrown (Fox, 2002).
Many people have the impression that there no longer exist alternatives for globalization but he world is s free market and all one has to do is evaluate the economic values consideration of human beings. There is a possibility if living a happier life with developmental changes in the world. The earth has transitioned in a number of ways for example the evils which existed in the past have been abated in the modern society. For example people in the west died of hunger and war which exist no more. The world has also transitioned in giving people freedom where one can make suitable choices for themselves. Availability of freedom indicate that we will live life that suits our needs and that we can stand up for any suffering and get instant justice. Most poor countries have increas4ed in their life expectancy and economic value. Evolution of the society has not fully enhanced quality of life (Veenhoven, 2010). The change to agrarian society from hunter-gather bands seemed to intricate decline but an evolution to the modern society has changed life for the better and people now live a happier and healthier life. There is a substantial reason to believe that the development will continue and people will be able to live a happier life. There will be A world where everyone has access to resources and can generate income for themselves and there will be no need to hurt one another (Teivainen, 2015). People are also learning and increasing their knowledge making them to understand the reason and value of life.
The Role of Gender in “The God of Small Things”
In the novel The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, the domination of women is a common theme that is manifested by each of the generation in the novel. Roy writes about the fraught social issues that plague Indian society; she wrote The God of Small Things after the caste system had been removed in India, but portrays how the caste system was outlawed but still ran India. Roy was raised to see the flaws in Indian society, and consequently wrote a novel with a message that showed the problems that exist and go unmentioned. Through the major theme of gender identity, Roy conveys a message that all people should be equal, and no caste system or gender bias should create a society that does not revolve around fairness and opportunities, no matter what the caste or sex of a person is.
Judith Butler’s theory of gender as a performance is extremely relevant to the characters in The God of Small Things who are forced to conform to society. The idea that gender is just a performance because society has created the illusion that in order to fit in one must suppress their inner desires and conform to society’s ideal image in order to survive in the world depicts the problems that make up favoring the first in a set of binary oppositions. Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement theorize how society views the importance of binary oppositions and their ordering has become a fact of life. Binary oppositions favor the first in the set, which is always the masculine, and subverts the second, the feminine. The masculine is always favored in society, but in Roy’s novel, the unpopular in the opposition is favored, depicting the flaws that exist within Indian society. Roy portrays gender inequality though her female characters which simply show how the women in Indian society evolved through three generations. Roy distinctly shows the problems that exist within the Indian society by writing about a relationship between a touchable and an untouchable who both end up dying due to their breaking of the Indian ‘Love Laws’. For Roy, suppression of the lesser and inequality throughout a nation is unacceptable. Roy makes it apparent that these issues need to be brought out into the spot light in order for a movement forward to take place. The God of Small Things challenges the patriarchy leading to changes in conventional notions of gender and sexuality in a patriarchal society.
Roy grew up in a Syrian Christian community, whose grandfather founded a school for untouchables, and her mother left their hometown of Kerala to marry a Bengali Hindu. (Friendman 118) Her mother ended up divorcing the Bengali Hindu and returning back to the hometown of Kerala with her children, where she then opened a co-educational school and “successfully challenged in court the Syrian Christian prohibition of female inheritance of family property.” (Friedman 118) Roy’s upbringing in a home where the women were not suppressed and ultimately fought for what they believed in is evident in her feminist writing. (Friedman 118) The differences that divide a nation are deep and intertwined, Friedman writesBorders of caste and class, gender, sexuality, and age criss-cross the house, legacies particularly of what Roy refers to as the ‘Love Laws’ embedded in the local, regional and national Indian cultures, formed both separately from and interactively with waves of religious and colonial interaction. (Friedman 118). The performances that are put on in order to continue as a functioning member of society are woven deep into the heritage of a country and a family. The God of Small Things makes it apparent how strong the borders that exist are and how difficult it is to rebel from a society that forces everyone to conform.
Gender is a forced role for the characters in The God of Small Things, and it exists simply as a defining social construct. The true gender of the characters is fabricated, because the characters in the novel would be cast out of Indian society if they acted in a manner other than the one that was expected of them. The women of the novel are forced to stay true to femininity in Indian society, or else the consequences are unacceptably harsh. Judith Butler writes that gender is a performance, and Roy depicts gender as a performance flawlessly through her female characters, along with the consequences that affect when the characters stray from the ideal path laid out for them.
The oldest generation in The God of Small Things focuses on the relationship between Mammachi and Pappachi. Mammachi was an extremely talented violinist who married Pappachi. When Mammachi’s violin teacher mentioned one day that Mammachi was extremely talented and had incredible potential and the possibility of becoming a famous violinist, Pappachi made Mammachi stop her lessons immediately. In this instance, Pappachi was fearful of Mammachi making more of herself than Pappachi of himself, therefore this results in the first instance of male domination in Mammachi’s marriage with Pappachi. Mammachi suffered years of physical abuse from Pappalchi. One day, their son, Chacko, stood up to Pappachi and that was the day the abuse stopped. From that point on Mammachi adored Chacko more than anyone and he became the center of her universe. She would allow Chacko to bring women of a different class in and out of a door she had specially installed for Chacko’s sexual needs to be fulfilled night after night. But, the double standard continued to be evident not only in Indian Society, but in the home of the Ipe family, where Ammu, Mammachi’s daughter was treated unfairly compared to her brother Chacko, who Mammachi idolized.
The abuse that Mammachi underwent by her husband influenced her in a strange way, “At Pappachi’s funeral, Mammachi cried until her contact lenses slid around in her eyes. Ammu told the twins that Mammachi was crying more because she was used to him than because she loved him.” (Roy 49) The static nature of Mammachi’s life is apparent, making it obvious that she hated the idea of change, even if that change was the death of her abusive husband. Mammachi performs as a woman who lost her loving husband at his funeral simply because she was used to her role as a submissive woman who lowered herself to accept her husband’s demeaning nature towards her for the entirety of their marriage. Mammachi finally had the opportunity to start a life that would not be controlled by her husband, but she would never be able to truly escape the abuse that was inflicted mentally on her by Pappachi’s physical beatings and the end he put to her career as a violinist. The tears Mammachi cried at Pappachi’s funeral were tears of emptiness simply because she felt she was bound to him by the love they were supposed to have for each other from marriage. If there was anyone who ever watched Mammachi and saw the reality of her life it was Ammu, who was regarded as second in her mother’s eyes allowing her to get a bird’s eye view of her mother’s complete personality. Mammachi’s identity was founded through Pappachi, and there would never be enough time or help to make Mammachi feel like she was more than a submissive woman to her power hungry husband.
Ammu could never live up to Chacko in the eyes of Mammachi because Chacko was the reason she was saved from her husband’s years of abuse. Once Mammachi is no longer controlled by Pappachi, she subconsciously allowed herself to be controlled by Chacko by doing everything in her power to make him happy. Mammachi is by far the most submissive woman character in the novel because she feels she needs to worship a male figure in her life, whether that male figure is her husband or her son, Mammachi made sure to make her life revolve around their pleasure and happiness. Ammu ended up marrying a drunk and having twins with him, but eventually leaving him because he was an abusive drunk. Ammu’s character seems to be inspired by Roy’s mother. This portrayal of Ammu is similar to that of Roy’s mother who left her husband “in a love match” and moved back to her hometown of Kerala. (Freidman 118) Unlike Mammachi, Ammu learned not to take the abuse from a man who was her husband, but still took the oppression that Indian society placed upon women, simply because she had no control over the Indian government, but Ammu made sure to test the limits of the love laws in India. Ammu spent the beginning years of her life playing the role of the woman her Indian culture wanted her to be, but once she showed her dominance in her relationship with her abusive husband she began to rebel against the patriarchy’s norm for women. Her performance was changing slightly allowing Ammu remove herself from Indian society in a dangerous way.
