The God of Small Things
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.
Stop and Smell the Sicksweet Scent of Old Roses: Flower Symbolism and Tragedy in ‘The God of Small Things’
In The God of Small Things, Roy’s main characters Estha and Rahel Eapen face many tragedies during their youth. The non-linear plot of Roy’s novel causes readers to piece together the story once you get to the end. Many times throughout the novel, Roy provides recurring sights and smells that foreshadow tragedy to come. More specifically she mentions the “sicksweet smell of old roses on a breeze” (Pg. 145). At the climax of the book when the twins watch Velutha, their mother’s forbidden lover, and dear friend, get beaten to death they ironically smell the old roses for the first time. This is Roy laying out the association between old roses, and pain and loss. She explains that this is “History’s smell,” the sicksweet, or bittersweet, smell that history gives off. This may be the first time that the twins encounter this smell, but it is definitely not the last as it follows them as a reminder of History’s affect on their lives. Roses, known as being a well known symbol of love, is turned upside down into a nasty after smell of the pain and loss the twins face starting with Velutha but definitely not ending there. Estha and Rahel are constantly feeling the affects of History and Roy uses the “sicksweet smell of old roses on a breeze,” as a way of presenting the long-lasting effects of pain and loss that come with History.
While Roy mostly develops the smell of old roses as a metaphorical symbol, literal roses appear early on, and are significant in setting up the terror to come. The cousin of the twins, Sophie Mol, is one of the most admired characters in the novel by the Eapen family. They call her arrival the, “What will Sophie Mol Think,” week (pg. 65). As all the characters are rehearsed and ready to act on their best behavior they go with Chacko, Sophie Mol’s father, to the airport to greet her. Ironically, to give to Sophie Mol as gift, “From the Sea Queen florist Chacko had bought two red roses” (pg.66). This makes readers flashback to the Terror when the twins smell the old roses following the loss of someone that we later find out is Velutha, and now linking that moment to Sophie Mol. As a pivotal character, and the whole reason the twins are on the other side of the river when Velutha gets beaten, it is fair to assume that Roy lays out this connection as a way to foreshadow Sophie Mol’s role in the tragedy that haunts the twins way past their youth. The second rose that Chacko has he gives to Margaret Kochamma. This is another way of Roy foreshadowing because what is soon to come is the loss of her only child directly following the loss of her husband. Two roses, both given to people who are soon to cause pain and suffer great loss. There are the roses that go old and cause the sicksweet smell. This is the start of how History shows its truly evil effect on this family, and sadly they do not even know it yet.
Roy also begins to develop the roses symbolically to represent the pain inside Ammu caused by her forbidden love with Velutha. While the twins ran off to see Velutha, Ammu was at home taking a nap. During this nap Ammu describes her dream in which she sees Velutha and desperately longs for him to be with her. She dreams of them together “skin to skin,” and hopelessly wishes that she could be with him. Towards the end of her dream Ammu, “…pressed roses from the blue cross-stitch counterpane on her cheek” (pg.104). The dream that she has makes her extremely happy but the roses are a way to underscore that happiness and bring her back to the sad reality of her situation. The roses pressing against her skin right before she senses her children near represents how while she may be able to dream of being with Velutha, because of how History has created the love laws she will never be able to fulfill her fantasies, causing her to suffer through great pain. The roses pressing against her skin are not real, real roses wilt and rot eventually further representing how the love in this novel does not last. When she wakes up her children are in distress scared that their mother has just had an “afternoon-mare,” and she looks a mess. Estha proclaims that his mother, “looked so sad,” but Ammu tries to assure him that she was happy. While Velutha brings much pain to stay away from he also brings Ammu a great amount of joy making it even harder for her to separate herself. By the end of this moment with Ammu and the kids she ends up with, “the blue cross-stitch darkness laced with edges of light, with cross-stitch roses on her sleepy cheek,” while they all sing to the tangerine radio. Ammu feeling some level of contentedness just having seen her lover in a dream but also carrying with her the long-lasting pain that History has caused.