Ammu spent her life on the family Pickle Preserve, spending time with the people who thej family had working for them. One man in particular, Velutha, grew up working for the family at the pickle preserve business and even though he belonged to a different social caste, they treated him more as one of their own than a member of the untouchable society: “Here the talented and kindly Velutha breaks the boundaries of untouchability by running the factory, overseeing the lower-caste workers resentful of his uncasted authority, serving as a surrogate father to the twins.” (Friedman 118) When Ammu and Velutha were older they fell in love, and defied the love laws the Indian government had set in place when they had sex to fulfill the love they had for each other. With Velutha belonging to the untouchable caste, and Ammu belonging to the touchable caste, this was unheard of and did not end well. Velutha was betrayed by Estha and Rahel and he was beat, nearly to death by the police, and died shortly after. Velutha, belonging to a different Caste in the Indian society ended up losing his life because he was lower than a woman in Indian Society, and therefore oppressed more than Ammu. Ammu’s rebellion against the patriarchy results in her own death when she is sent away after sleeping with Velutha and her family name is tarnished by her actions. However, the difference in generations here is major in depicting the evolution of binary oppositions within the novel. Mammachi puts up with years of abuse by Pappachi, where Ammu leaves her abusive drunk of a husband and raises the twins on her own, and takes it upon herself to rebel against the patriarchy. However, Rahel, the female twin, seizes her life when she gets the chance, but by then it is too late for her to live a life of simplicity because her innocence was taken from her and destroyed.
Growing up, Rahel had no place in society except with her brother. Rahel and Estha were extremely close growing up and this created a bond that continued to grow over the years. Rahel grows up to be a free woman because she was not raised like any of the previous generations. Rahel grew up alongside her brother belonging to the higher caste and was able to roam freely and do as she pleased. She was raised only by her mother and this allowed for her to never be truly influenced by the patriarchy because she was raised to be an equal to her bother, and was not raised by a father. Ammu provided the twins with everything they needed and her differing attitude from Mammachi is evident in the rearing of her children. Ammu also lived in a home where the double standard was evident, being that it was okay for Chacko to bring women of different castes in and out of the home they lived in because Mammachi wanted Chacko to be please in every way because he saved her from Pappachi. However, the reader sees the difference between Chacko and Ammu when Ammu is severely punished for sleeping with Velutha.
Rahel grows up and ends up moving away after the horrific death of her mother and the beating death of Velutha, who she viewed as a father figure her whole life. She moved away and began a life of her own, making her the most free out of all the women in the novel. Rahel is the most free, by far, but Ammu died for her freedom, and she was a major contributing factor in creating thee individual that Rahel grew up to be. However, Rahel is not completely free from her oppression, and the reader sees this in her breaking of the love laws with her brother Estha.
The last scene Roy writes including Rahel and Estha portrays the two having sex, in the most poetic way incest can be portrayed. Estha and Rahel lost their innocence at a young age: “By then Esthappen and Rahel had learned that the world had other ways of breaking men, they were already familiar with the smell, sicksweet. Like old roses on a breeze” and the only person they were ever able to turn to for comfort was each other. (Roy 15) The foreshadowing in the novel begins in the first chapter when Roy writes that they were already familiar with the other ways of breaking men, referencing the love between Velutha and Ammu. The twins saw the way man could be destroyed with the two people they were closest to other than themselves. But, before they learned the fate of Velutha and Ammu, Estha learned one of the harsh realities of the world on a day that was supposed to be magical for him and Rahel. Estha lost his innocence when the orange drink lemon drink man molested him, and Rahel also lost her innocence on that day when she knew that something terrible and unspeakable and happened to her brother. If molestation was not enough, the twins were also present for the death of Sophie Mol. In the final moments the audience sees Rahel and Estha together, the incestuous act is not viewed as entirely negative because it is obvious it is the one and only true moment in the twins’ lives that they feel whole. They found completion within on another, but thus could not have been done without breaking the love laws. The biggest performance in the novel is between the two queered figures in the novel, being Rahel and Estha. The entire novel makes the twins’ characters into the two figures who play the role of a male and a female in Indian society in more of a skewed sense than any of the other characters in the novel. Roy portrays them in a favorable manner making it easy to sympathize with these characters. The empathy that Roy makes the reader feel for Estha and Rahel makes it easy to find the flaws in Indian Society and to hope for a change to come about and alter the unacceptable harshness that is conveyed through the image of Indian society Roy explicitly depicts.
Ammu was never able to beat oppression and her life, after finally being satisfied by her one true love, was ended, but she paved the path for her children to get one step closer to removing society’s binary oppositions. As for Rahel and Estha, the reader does not know what happens to them after the last moments that are mentioned in the book, but it does prove that the only way to completely overcome the hardships that life throws at them they must break the most important societal laws to find happiness within themselves. The happiness they provide themselves with also provides happiness to the other party, but it does not usually end well. Going against societal taboos is a major theme for Roy in her novel, but it also demonstrates the importance of the strength that relationships with others who friendships are okay to exist with but relationships are not fine to exist with play out.
The first instance in the novel of the breaking of what Roy calls the ‘Love Laws’ occurs at the theatre, when Estha is molested by the orange drink lemon drink man. This assault results in “seperate[ing] the two-egg twins into differently gendered destinies.” (Freidman 121) Another instance, in the novel, where the ‘Love Laws’ are broken occurs this time with both of the twins. Twins break the ‘Love Laws’ when they engage in incestuous relations in “the connection of souls figured in the anguish of touch.” (Freidman 121) After the twins lives of suffering, they finally reunite in a way that connects them on a level that defies the laws society has put in place over time, but it is the once time in the novel where the twins feel complete. The only way the twins could find themselves complete was to engage in the sexual act that defies all of society’s standards, because their entire lives they had been beaten down by the consequences of societal norms. Friedman writes
Just alive to suffer through the consequences of his transgression to see the child he befriended deny him and the family he enriched denounce him. But not long enough to see the woman he loved stand by him, this condemning herself to exile and slow death, a modern immolation of the woman with the ‘Unsafe Edge’. (Friedman 122) Velutha and Ammu had a tragic ending, simply because they could no longer resist the urge to love each other, and this resulted in the disastrous ending of both their lives, and symbolically ended the lives of Estha and Rahel who admired both Velutha and Ammu unconditionally.
After the deaths of Velutha and Ammu, the twins never found comfort again in any aspect of their lives. When Ammu, Rahel and Estha shared a moment together after the death of Veluthra “Estha nodded down at Ammu’s face tilted up to the train window. At Rahel, small and smudged with station dirt. All three of them bonded by the certain, separate knowledge that they had loved a man to death.” (Roy 306) Ammu was not the only one in love with Velutha. The twins looked up to Velutha and his father figure in their lives was monumental and he shaped them into the individuals they were up until that point in their lives. His influence would live on in their lives for the rest of time, making it difficult for them to lose the love they had for the man who always had time for them. The death of Velutha showed the twins the nasty ways the world betrays and its unforgiving nature. The twin’s identities were influenced greatly by the cruel natured world that ultimately controls even the patriarchy. The death of Velutha was a death that no one imagined, but the reader needed to see in order to understand the dynamic of the cruel world that molded and laid out the future for Ammu, Rahel and Estha.
Rahel moved away and Estha stopped speaking and lost the last glimmer of innocence he was blessed with. The only time after these horrific events the twins felt comfort in their cruel world, was when they were able to engage in sexual act together. Finally, they were able to find comfort in a world that had only provided them with heartbreak and revealed to them what was truly wrong with human nature and society’s views on love. The death of Ammu and Velutha crushed Rahel and Estha, making it simply impossible to ever truly move on from such a terrible ending of the two people they loved most.
Judith Butler strongly advocates for the differences in gender to be regarded as arbitrary and that all people should be treated with equality. “If the inner truth of gender is a fabrication and if a true gender is a fantasy instituted and inscribed on the surface of bodies, then it seems that genders can be neither true nor false, but are only produced as the truth effects of a discourse of primary and stable identity.” (Butler 583) For Butler, gender is simply instituted by society and a specific gender, according to society, is too often inflicted upon the sex it is mainly associated with. For instance, masculinity is automatically a male quality, even if some women obtain masculine traits. Women are automatically associated with feminine characteristics, and if either sex is to stray from one or the other they are viewed as others who are not following the heterosexual norm society has put in place. As Butler also writes
“Acts, gestures, and desire produces the effect of an internal core or substance, but produce this on the surface of the body, through the play of signifying absences that suggest, but never reveal, the organized principle of identity as a cause. Such acts, gestures, enactments, generally construed, are performative in the sense that the essence or identity that they otherwise purport to express are fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means.” (Butler 583)
Gender identity should come from the acts and gestures that a person choses to perform, not by the sex they were biologically assigned at birth. In The God of Small Things, it is easy to see that Roy believes the overwhelming theme in her book is that lack of identity for Estha and Rahel. Roy writes “In those early amorphous years when memory had only just begun, when life was full of beginnings and no endings, and everything was forever, 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.” (Roy 29) There is a stress on the significance of Rahel and Estha being dizygotic twins, meaning two separate, but they seem in some instances Siamese twins, attached at the hip, as two beings moving as one until their innocence is lost. Up until the day of Estha’s molestation, Rahel and Estha were almost identically the same person. The day the loss of innocence occurred, separate individualized identities.
In Margaret Homan’s essay “Women of Colour”, she references Butler frequently, and agrees on many occasions with statements Butler has made about gender identity and feminism. Homan agrees with Butler that there should not be an identity imposed on a person, rather identity should arbitrary. Homans points out that Butler also argues that “Identity” is a category that imposes a false coercive unity, just white, middleclass, western feminism itself has been accused of imposing one interpretive friend on the multiplicity of female lives by privileging the category “woman” over those of race, ethnicity, class, nationality, age, and so on. Identity, like some kinds of white feminism, must be done away with because of what it excludes. (Homans 679) There should be no identity found just in being a unity. Identity should be on an individualized basis, and it should be inclusive not exclusive. The only characters in The God of Small Things who did not experience this labeling of genders were Rahel and Estha because they were one in the same. The twins lived through one another and it did not matter that one was male and the other was female, ultimately there were no gendered boundaries between the two of them. Ammu never made them feel they had to act a certain way because of the gender that is automatically assigned to their biological sex. In Luce Irigaray’s essay “The Blind Spot of an Old Dream”, the main question she is addressing is: Why do we assign a specific gender to a specific sex? The issues for Irigaray goes back to Frued and his theory that even when women are in the role of having power, they do not enjoy that power and they are simply doing it to keep nature flowing. For example, Irirgaray attacks Frued’s belief that women who breast feed cannot find pleasure in nourishing another human being that they created by saying “Any consideration of pleasure in breast-feeding seems here to be excluded, misunderstood, under silent ban.” (Irigaray 647) A woman is the vessel that creates new life and nourishes that life until it is ready to enter the world. Anyone who creates new life is living an extremely active role, and the woman is the one who gives birth to the next patriarchy. A woman being active in this role is certainly not just a role she takes on and does not find pleasure in. Freud argues: “The point being that man is the procreator, that sexual production-reproduction is referable to his “Activity” alone, to his “project” alone. Woman is nothing but the receptacle that passively receives his product, even if sometimes, by the display of her passively aimed instincts, she has pleaded, facilitated, even demanded that it be placed within her” (Irigaray 647). However, Irigaray does not agree with this way of thinking under any circumstances. Irigaray proceeds to argue that a gender cannot be defined by the activity or the passivity of a person. Creating a human needs a strong person, and the person creating humans is the woman who grows the child inside her for nine long months. To Freud this seems like a passive role, but during those nine months the woman is expected to continue her duties as she would if she were not pregnant, while having a parasite sucking the nutrients out of her body growing insider her. There is no correct measurement of activity and passivity in each gender, but rather in the person themselves. A man can be very active and have many masculine qualities, but a woman can also be just as active and have feminine qualities. Those feminine qualities do not make the woman any less of an active person simply because she is associated with femininity.
In The God of Small Things, Ammu enjoys her role as mother of the twins even when they are trying on her nerves. Ammu takes pride in her duty as a mother because she saves her children from their abusive father, and she gives them a better life than they would have had if they continued to live with him. Ammu’s active nature in her children’s lives is enjoyed by her because she holds all the power in their lives and chose to hold the power for the pleasure of being able to watch her children grow. Ammu is the woman Freud pretended did not exist. Ammu was extremely active in her children’s lives and that did not detract from her feminine qualities. From a different perspective, Mammachi loves her role of mother, at least being a mother to Chacko because she created a life that is the symbol of the patriarchy and holds enough power to control her life and the lives around him. Mammachi was not an active woman character, fit the gender role given to women very nicely because she let her husband do whatever he wanted with her and her life.
For Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement, gender is a label that is to be rejected completely. These two women show their rejection through dual hierarchical oppositions. In their examples of binary oppositions, each set listed demonstrates how the masculine is always first in the pair and the feminine second. For example, “Activity/ passivity, Sun/ moon, Culture/ nature, Day/ night, Father/ Mother, Head/ Heart.” (Cixious and Clement 654) The words associated with masculinity in these pairs always comes first, however, the rejection of these ideas society has paired with one another shows they should be disputed and masculinity and femininity should not be broken down into separate spheres. Roy favors the queer figure in the novel, and values their differences. Straight is not privileged in Roy’s eyes because she is depicting the differences that exist in the world and how they are unfair. Cixious and Clement do not agree with binary oppositions. Different qualities exist and there is always going to be an opposite of each term, but one should not be favored over the other. Roy favors the incestuous relationship of Rahel and Estha, and she favors the uniting of a touchable and an untouchable through her depiction of Ammu and Velutha. Mammachi’s conforming nature gives a good starting point for the reader to understand how these binary oppositions are addressed in the novel.