Following the funeral for Sophie Mol, the separation of the twins is extremely traumatizing for them both, and warrants the reappearance of Roy’s symbol for pain and loss. Ammu decides, with pressure from Baby Kochamma, that it is best for Estha to be Returned to spend time with his father, separating the twins from each other for the first time since birth. When describing Estha on his way to his father Roy describes that there was, “Rain. Rushing, inky water. And a smell. Sicksweet. Like old roses on a breeze” (pg. 16). This familiar smell of old roses while Estha is feeling the pain and loss of leaving his sister behind while he goes to live with people he has never met. He is smelling History in this moment because he begins to reminisce about the Terror, Roy describing that Estha now has, “…the memory of a young man with an old man’s mouth” (pg.16) Estha may be young but he understands that the moment he caves into lying for Baby Kochamma, he had a part in hurting Velutha. No young man should have to make that decision, but the fact that he did gives him the perspective of an “old man” that he should not have had to experience.
During his Return Estha faces yet again another tragedy. He visits his old school friend, Khubchand, who falls extremely ill, and he decides to nurse him through the final weeks of his life. In some of Khubchand’s last moments Estha feels the pain of his dear friend about to slip away and begins to smell the, “…smell of old roses, blooded on memories of a broken man” (pg. 7). Khubchand being the broken man but also Estha being broken by the many losses he has faced in this short amount of time. Estha is left to cope with the loss of these people that he cared so deeply about and in return falls into silence that he still grapples with as an adult, further showing how History follows them through their lives.
Roy lays out the roses throughout the book but waits until the very end to reveal the initial tragedy that alters the way roses smell to the twins for the rest of their lives. The Terror that forever changes the path of their lives, causing the ultimate pain and loss. Starting with the beloved Sophie Mol drowning in the river, and ending with the death of their dear friend Velutha. They witness both horrible events not knowing the lasting impact it would end up having on them. Following the beating of Velutha, Estha says that he learns two lessons. The first that, “Blood barely shows on a Black Man,” and the second that the smell of pain and loss is distinctly, “Sicklysweet, Like old roses on a breeze” (pg. 145). These roses become a recurring reminder of the distress that he once had to face as a child. They also remind Estha and Rahel that History is constantly tormenting them with its harsh effects. Sicksweet old roses are a smell that lingers around the twins reminding them of the heartbreak they have faced.
Roy’s display of tragedies are a direct result of what History has set forth for the society they live in. When Estha and Rahel suffer through the loss of Sophie Mol and Velutha their world is thrown off the hinges and changed forever. The smell that Roy reiterates during every hardship is the memorable smell of sicksweet old roses and she lays that out to represent the resilient effects of history. Even within a civilization with a rich or proud heritage, that fact is that humans will constantly have to deal with the decisions made long ago, similar to how Rahel and Estha will continue to face the sicksweet smell of old roses on a breeze.
The Multifaceted Use of Color in The God of Small Things
In the novel The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy employs numerous irregular stylistic devices which aid in her telling of the story. Set in the small town of Ayamenem in post-colonial India, the non-linear narrative follows the journey of twin protagonists Rahel and Estha as they grapple with a fractured family life, political turmoil, and a caste system in full effect. The harrowing lives and emotions of the characters offer the reader a taste of what life was like in southern India amid cultural, political, and class tensions during the late 20th century. In order to illustrate this, Roy repeatedly utilizes the symbolic nature of color throughout the text, which has a manifold of purposes. Colors such as red and blue are not only used as instruments to depict Communism and British imperialism, but also to foreshadow looming uncertainty, whereas green and yellow are often used to signify moments of alarm or hardship. In addition to emphasizing the underlying themes in the novel, Roy’s vivid use of color acts as a conduit through which the underlying feelings of the characters are revealed and emotional connotations are signified in the text.