The irony that lies in the novel surrounding gender differences is hugely influential. The differences that existed between Chacko and Ammu were unfair, and being raised in a home where unfair treatment was evident, Ammu raised her twins differently. Ammu raised Rahel and Estha equally, never favoring one over the other, like her mother did with her and Chacko. Chacko is the ultimate symbol of the patriarchy within the Ipe family. However, for Ammu, her power was unrecognizable, except to herself and her children who she raised to be each other’s equal, something she never had with Chacko. Since Chacko ruled the Ipe home, he symbolized the patriarchy. The patriarchy is free to do as it pleases, but when someone under control of the patriarchy goes against the demands of the patriarchy they are severely punished. Unfortunately, the double standard that existed in the Ipe house, also existed in Indian society and Ammu suffered not only under her home rule, but also under her government rule because she was a woman. Ammu slept with one man of a different caste and was sent into exile which resulted in her death, whereas Chacko slept with many women belonging to a different caste and he was only rewarded with more women to be used for his sexual desire only. Ammu’s love with Velutha meant nothing because she had realtions with a man of a different caste, and Chacko’s sexual desires were portrayed in the Ipe home as more of a necessity than the love Ammu and Velutha shared
Roy covered an array of societal taboos in her novel, and chooses Ammu to be her strong female character. Ammu is faced with many challenges, and her character is so strong that she is the reason the novel is tried for obscenity. Ammu is the first generation of women in novel to be independent and not submit herself to the demands of a male figure in the novel. Ammu chooses to follow her heart, and ultimately her strong will results in her death. Ammu’s dominant woman figure does not end well for her character because her actions defy the patriarchy which was unacceptable in India at the time, although the double standard did exist, Ammu was not able to escape the wrath of the patriarchy. However, Ammu’s influence on her daughter Rahel is apparent in Rahel’s decision to move away and make something of herself after her mother’s death; unlike her brother, Estha, who stayed in India and chose to be a passive character and not take on a role that would benefit him. The twins in the novel seem to have a reversal in what makes them adhere to their societal assigned gender. Rahel is by far the more active character in the novel, and Estha is clearly the more passive character who seems to just let life pass him by. However, there is a unifying element that transforms both characters and allows them to feel the strengths and pains of each other through the intimate touch they share. For a moment the twins were one and then they were sent back to their overwhelming reality, but Roy demonstrates the significance of switching genders in the novel, and that is that it does not seem to the reader that Estha is any less of a man because he is the more passive of the twins, and that Rahel is any less of a woman because she is the more active of the two. If anything, this shows how irrelevant gender is and that it is just a societal cliché.
The evolution of the importance of binary oppositions changes as each generation tests them to a new degree. Roy favors valuing the second in the binary oppositions and showing the negative aspects of how binary oppositions are viewed. With each generation in the novel, the characters are moving farther away from the binary opposition’s formalities as Roy starts to show the slow progression of accepting people who do not fit society’s idea of feminine and masculine. Mammachi, falling most passive of all the women characters in the novel starts the progression and is the baseline for the transitioning generations to come. Once Mammachi’s example is laid out for Ammu, she does not allow herself to get caught up in a relationship with a man who is going to treat her like her mother was treated, so she flees and takes on the role of an active, concerned mother. However, Roy’s biggest evolution within the generations is developed through Estha and Rahel. Their relationship depicts the importance of not relying on the binary oppositions and social construct, and deconstructing the norm in order to define society individually and not by a label. The God of Small Things gives hope to the idea that one day binary oppositions and social construct will not be as limiting, but the progression of time in which this will be able to happen will take numerous decades and will not be an quick fix. Roy’s empathetic writing of the love Ammu and Velutha share and the love Rahel and Estha share hardens the idea that a forbidden love might not always be a bad love. It also shows that a forbidden love is a love that needs to be accepted before it can be rejected.
Ultimately, the characters in the novel struggle with identity and independence from a dominant patriarchal society that controls everyone and everything. The ups and downs in the novel are caused by severe consequences that the cruel reality of the world inflicts upon them. From the molestation by the orange drink lemon drink man to the death of Velutha and Ammu all because their love was forbidden, the novel pulls at the reader’s heartstrings. The novel represents an accurate depiction of the lives of two children who do not have a chance at avoiding the world’s cruelty. From the beginning, Estha and Rahel could never truly survive the world, and in the end they could not even survive it together as two people. From the perspective of gender theory, identity should not depend on the sex a person is born with and for the twins they defy that notion through their role reversal in active and passive. When looking into queer theory, the relationship that Estha and Rahel share takes center stage. Their incestuous relationship results in a dynamic that alters the reader’s perception of queer theory by throwing the major taboo of incest and showing how this physical relationship unites both of them.
Arundhati Roy challenges the patriarchy and most ideas the society has made taboo or frowns upon in some way. Roy’s favoring of the unfavorable creates the hope for a future that will not rely on binary oppositions and their normal order to control society, instead gender norms will no longer exist and gender freedom will be explored within society as a whole rather than behind closed doors. The God of Small Things is revolutionary and depicts the harsh realities in the world by simply showing the destruction of a family.
Butler, Judith. “From Interiority to Gender Performatives.” Global Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Richard J. Lane. New York: Routledge, 2013. 581-87. Print. Butler, Judith. “More Gender Trouble: Feminism Meets Queer Theory.” Differences: A Journal Of Feminist Cultural Studies 6.2-3 (1994): MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.Cixous, Helene, and Catherine Clement. “Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Out/forays.” Global Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Richard J. Lane. New York: Routledge, 2013. 653-64. Print.Friedman, Susan Stanford. “Feminism, State Fictions And Violence: Gender, Geopolitics And Transnationalism.” Communal / Plural: Journal Of Transnational & Crosscultural Studies 9.1 (2001): 111-129. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.Homans, Margaret. “Women of Colour.” Global Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Richard J. Lane. New York: Routledge, 2013. 673-89. Print.Irigaray, Luce. “The Blind Spot of an Old Dream.” Global Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Richard J. Lane. New York: Routledge, 2013. 643-52. Print.Lane, Richard J. Global Literary Theory: An Anthology. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.Nusser, Tanja. “Are Feminism And Gender Studies Really Growing Old? Reassessments Of A Discourse.” Women In German Yearbook: Feminist Studies In German Literature & Culture 30.(2014): 138-148. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.Roy, Aundhati. The God of Small Things. New York, NY, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 1997.
Sophie Mol and Velutha: Victims or Villains?
In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, readers may find it easy to view Sophie Mol and Velutha as the Gods of Colonial circumstances. However, by viewing the characters solely as the embodiments of colonial circumstances, readers fail to see them as not just the villains that society, but as the victims of the novel as well. Each character has been placed into a society-driven category by the novel, namely a class such as either touchable or untouchable. The reader is presented with Sophie Mol as the victim since she is the touchable of the novel, but while she is a victim to her privilege she is also the villain to the narrator. In juxtaposition to the touchable of the novel is the untouchable, Velutha. Although he is the villain of society, he is the victim to the narrator. Both characters experience social actions and reactions they do not necessarily want or deserve. The narrator states, “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” (Roy 31). To view the characters through both the lens of society and the lens of the narrator is to see both sides of their stories. Neither character is wholly victim or villain, and to view the characters alongside one another gives the reader a better understating of how these individuals are affected by a colonial worldview.
The critical arguments surrounding Roy’s The God of Small Things are still rather scant. While a few critics have assessed and examined the novel in relation to world, they do all seem to be under the mutual consensus that what Roy points out within her novels are themes of great importance. Critics like Yumna Siddiqi from “Police and Postcolonial Rationality in Amitac Gosh’s “The Circle of Reason”” argues “The novel reveals the brutal policing of caste boundaries and the unscrupulous operation of party political machinery” (Siddiqi 177). Siddiqi argues that this brutality within Roy’s novels is what sets them apart from other novels. While this response to the world is an essential part of The God of Small Things, understanding how it comes about is also critical to the understanding of Roy’s depicted culture. Critics like Kerryn Higgs from “Review: Who’s a Terrorist?” have reviewed Roy’s “Walking with the Comrades” and has made the point that
The party of armed revolution has gained such popularity is due in part to the deeply rooted feudal structures of Indian society, its inherent inequalities and exploitation, the use of brutal repression by the landlord class and its “law and order” apparatus… Roy insists that endemic violence on the government side and the excess of both of India’s major political parties must be acknowledged. (Higgs)
Higgs states that Roy demonstrates the impact that the hierarchical inequalities of society exert on the populace. This critic argues that the importance should be placed on the police brutality as well and how it has been inflicted upon these characters. These inequalities of society can be seen best between Sophie Mol and Velutha to yield a better understanding of the critical conversations. Critics like Veena Shukla in “Untouchability and Social Exclusion in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997)” relate the difference between touchables and untouchables back to the caste system. Shukla explains the caste system as “a social system in which people were divided into separate close communities” (Shukla 963). In India, these separate and close communities were differentiated by the color of their skin due to the fact that the lighter the skin of a group of individuals, the more likely they were to be of white descent. Priya Menon from “Asserting the Local: White Subversions in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things” makes note of the colonialization within the novels. She argues that this colonialization urges the characters of the novel to love what is white and to strive to be white, even though they may know that it is wrong. These two critical camps when viewed alongside one another allow the reader to see both sides of situation which is arguably why Roy allows to readers to view characters from both the perspective of society and the narrator.
Sophie Mol’s character is placed higher above the other characters within the novel because she is the “touchable” and the colonizer. She is first introduced to the novel through her death. The narrator states the exact reason for this when stating that “It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for so much longer than the memory of the life that it purloined. Over the years, as the memory of Sophie Mol… slowly faded, the Loss of Sophie Mol grew robust and alive. It was always there” (Roy 17). The narrator is stating that Sophie Mol’s extreme impact on Rahel’s life and everyone around here did not just stop once she passed away. It continued to stick with them throughout the remainder of their own lives and affect them in many ways. Her death is so prominent to everyone within the novel because she is “more loved.” The loves stem from the fact that she was born half white and half Indian, unlike everyone else in the novel. She is the colonizer. Allowing the adults to favor her, the novel describes her as, “bell-bottomed and Loved from the Beginning” (Roy 129). This was how society was supposed to see Sophie Mol. Shukla explains the reasoning for the touchables obtaining more “love” in her article. She states that, “Throughout the novel, we witness numerous encounters between these two, and ultimately, it is the one occupying the upper position in the domestic and the social hierarchy, which emerges as a winner” (Shukla 965). For Shukla the “two” being discussed are the touchables and untouchables, which can also be seen as Sophie Mol and Velutha when deciphering who is victim and who is villain of the novel. According to Shukla’s explanation and to society Sophie Mol is the victim since she is in the upper position. The novel defines Sophie Mol’s name throughout its entirety as the “wise little girl”. The narrator even refers to Sophie this way, “the seeker of small wisdoms” (Roy 17). She was given a name at birth that would set her apart from the rest of society, much like her biological makeup. In every way she has been placed in a privileged sphere of society. Sophie Mol did not choose to be White and Indian, she did not choose for people to stage the play of life that they did for her benefit. This was the life that she was given. Due to this fact, although she had many who loved her, she also had many who hated her. Among those who hated her the most were her cousins, the people that she hoped to obtain love from. The ones who admired her pay no notice to the fact that she is “excluded” and “Lonely” (Roy 180). They all just assume “that the sweetcousins were playing hide-and-seek, like sweetcousins often do” (Roy 177). They fail to notice that the privileges that they are bestowing upon her are driving her and the people she wishes to be close with apart. This is also a key point of Sophie Mol’s victimization. This desire for true affection can be seen when Sophie Mol goes out of her way to find presents to give her cousins in hopes to win them over. “Sophie Mol eventually found what she had been looking for. Presents for her cousins.. To drive a hard bargain. To negotiate a friendship” (Roy 252-253). Even though the characters of the novel are pushing her away, she persists on trying to find a common ground with those who mean the most to her. The only character in the novel that treats her like everyone else is Velutha, otherwise everyone else shows her an enormous amount of love and attention or none at all. This was not a life that Sophie Mol had asked for, it is the one that she was given and this is why she is the victim of society.
In juxtaposition to Sophie Mol is society’s villain, Velutha. Much like Sophie Mol, Velutha’s name also dictated much of his life. The narrator states that it “means White in Malayalam – because he was so black” (Roy 70). He was given a name at birth that would hopefully allow him some respect in a society that would take all if it away due to the color of his skin. Society marks Velutha as an untouchable:
like other untouchable, were not allowed to walk on public roads, not allowed to cover their upper bodies, not allowed to carry umbrellas. They had to put their hands over their mouths when they spoke, to divert their polluted breath away from those whom they addressed. (Roy 71)
The color of Velutha’s skin has marked him as a villain, and to associate with him would be to take on his villainous qualities. As a result, he must be feared by society. Society spends the majority of the novel trying to permit “public humiliation on Velutha” (Roy 78). The only people who truly get to know him for who he really is are those closest to him. In society’s effort to put humiliation onto him it is of no surprise to the reader when “Baby Kochamma misrepresented the relationship between Ammu and Velutha” (Roy 245). When Baby Kochamma takes matters into her own hands it is the police brutality that is lashed out onto Velutha that allows the reader to truly understand just how villainous he is in the eyes of society. Rahel describes Velutha’s final moments before death as “The abyss where anger should have been. The sober, steady brutality, the economy of it all” (Roy 292). Due to the fact that Velutha is hated by society, it is not out of character for the police who bring him to his final moments of life to act as though his death means nothing. They murder him as though his life did not matter and that is because to society, it did not. The violence that is acted out onto him is shocking to most readers, but it is not shocking to the police because this was their job, the social norm and what was expected. They are trained to know of nothing else. The caste system and maintaining this hierarchy is what was most important to the people.