The ubiquitous presence of color in The God Of Small Things serves as an indicator of individual behavior as well as collective themes of power. Each color featured in the story holds communicative properties to the reader, which Roy capitalizes on again and again. In “The Art of Seeing,” Aldous Huxley explores this phenomenon, stating that “there is more to visual communications therefore than simply making an image for the eyes to perceive, it has to accommodate the mind of the person being communicated to. That is to say you are not merely making something to be perceived when visually communicating, you are fundamentally making something to be thought about” (Huxley). Within the novel, certain rich imagery triggers the reader to relate the text to broader motifs, which is clearly deliberate on Roy’s part. In fact, within the opening paragraph of the text, she features the first juxtaposition of red and blue by stating “red bananas open. bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air” (1). The reader is then immediately struck by Pappachi’s “skyblue Plymouth” (4) which we later find out was bought “from an old Englishman in Munnar” (47). Pappachi’s “revenge” car, preference for Western clothing, coupled with Chacko’s overt description of him as an Anglophile all force the reader to realize the connection between the color blue and British superiority. The interaction between red and blue is shown again as Mammachi grows “mounds of red chiles” (46), a demonstration of her subversive acts against Pappachi’s traditionalist views. In this instance, the color red evokes the rebellion and change that Mammachi embraces by opening the pickle factory against Pappachi’s conventional wishes. Roy shows red disrupting the color blue, or in Pappachi’s case, the older way of life in India.
In addition to using color as a symbol of character, Roy employs the ‘skyblue’ descriptor to depict the skies in conjunction with post-colonial India (it was a skyblue day ), suggesting that the remnants of British rule continue to envelop the country. The color red is likewise attached to the communist image, illustrated when on the same skyblue day, Rahel sees “pieces of red sky…And in the red sky, hot red kites wheeled, looking for rats. In their hooded yellow eyes there was a road and redflags marching” (76). Here, the disturbance of the blue sky by the red indicates a foreboding danger, as Rahel immediately after sees through her “yellow rimmed red plastic sunglasses” (37) the figure of Velutha “marching with a red flag at the level crossing outside Cochin” (79). It’s possible that Velutha’s bloody death later on in the story symbolizes the fall of Communism, just as the skyblue Plymouth falling into disuse after Pappachi’s death symbolizes the downfall of the family Anglophilia. Perhaps Roy was trying to emphasize that by extending beyond his caste in his relationship with Ammu, he was essentially reaching up towards the blue sky, and violating the traditionalist Indian authority. Roy routinely associates the color blue with the white character of Margaret Kochamma and the “beach-colored” (177) Sophie Mol. Their eyes are described as a “fresh, shining blue” and “bluegray-blue (136) respectively, and upon arrival at the family home they are greeted by a “blue-aproned army” (164). To the dismay of Rahel and Estha, both characters are adored by most of the Anglophilic family, enforcing once more their notion of British supremacy.
Throughout the story, Roy utilizes colors as tools to foreshadow impending events in each character’s timeline. In “The Use of Color in Literature: A Survey of Research” by Sigmund Skard, he touches on the idea that as the “most conspicuous elements,” colors “are entwined with the emotional and intellectual life of a man,” noting that over time man has “realized the relations to himself” (Skard 164). Roy takes advantage of this impact of color through the not so subtle hints that she places throughout the text. Red is specifically used to connote forthcoming perils. One such instance occurs when in the cinema hall, Estha watches Rahel “through the red Fornica door… watching mirrors till the red door took his sister away” (90). This illustrates the beginning of their detachment, hinting at the complete disunion that will happen down the road. Thus, the red acts a harbinger of the future heartbreak that both twins must endure. Moreover, red is used to warn the reader of Estha’s abuse by the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man. On the way into the theater, it’s recalled that “they had to rush up the red steps with the old red carpet. Red staircase with red spit stains in the red corner” (93). Yellow also signifies pain and misfortune, and is abundant throughout the text. It first appears when Sophie Mol is buried in her “yellow Crimplene bell-bottoms” (5) and again when Estha notices his abuser’s teeth, stating “His yellow teeth were magnets. They saw, they smiled, they sang, they smelled, they moved. They mesmerized” (98). Roy effectively uses the color yellow to instill dread in the reader, as we know what is coming later in the story. Finally, similar to her application of yellow, green is established as a color signifying hardship. Alluded through Sophie Mol’s death, the twins search for her but ultimately discover that “she was gone. Carried away on the muffled highway. Graygreen” (277), later finding “green weed” woven into her hair. Roy’s use of yellow and green motion to the reader that danger lies on the horizon, adding to the foreboding mood that pervades the novel.
Roy’s use of color at first glance seems like a simple implementation of imagery. Upon further investigation, it appears that her vivid use of color was designed to manipulate the reader into deciphering the underlying post-colonial themes and to aid us in gathering a larger meaning from the work as a whole. The multiplicities in her use of color provide for a more complex reading of the text, which creates both a richer understanding and a distinctive feel of the novel for the audience. Through her unconventional technique, Roy was able to take something as simple as color and give it a much deeper meaning.
The Trauma of Youth
Scientists often call the first few weeks of life for a duckling the “sensitive period” due to the uniqueness of this time. During these weeks, the duckling’s mind is the most impressionable that it will ever be; the sounds it hears in these weeks from other ducks will be the duckling’s call for life; the migration pattern it learns will be its path forever, and if the pattern is not learned, the duckling will never in its life have a path to follow with the change of the seasons. In The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, childhood is depicted as a time of life similar to that of a duckling’s. The story follows the lives of Rahel and Estha, twins whose lives are changed forever by events that take place over just a few days. Ultimately, Roy’s depiction of the tragedy in the context Rahel and Estha’s innocence serves to show the deep vulnerability and impressionability that is inherent in childhood.
Early in the novel, Roy depicts the fragileness of children’s concepts of their of self-worth, thereby showing the fragility of youth itself. Children often define who they are in the context of the important people around them, such as family. The love of a mother, sibling or friend easily translates into love for one’s self during the tumultuous years of childhood. When Rahel makes a petulant remark to her mother at the movie theater, Ammu responds darkly, telling Rahel that careless words make people love you a little less. The moment is significant in the development of Rahel’s character, and Roy writes that a “…cold moth with unusually dense dorsal tufts landed lightly on Rahel’s heart. Where its icy legs touched her, she got goose bumps. Six goose bumps on her careless heart” (Roy, 107). By using the moth as a metaphor for emotional impact of her mother’s words, Roy illustrates the feeling of “being loved a little less” with the chilling image of a frosty moth landing on a heart. The moth is a reoccurring element in the novel, showing that Ammu’s words have resonated with Rahel in her core. Ammu’s plight to earn back her mother’s love and her inability to forget the cold words show Rahel’s deep reliance on her mother for self-affirmation. Without her mother’s love, Rahel’s tenuous concept of her own self-worth is shattered. Moreover, a single comment by her mother has led Rahel to now believe her own heart is “careless”, despite the fact that Rahel’s petulant remark was a typical for a child. Later in the novel, the presence of Sophie Mol further brings Rahel to question her self-worth. With all the attention on the new British child, Rahel begins to compare herself to Sophie, whose presence leads Rahel to believe that “Littleangels were beach-colored and wore bell-bottoms. Littledemons were mudbrown in Airport-Fairy frocks with forehead bumps that might turn into horns” (Roy, 170). The shift in attention to Sophie leaves Rahel feeling worthless. The description of Sophie as a “beach-colored” angel contrasted with Rahel as a “mudbrown” demon highlights the fact that Rahel feels that she is a naughty and unlikeable child in comparison to Sophie, the white angel. Rahel even goes as far to mention the horns on her head, once again emphasizing the “demon” within that makes her seem unworthy of her mother’s love and attention.