Through the eyes of the narrator, who often follows Rahel, Sophie Mol is viewed as the villain. This is due to the fact that Rahel, herself, always felt “Loved a Little Less” (Roy 177). For Rahel, Sophie Mol’s Colonial privilege affected her negatively. Sophie Mol was born half White and half Indian It is shown throughout the novel that Rahel grows to become quite jealous of her, but in an effort to stay “loved” with Ammu she tried “to not attract the attention that she deserved” (Roy 139). Throughout the entire novel the reader is presented with characters who are constantly trying to impress Sophie Mol and/or be more like her. Piyra Menon in “Asserting the Local: White Subversions in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things” states that
Even though the text is set in postcolonial Kerala , most of the Ipe family members continue to ascribe to white values. The local subjects struggle within an environment shouting whiteness representing those that have learned to value themselves on as imitators of whiteness. (Menon, 69)
While this is true, it is also possible that this is the reason that Rahel views Sophie Mol as villain. She feels that Sophie Mol does not deserve any of the extra attention. All of the interactions between Sophie and Rahel are either retold from a child’s perspective or from an adult looking back on her childhood feelings. It is understandable why Rahel did not favor Sophie Mol since at such a young age she did not yet understand the caste system or colonization. A biased towards someone who is different than yourself is a learned behavior, and as a child Rahel just did not understand. The book is arguably stating that it is better this way. It allows the reader to question if Sophie Mol should even be favored because when viewing her through Rahel’s eyes it is clear that she is not a desirable character. In the heat of the moment Sophie Mol herself makes racist comments stating that, “You’re both whole wogs and I’m a half one” (Roy 17), “wog” being a negative term to describe Indians. Sophie Mol’s character is not one that readers are intended to like. As easy as it may be for a reader to not like her character for causing Rahel so much jealousy and grief it can also easily be missed that she is more than just a villain in the novel. She is also a very intelligent character who falls victim to many of her privileges.
In the eyes of the narrator, Velutha is the victim. This is also how Shukla views him. She states that “Despite the fact that Velutha is a highly talented person with proven skills of carpentary, yet he what he gets in life is the social exclusion” (Shukla 966). He never receives the recognition that the narrator of the novel and the other characters in his life feel that he deserves. Velutha is first introduced to the novel as a man with a “luckt leaf” birthmark, “a lucky leaf that wasn’t lucky enough” (Roy 70). From the very start it is made apparent to the reader that the narrator feels as though Velutha’s fate would be unfair. Unlike Sophie Mol, Velutha is a character that Rahel feels safe with, someone she cared much about. She states that “they had grown to be the best of friends. They were forbidden from visiting his house, but they did. They would sit with him for hours” (Roy 75). When things were not going well for her “She thought of Velutha and wished she was with him” (Roy 141). When she is asked about him she describes him as “A man we love” (Roy 144). It is Velutha’s unappreciated character that attracts Rahel to him as a person. She feels as though he represents everything and everyone who does not get the respect they deserve due to society’s unfair hierarchy. She claims that he is “the God of Small Things” (Roy 210). The narrator’s victim and society’s villain takes on the most important title to the novel. His story is arguably the most essential. The characters break down the walls of the love laws. Ammu had “To love by night the man her children loved by day” (Roy 193). Despite the fact that Rahel and her family think so highly of Velutha, see him at his most vulnerable and still appreciate and love him for it, they can never allow the world to see and know their true feelings about him because of society’s expectations and norms.
While the critics tend to focus more on the brutality and trauma of the novels, viewing how the seemingly less important caste system influenced these feelings is just as important. Roy presents the reader with two sides to her story, through Rahel and through society. Through society the reader is encouraged to see these characters for what they were expected to be seen as, but to view them through Rahel is to see them as who they truly are. Neither character is wholly victim or villain, they are a combination of the two. These characters were placed into a world where, despite their personalities, would either be hated or loved due to their physical and biological makeup. These views cloud the reader’s judgment and force an opinion onto the reader about what is expected. Roy allows the reader to make their own judgment of the characters when giving both lenses to look through. While society might not be a reliable moral compass within The God of Small Things, neither is Rahel and her opinion. There are two sides to every story, and even though the Caste system created a dystopia for the characters it also reflects back greatly on how society truly was. This message is what is important and is what Roy was trying to exemplify within her novel.
Higgs, Kerryn. “”Review: Who’s a Terrorisit?” Reviewed Work “Walking with the Comrades by Arundhati Roy”.” The Women’s Review of Books 29.3 (May/June 2012): 24-26. JSTOR. Web. 7 May 2016.
Menon, Priya. “Asserting the Local: White Subversions in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small
Things”. Atenea. Vol. 31. Dec. 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.
Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York: Harper Perennial, 1998. Print.
Shukla, Veena. “Untouchability and Social Exclusion in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small
Things (1997).” Journal of Alternative Perspectives in The Social Sciences 1.3 (2009):
963-967. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.
Siddiqi, Yumna. “Police and Postcolonial Rationality in Amitac Gosh’s “The Circle of Reason”.” Cultural Critiqe 50th ser. (Winter 2002): 175-211. JSTOR. Web.
It’s Always “Ten to Two” Somewhere: Time in The God of Small Things
Perception of time plays a peculiar role in The God of Small Things, serving both as linear force, dragging the plot along with it, and as a proverbial tar pit, ensnaring and preserving a moment and time. The entire Kochamma family seems stuck in the latter; their ideology of familial superiority no longer matching their present circumstances by the end of the novel. In this way, the Kochamma family’s fall from grace can be viewed as a divergence of Time and Perception of Time, with Time carrying India towards the revolution of modernity and Perception holding the Kochamma family firmly in the past, clinging onto the ghosts of former glory in a vain attempt to maintain a reputation of power and means.
The first indicator of the Kochamma family’s apprehension of time is the non-linear way in which the novel is written, forcing mention of past success as if to offset the steadily lowering fortune of the family. With reoccurring pseudo-flashbacks, each of the elder Kochammas finds solace from the fear of the present by reminiscing and dwelling in the past. Chacko does so with his days as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, pining for Margaret yet content in his suffering. Baby Kochamma is left yearning for the yesteryears of prosperity while sitting stagnant on her couch, entranced with the superficiality of television. Estha is entrapped in the moment he lost his innocence in the cinema, missing the simplicity of childhood. Even Pappachi, the patriarch of the family, was privately awed by his father the reverend. Rahel was a different matter; actively attempting to flee the history of her family, she came the closest to normalcy. Her boarding school years (however flawed) pushed her further and further away from her family’s influence until, after alighting in Washington D.C., Rahel gave in to the undeniable pull of familial history and returned once more to Ayemenem.
There were, however, exceptions whose contrasting approach strengthens the point, two being Ammu and Velutha. Ammu only evaded the black hole of the Kochamma family history through flight into her own fantasy. Velutha was a force of time in himself. He offered her an escape from tradition, and escape from her societal role, and, most importantly, escape from the past. With Velutha, there were no flashbacks simply because there was no need for Ammu to attempt to obscure the present with the past when she was with him. Together, they made time unnecessary; they had no reason to burden themselves with history since societal norms had already made their relationship publicly impossible. The only viable force left was their emotions: “Somehow, by not mentioning his name, she knew that she had drawn him into the tousled intimacy of that blue cross-stitch afternoon and the song from the tangerine transistor. By not mentioning his name, she sensed that a pact had been forged between her Dream and the World” (210).
The third individual left unhindered by time was Sophie Mol. A visitor to Ayemenem, she had no perception of her role in the Kochamma lineage, and death is the greatest liberator of the soul from Time. Even before her sudden departure, Sophie Mol retained an air of inquisitive aloofness regarding Ayemenem, the Kochamma house, and its inhabitants. By refusing to accept her familial ties, she effectively isolated herself from any influence from the family’s past. Her death was the ultimate event which made her immune to the pull of both Time and the Kochamma family’s influence. With only the memory of her existence remaining, her identity could not be altered by time or family in the way the other characters’ identities were. A perfect example involves Sophie Mol’s funeral: “As they lowered Sophie Mol’s coffin into the ground in the little cemetery behind the church, Rahel knew that she still wasn’t dead” (8). Her memory never died, but physical death meant that it could never change. From the moment she died, Sophie Mol’s identity would remain the same, freeing her from the ravages of both time and familial influence.