The vulnerability inherent in childhood is underscored by childhood innocence that can leave young people vulnerable to harm and manipulation. During The Sound of Music, Estha leaves the theater alone because he cannot help but sing along to the words of the musical. This scene of pure childlike bliss as Estha sings alone is sharply contrasted with Estha’s subsequent molestation by a man who lures the boy in with the prospect of a free soda. Estha is unable to protect himself from the man’s advances, and he ultimately blames himself for what happened, fearing that “… if Ammu found out about what he had done with the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man, she’d love him less as well. Very much less. He felt the shame churning, heaving, turning sickness in his stomach” (Roy, 108). Because he is so young and innocent, Estha is unable to understand that he has been molested, and is made to believe that he has done something bad and shameful himself. A masked threat from his perpetrator leaves Estha in fear that his mother will find out, and love him less for what he misunderstands as his own wrongdoing. Roy further illustrates the susceptibility of young children to manipulation through an interaction with Baby Kochammama at the police station. Fearing punishment for lying about Velutha raping Ammu, Baby Kochammama saves herself by convincing the twins that they are at fault for Sophie’s death. She lies to them, explaining they could go to jail and bring endless suffering to Ammu because of their actions, ultimately giving them the choice between saving their mother or sending her to jail in order to coerce them into answering “yes” to the policeman’s question. The twins, after hearing the options, “whispered, ‘Save Ammu.’ In the years to come they would replay this scene in their heads… Had they been deceived into what they did? They hadn’t given it more than a second of thought before they looked up and said… ‘Save Ammu,’ Save us. Save our mother” (Roy, 302). This blatant lie by Baby Kochamamma that the children so easily believe demonstrates the gullibility of naïve children who have few real-world experiences. The fear and desperation with which they respond to Baby indicates how vulnerable the children are to her power, leading them to believe her lie. Moreover, the description of how the scene lingered in their thoughts shows that age eventually allowed them to escape from the bars of naïveté that, in childhood, kept them from understanding the situation and made them incriminate their best friend Velutha. Roy’s depiction of Baby, the man at the movie theater, as well as many other adults in the novel show manipulation or mistreatment of children. Thus, the theme of their helplessness and tenderness at such a young age, especially at the hands of flawed and sometimes dangerous adults, is present throughout the novel.
In the final chapters of the novel, Rahel and Estha, who are now adults, have intercourse. The text clarifies that no one could possibly say anything about the act to separate, “Sex from Love. Or Needs from Feelings” (Roy, 350). Despite the intimate nature of the scene in which the twins, “held each other close” and left a “semicircle of teeth marks” on a, “hard, honey colored shoulder”, the scene encapsulates the lasting consequences of the traumas inflicted upon the twins during childhood. While the act is described as one of love, the description that follows indicates that, “what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief” (Roy, 350). Rather than sharing joy as a product of love and intimacy, the act of incest is wrought from shared suffering. 23 years later, the pains from childhood are still raw and “hideous”, leaving the broken adults to mourn for their own suffering and grief.
Ultimately, the vulnerability of Rahel and Estha in The God of Small Things speak more broadly to the danger inherent in child-like innocence and the lasting impact that wounds from childhood can have for the rest of one’s life. Because Roy chooses to tell the story using a third-person omniscient narrator, the thoughts of the children are revealed in the text. While the reader can clearly see the manipulation and abuse the children face at the hands of the adults, the text illustrates the children’s inability to understand the rejection, manipulation and pain they face, leaving them unable to cope with this trauma. The story of Estha and Rahel speaks to the tragedy of childhood itself, depicting the journey through the first years of life as a time of great helplessness and pain that can resonate within an individual for life.
How Cruelty has an Impact on the Characters of The God of Small Things
Throughout the many relationships in Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things, love, both familial and romantic, is presented as a beautiful, cruel, unjust, and empowering aspect of life. The story, told through the eyes of the young twins, Rahel and Estha, takes place in post-colonial India where strife among class, religion, race and political ideologies runs rampant. As a result of this conflict, society has laid down the so-called “Love Laws” that are tested in the novel. In a non-chronological manner, the twins bear witness to severe pain when their lives are turned upside down time and time again due to clashing boundaries and the power of love. Cruelty in The God of Small Things, as a result of cultural love restrictions, reveals the vulnerability of young children, shaping them to be the indirect and emotional victims of society.
The “Love Laws”, which are so prominent in the novel, serve as consequential catalysts for the fate of relationships. Breaking them inflicts pain and suffering, while following them creates tension and constriction for the characters involved. For example, Pappachi and Mammachi’s relationship strictly follows the Love Laws since they are a result of a traditional marriage that wasn’t necessarily grounded on a basis of love. They live a life of enforced gender roles, and Pappachi is not scared to show his utmost authority over Mammachi. He ends up frequently beating her, and, by the end of his life, they have pretty much lost all feelings for each other. Mammachi cries at his funeral because she is use to his presence, not because she loves him which shows that Mammachi values familiarity and consistency, two main components of the “Love Laws”.