This refusal/inability to change can be most aptly represented by the toy watch that Rahel and Estha played with in their youth. It is explained that “The wristwatch had the time painted on it. Ten to two. One of her ambitions was to own a watch on which she could change the time whenever she wanted to (which according to her was what Time was meant for in the first place)” (12). This single object can be used as a metaphor for Time and the Perception of Time throughout the entire novel: a mockery of the real thing, the toy watch merely mimics the passage of time, leaving the wearer oblivious as to his or her current place in time. This simple idea can be projected onto the Kochamma family as a whole, since the family actively uses time and memories to create a false sense of reality mirroring a bygone lifestyle and societal status. Rahel’s ultimate return marks an end to the period of limbo for the Kochamma family.
After her return from Washington D.C., Rahel is greeted by a changed Ayemenem; a thriving tourist industry having overtaken the village, the only remnants of its former glory were the ruins of the Paradise Pickles and Preserves factory and the toy watch: “Something lay buried in the ground. Under grass. Under twenty-three years of June rain. A small forgotten thing. Nothing that the world would miss. A child’s plastic wristwatch with the time painted on it” (121). Buried by mud, forgotten by time, and built over by a modern India, the watch is a representation of the family’s final descent into history. This begs a further question. How would the events of the novel have been affected if the members of the Kochamma family had adjusted to the changing times by adopting a grounded sense of reality and following a linear time pattern instead of remaining steadfastly lodged in their own personal histories?
Growth, Confusion, and the Loss of Innocence: The Differing Roles of Childlike Narration in Roy’s The God of Small Things and Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury
One, a story about culture, class, family, and love laws, follows the lives of a pair of twins in Kerala, India as they learn one fateful December day how drastically “Things Can Change in a Day.” The other, a story about suicide and incestual desire, tells of the fall of the Compson family from four different perspectives. How can these two seemingly different novels – The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – possibly be related? In both novels, the reader finds himself reading a childlike account of the events that come to pass through the course of the novels. The lack of insight, limited use of modifiers, and simplistic sentence structure of Benjy’s section and the phonetic spelling, whimsical adjectives, and interspersed lines of children’s songs of The God of Small Things both serve to present the reader with childlike descriptions of the stories. However, they differ not only in the level of insight reached by each of the narrators by the conclusion of the novels, but also in the purpose of the childlike descriptions. In contrast to Benjy’s childlike narration that creates a sense of confusion within the reader that parallels his confusion, the childlike quality of Roy’s narration sophisticatedly creates a lightheartedness that starkly contrasts against the heavy tone and serious nature of the material, thus representing the gap between innocence and corruption.While Roy and Faulkner both present the reader with childlike renditions of the events, they approach and accomplish this task through differing methods. Faulkner chooses to tell the section “April Seventh, 1928” from the viewpoint of a mentally-challenged thirty-three-year-old-man. He writes simplistically: “Luster had some spools and he and Quentin fought and Quentin had the spools. Luster cried and Frony came and gave Luster a tin can to play with, and then I had the spools and Quentin fought me and I cried” (Faulkner 19). Within the span of two sentences, Benjy repeats the word spools three times, the verb fought two times, and the verb cried twice. There is no variation; he simply reuses the same word repeatedly when there are a plethora of synonyms that could easily have been substituted in its place. In addition, he only provides the reader with the bare essential facts necessary to formulate an understanding of the event. He gives the subject and the verb, but there are no adverbs and only a few adjectives. What color are the spools? What are they made of? These questions could easily be answered with the addition of a few adjectives, but adjectives are scarce in Benjy’s section. The limited vocabulary, virtual absence of modifiers, and simplistic sentence structure of Benjy categorizes his writing style as being characteristic of a child, for it lacks the sophistication usually associated with the more mature writing of an adult. Consisting mostly of nouns and verbs, his account of the events that pass does not extend beyond the mere reporting of the actions he witnesses and experiences. The lack of proper punctuation serves to portray his narration as a report. Luster asks Benjy: “Ain’t you going to help me find that quarter so I can go to the show tonight” (Faulkner 3). While the proper punctuation here should be a question mark, the end of the statement is punctuated with a period; this substitution flattens the speech so that there is no evidence of voice inflection or emotion. This flattening of speech shows that Benjy cannot distinguish between a question and normal speech – it is all the same to him. Thus, he is only able to report what he hears. Similarly, although he describes what he sees, he does not possess the capability to interpret the actions. For example, the novel opens with a scene in which the children are playing. Benjy describes: “Then they put the flag back and they went to the table and he hit and the other hit” (Faulkner 3). Although the word hit is a transitive verb, he uses it intransitively. Never does he mention what “they” are hitting – the direct object – or what the game is. It is only when Luster says “‘Here, caddie'” does the reader know that “they” are playing golf (Faulkner 3). Because of Faulkner’s decision to tell the story from the viewpoint of a mentally-challenged individual, the reader experiences the events as if he were looking through the eyes of a child.In contrast to Faulkner’s choice of simplicity, Roy incorporates phonetic spelling, whimsical adjectives, and interspersed lines of song into the narration to give it a childlike quality. Phrases such as “Their Prer NUN sea ayshun was perfect” and “cheerful chop-chop-chopping” cue the reader that the narrator is a child (Roy 147, 121). But it is interesting that the childlike quality conveys the message more effectively than if it had been absent. For example, in “Their Prer NUN sea ayshun was perfect,” the phonetic spelling of the word pronunciation emphasizes the pronunciation of the word, for it is only by saying “Prer NUN sea ayshun” aloud that the reader is able to realize that the broken group of syllables refers to the word pronunciation. By the time the reader finishes reading the word aloud, she has been forced to pause from the normal act of reading and finds herself engaged in a study of pronunciation of the word pronunciation, much like the manner in which they study pronunciation. Thus, the form in which the word is presented to the reader reinforces the content. And in “cheerful chop-chop-chopping,” the lengthening of the word chopping into “chop-chop-chopping” creates a sing-song quality that portrays the act of chopping as being cheerful, thus reiterating the adjective that precedes it; in other words, the style reinforces the content. Roy also uses whimsical adjectives as well. When the narrator describes a tune that Mammachi plays on her violin, she describes it as “A cloying, chocolate melody. Stickysweet, and meltybrown. Chocolate waves on a chocolate shore” (Roy 174). This metaphor may seem like nonsense at first, for what can chocolate possibly have in common with a melody? But it is not nonsensical, for both are rich; one is rich in taste while the other is rich in sound. Furthermore, it is fitting to describe the sound as a chocolate “wave” not only because sound resonates when the perfect pitch is attained, but also because sounds physically are waves that travel through the air. And to further elaborate upon the metaphor, as chocolate melts in one’s mouth, one can “melt” into the music as one relaxes and surrenders oneself to the swirling melodies that envelop its listeners. In addition, the interspersed lines of children’s songs throughout the work contribute to the childlike quality of the writing. As Rahel climbs up the stairs with Baby Kochamma, she sings the song “Popeye the Sailorman” and fills in “Dum Dums” whenever there are pauses. The interspersed lines of children’s songs, cheerful alliteration, and phonetic spelling that can be found throughout the narration all contribute to the formation of a playful, lighthearted, relaxed tone that portrays the innocence of childhood.However, while both narrations are childlike in their own manner, the childlike qualities serve different purposes in each novel. Faulkner’s decision to write Benjy’s section in the form of stream of consciousness and the lack of transitions between the rapid switching of scenes creates a sense of confusion within the reader. As the reader tackles the first page of the novel, he encounters the following passage: “‘Can’t you never crawl through here without snagging on that nail.’ Caddy uncaught me and we crawled through” (Faulkner 3). The two statements are obviously connected, for both are about Benjy being snagged on a nail, but the characters have changed. Where is Luster, and where does Caddy come from? The change in characters is the only clue that there has been a switching of scenes. That both scenes address the common topic of Benjy being snagged on a nail makes it difficult to notice that one sentence belongs to the narration of one scene while the other is related to an entirely different one – the switching of scenes is cleverly disguised. In reality, the first sentence takes place in the present, but the second takes place on December 25th, a day when Caddy and Benjy delivered a letter to Mrs. Patterson. Thus, the free association among the past and present experiences that Benjy makes confuses the reader so that the reader can properly focalize through the narrator by identifying with Benjy’s confusion. Benjy’s retardation prevents him from perceiving his surroundings as normal people do. Benjy blurs the boundaries between present reality and the past, so it is only fitting that the reader has difficulty distinguishing between the past and present, as Benjy does. Constantly throughout the novel, he lacks an awareness of his surroundings and of himself. Repeatedly, he doesn’t realize that its cold and has to have others tell him to put his hands in his pockets. The reader finds out about Benjy from cues of those around him. For example, through the phrase “What are you moaning about, Luster said,” the reader finds out that Benjy has been moaning (Faulkner 5). The reader is not provided with any information that Benjy himself does not have; she learns as Benjy learns. Since Benjy’s understanding of the events around him is minimal, the reader is provided merely with disordered fragments of information with which he has to struggle to piece together to form an understanding of the situation. Thus, the writing style of Benjy’s section creates confusion within the reader that parallel’s Benjy’s confusion that results from his diminished mental abilities.Unlike Faulkner, Roy uses the childlike narration not to parallel a particular character, but to create a stark contrast between the playful lightheartedness of the tone and the seriousness of the material under discussion. The day that the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man molests Estha, Estha has difficulty sleeping at night because he feels nauseous. Roy describes: “Estha Alone walked wearily to the bathroom. He vomited a clear, bitter, lemony, sparkly, fizzy liquid. The acrid aftertaste of a Little Man’s first encounter with Fear. Dum Dum” (Roy 113). Taken by itself, the phrase “Dum Dum” conveys a feeling of finality and portrays the seriousness of the situation. However, looking at the phrase in the context of the novel, the reader is forced to acknowledge that it is the same phrase that is in Rahel’s version of “Popeye the Sailorman.” Because of its origins in the song, the phrase carries with it a lightheartedness that starkly contrasts against the seriousness of Estha’s situation. That this phrase that adds humor to the children’s song is found at the end of this passage is unacceptable and cruel. It is a deliberate defiance, for its placement dramatically portrays the loss of a child’s innocence after he has been exposed to the cruel world. Estha had gone outside of the theatre so that he could joyfully sing a song from “The Sound of Music” in peace without disturbing anyone, but instead of experiencing the expected joy and delight from singing, he encounters Fear. What was lost that day can never be recovered. Thus, it is a statement about the cruel, corrupt world that steals away the innocence of its children. It is in this word that Estha suffers, an unsympathetic world in which while a child vomits out of disgust and fear, his mother ironically is smiling from pleasant dreams a few doors down the hall.The two narrators also differ in that while one grows in maturity and knowledge of the world, the other remains stagnant. The last paragraph of Benjy’s section begins as follows: “Father went to the door and looked at us again. Then the dark came back and he stood black in the door, and the door turned black again” (Faulkner 48). The simple structure, limited use of modifiers, and limited vocabulary characteristic of the style of Benjy’s section at the onset of the novel are still present in his narration at the end of his section in the novel. That his writing style has not changed shows that his level of maturity and knowledge of the world have not increased in any way.In contrast, the changing use of language and depth of insight of the narrator in The God of Small Things signal to the reader that the narrator has matured as a result of the events of the novel. An example of the changing use of language and development of insight is in the use of the phrase “Dum Dum” to signal that a lesson has been learned. The first time the narrator uses the phrase outside the context of the Popeye song is when the narrator responds to Ammu’s question of whether Rahel had learned her lesson yet. The narrator answers: “Rahel had: Excitement Always Leads to Tears. Dum Dum” (Roy 94). The first lesson learned is one of books, but as the story progresses, the “Dum Dum” phrases are encountered after life lessons are learned. For example, when the twins discover Sophie Mol is dead and come to the realization that they might go to jail, that realization is followed by a “Dum Dum.” And again when they witness the bloody death of Velutha, they learn two lessons: one, that “Blood barely shows on a Black Man (Dum Dum),” and two, “It smells though, sicksweet. Like old roses on a breeze (Dum Dum)” (Roy 293). The shift in placement of the “Dum Dum” phrases from after book lessons to after life lessons shows that they are acquiring more knowledge of the world and are becoming more mature. Moreover, this growth can also be seen through a comparison of the interpretations offered by the narrator of the same scene at different points in the novel. Towards the beginning of the novel, the twins witness a scene where a policeman taps the breasts of Ammu with his baton. The narrator responds by saying that “Inspector Thomas Mathew seemed to know whom he could pick on and whom he couldn’t. Policemen have that instinct” (Roy 10). The twins only see that the Inspector is humiliating their beloved mother, and so they think that the policeman is mean. However, when this scene is revisited later on in the novel, the narrator states: Later, when the real story reached Inspector Thomas Mathew, the fact that what the Paravan had taken from the Touchable Kingdom had not been snatched, but given, concerned him deeply. So after Sopie Mol’s funeral, when Ammu went to him with the twins to tell him that a mistake had been made and he tapped her breasts with his baton, it was not a policeman’s spontaneous brutishness on his part. He knew exactly what he was doing. It was a premeditated gesture, calculated to humiliate and terrorize her. An attempt to instill order into a world gone wrong (Roy 246).The later explanation conveys an understanding of society’s views and rules concerning the relationship between the Untouchables and Touchables and how their mother had broken those rules, whereas before they had only seen the cruelty of the policeman’s action. They are now able to see the action from the policeman’s and society’s point of view. This level of thought and insight are evidence that the narrator is more mature and knowledgeable of the way that society works. Thus, the narrator has changed from a naive, ignorant child to a person with a more mature mind and an understanding of society.Trying to find the similarities and differences between these two seemingly different works reminds me of the following quote by Virginia Woolf: “It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men… for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only? Ought not education to bring out and fortify the differences rather than the similarities? For we have too much likeness as it is…” Although this comment refers to the differences between the writing styles of men and women, its message can also be applied to the different cultural writing styles that exist as well. The ability of both authors to utilize the unique qualities of their writing styles to create distinctly different childlike narratives serving different purposes are evidence of their creativity and innovation. As we study the characteristics, purpose, and effectiveness of one writing style versus another, we should also take the time to celebrate the rich diversity and variety in the different language styles that exist around the world.Works CitedFaulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994.Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York: Harper Perennial, 1997.