Contrary to Mammachi, Ammu ignores the “Love Laws” to pursue her feelings towards Velutha. Ammu, who comes from a successful and powerful family, crosses the line when she starts an affair with Velutha, an “untouchable” meaning he’s a member of a very low caste. Their relationship defies society since they come from very different backgrounds and situations. Based on the “Love Laws”, it isn’t the norm to marry outside of one’s caste, and it is even considered disrespectful for both sides. The relationship is discovered after Velutha’s father betrays him resulting in Velutha’s arrest and death. Ammu is left in shambles and never fully recovers from her heartbreak. In both relationships, one that follows the “Love Laws” and one that contradicts them, there are victims that are hurt by the cruelty of society and the expectations of love. Ultimately, the “Love Laws” are extreme measures that tend to prohibit happiness whether they are followed or not which demonstrates that society should not judge people’s romantic actions, as they lead to constricting agony.
As a result of the painful relationships that the adults in the novel partake in, Estha and Rahel are severely affected, and ultimately become the real victims of the cruelty inflicted on their family. Even though the situation with Velutha and Ammu ends in a tragic way for both of them, Estha and Rahel experience the most emotional pain and guilt from the horrible events that unfolded. Velutha might have been killed in a brutal and unjust way, but his death was more of a sacrifice. He died a martyr for the sake of the family and the ones he loved. By committing himself to a relationship with Ammu, he took a huge risk that made him choose love over safety making him one of the most courageous characters of the novel. However, his fate hurt the children significantly since they lost the only trustworthy adult role model they had. He represented both a father figure and a mother figure in their lives making his loss horribly devastating to the children. Ammu, who had already started to spiral downward, mentally clasps after the death of Velutha. She attempts to find a job while being unable to care for the twins, and eventually dies a lonely premature death. She fails to reconnect with her kids, and they have a hard time forgiving her for their neglect while growing up. What is more, the children were guilted into insuring his conviction by Baby Kochamma, leaving them with a feeling of resentment and loss for the rest of their lives. The aloofness of the adults such as Baby Kochamma and Ammu is what makes the situation even more cruel since Ammu doesn’t seem to ever consider the feelings of her children while risking her life for love, and Baby Kochamma doesn’t realize that they have a mind of their own for which they can figure out the truth of what they got themselves into by lying to the law enforcement.
As far as the story suggests, the children never fully recover from the devastation they witnessed at the age of nine, demonstrating their immense vulnerability at a young age. Ammu, who never truly recovers from heartbreak, becomes completely incapable of taking care of the twins. Estha is “Returned” to his alcoholic dad and, from that day on, he becomes a mute presumably due to the fact that he has been taken away from everyone he loves, in addition to feeling guilt over Velutha’s conviction. Rahel is left with her extended family where she is sent to various boarding schools. She gets kicked out of many of them showing her mental instability and lack of adult guidance. She later marries an American man named Larry and lives with him in Boston. They eventually divorce partly since Rahel seems preoccupied every time they make love. It is understood that Rahel is permanently scarred from the trauma of her childhood surrounding the idea of love. Once reunited, Rahel and Estha share a lot of intimate time together back in India, and they eventually goes as far as to sleeping together. This extreme measure is not out of love or lust, but out of pain. It represents a culmination of all the hardships that the twins have endured both together and separate throughout the years. The act is also a drastic action that goes against the “Love Laws”. It demonstrates that everything has come full circle. Sometimes, the cruelty that love has on characters can stay with them for years and come back to bite them in extreme measures such as incestuous sex. All in all, the lives of Rahel and Estha are severely changed due to them losing their innocence at such a age, making them victims of cruelty.
Estha and Rahel, being young children, are grievously affected by tragic relationships in the novel The God of Small Things. Although they do not suffer physical hardship, the cruelty that is present when young stays with them into their adult lives which shows the vulnerability of children and the power of that love can have.
The Role of Forbidden Love in 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 Love Laws
Roy’s “God of Small Things” is a work of literary genius that commentates on the difficulties and divisions created by Colonialism and, more broadly, the impact of western influence on the entirety of eastern culture. In the narrative, the idea of “love laws” that govern how the act of loving should be practiced is discussed and exemplified throughout personal character events along the narrative. The stories of characters including Ammu, Velutha, Estha, and Rahel often find difficulty in following the “love laws” as they seem unnatural. The characters are portrayed in a manner that supports civil disobedience in moderation for the purpose of challenging arbitrary rules set by humans in power that silence the powerless.
Roy lays down the love laws at the end of chapter one in the novel, explaining that these set of rules determine “who should be loved, and how. And how much.” (Roy 17) These laws control the intimacies of social behavior, controlling who should be talked to, who should be allowed into one’s home, who should be touched and more. The phrase quoted above is repeated essentially word-for-word in three times within the book. Each time, the repetition is used to further signify the extent at which these regulations are forced upon Indian society–everyday, over and over, again and again. These laws are integrated deeply into Indian society, appearing in rules of gender, family, and caste. As these laws forbid and create taboos about many types of human relationships, an intense curiosity and desire to see what occurs outside the forbidden boundaries can be created especially in those who have witnessed emotional trauma.
The narrative following the destructive path of the love laws sets out Ammu and Velutha to attempt to break down social oppression. Their relationship is perhaps the most blatant disobedience to the “love laws” within the entire story. Ammu and Velutha discover the immense struggle found throughout forbidden lust and desire. This struggle is emphasized through Ammu’s dream of the Velutha and the God of Small things represented by the being of the one-armed man. “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.” (Roy 104). The use of contradictory phrases highlights how confusing and frustrating it can be to travel beyond the boundaries set by society. Velutha’s sense of confusion is heightened by a sense of abandonment. The communist party spends a great deal of time promoting civil disobedience and attempts to appeal particularly to the lower classes of which velutha is part. However, the party fails to actually go through with this preaching as “the Marxists worked from within the communal divides, never challenging them, never appearing not to.” (Roy 32). Once Velutha had actually performed this act of rebellion, he no longer had Marxist support as he no longer fit into the “communal divides” in which the party was comfortable. While desire and curiosity often fuel the intention of social disobedience, the lack of support from any individual or community in society makes the act a difficult one to carry out.
Yet sometimes the fear of social shame is not enough to stop even the most disgraceful acts against the love laws. Estha and Rahel’s disturbing attempt to love each other after years of separation and emotional trauma exemplifies how, while their are certain aspects of the love laws that were meant to be broken, other parts should be forever avoided especially when the rebellion stems not from lust and desire but confused and battered emotions. The audience doesn’t understand much from the night that the twins made love. It is only understood “that there were tears. Only that Quietness and Emptiness fitted together like stacked spoons.” Only that what Estha and Rahel had “shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief.” (Roy 152). Roy’s repetitive use of powerful words with dark and hideous connotations emphasizes the principle that there are certain boundaries that, morally, should never be crossed. The twins’ histories of emotional destructive lives have created tendencies to carry out further emotionally unstable actions.
The necessity to challenge social oppression, however, is much better shown in Ammu and Velutha’s breaking of the love laws. While Estha and Rahel’s scene of lovemaking is full of negativity and grief, that of Ammu and Velutha is full of passion and joy. As they created a deep emotional and physical connection, Ammu “danced for him. On that boat-shaped piece of earth. She lived. He held her against him, resting his back against the mangosteen tree, while she cried and laughed at once.” Through this immensely sensual act, “seven years of oblivion lifted off her and flew into the shadows on weighty, quaking wings.” (Roy 157). This passionate scene is plentifully bestrewn with natural and animalistic imagery that depicts the instinctual purity of their forbidden relationship. While the consequences were grave, their prohibited acts were gave the character’s ends meaning. They died in the name of love and in the name of social progress. The somber fate of these characters is a tragedy, yet still is hopeful for a more socially accepting future.
Through the interpersonal struggles of individual characters, Arundhati Roy discusses the necessity to disregard the unwritten laws set by society, specifically against love. While love is a natural human force that is meant to transcend caste, gender and family responsibilities, there are certain laws that were never meant to broken such as those pertaining to incest. Ultimately, however, the artificial limits and boundaries often created by the influence of colonialism and western society should always be met with some level of noncompliance. There are many unjust rules and expectations placed upon powerless members of society. These laws must be broken if those without power should ever have a voice. The arbitrary rules set by humans to control other humans take power away from the weak, the emotional traumatized, and other hapless victims. The social constructs of the west and east will likely never cease without the help of civil disobedience and the desire to go beyond the boundaries set by the ignorant.