Social and Class Obligations in The God of Small Things
In The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, the novel takes place in postcolonial India where an outlawed caste system still dictates India’ society. The premise of the caste system is to separate the lower class, or the Untouchables, from the upper class, and other classes in between. Roy depicts the Untouchables, also known as the Paravan, and women of the upper class, as marginalized groups. The untouchables are deprived from basic human rights that the upper class has and are treated with disrespect. Similarly, women, even from the upper class are too treated with a level of disrespect. Written in the 1990’s, but is written in a nonlinear style that jumps between the 1960’s and the 1990’s, the novel explains the struggles, differences and inequalities that the Untouchables face, and also the hardships women face from conflicting opinion from India’s caste built system. Roy uses the themes of social obligation and class to explain to readers how women and lower class citizens are magnified.
The themes of class and social obligations is important as the caste systems runs India’s society. India’s society was built upon the very strict caste system which set boundaries and laws to separate and label India’s population. In The God of Small Things, India is no longer legally dictated by the caste system, however the ideas of the caste still remain and dictate the characters lives in what they can and cannot do. However characters such as Ammu and Velutha, who come from very marginalized groups, also try and break free from their caste and rebell from the common ideas of society.
Roy first writes the character Velutha in 1969, as Baby Kochamma, Ammu, Rahel and Estha are driving to the movie theater to see the Sound of Music. Here we learn that Velutha is a communist and is also an Untouchable, which is the bottom cast of the cast system. Velutha works for Mammachi as a carpenter and is actually treated with some level of respect considering his caste status. Yet, most of Velutha’s life has been defined by his social status which hindered his abilities to move up the socal latter without being subjected to punishment. Strict laws called, “Love Laws”are put upon the cast which make relationships between different cast’s nearly impossible. Yet, when Ammu spots Velutha at Paradise Pickles and Preserves, she falls in love and soon starts a hidden relationship with Velutha. This is not only a big problem for Velutha as he is below Ammu, but poses many issues for Ammu due to her gender and strict laws of the cast. The theme of class is shown here as gender and social status hinders the ability of Ammu and Velutha to be together without consequences. Due to Velutha’s social class, he is natural ridiculed and seen as the bottom. Ammu is lowered due to the gende and is restricted on many levels of life.
Ammu, a female and unlike Velutha, is part of the upper class of the cast system. Ammu is mother to Estha and Rahel, and is daughter of Pappachi and Mammachi. Chacko is her older brother who, in contrast to Ammu, has a number of rights Ammu doesn’t due to her gender. Chacko attended Oxford College, while Ammu couldn’t get an education. Chacko married a white woman outsider of his cast, while Ammu married an abusive drunk within her cast named Baba. Eventually, Ammu divorces Baba to live back home with her parents and her two children. Although Ammu was denied and stigmatized because of her gender, she is a confident woman and even embraces her divorce. Her ability to rise above social stigma, leads her to fall in love with Velutha, and also leader her to break the “Love Laws.” Ammu’s social obligations as a woman, which are to follow the rules of the caste system and to prove honorable to the family, are broken. The romantic connection defies all ideas of the caste and the social boundaries put on her. And although her independent thinking proves her to be more resilient than marginalized, Ammu’s independence is taken away when she and Velutha were caught during their affair. And ultimately resulting in Ammu becoming stranded from her family and losing her lover.
This romance is arguably an escape for both Velutha and Ammu, from the strict rules of the cast system. It can be argued that Roy had purposely put the two marginalized groups together as Velutha and Ammu were written to have a romantic and secret relationship with one another. Ammu and Velutha would often meet at the history house across the river where they would focus on the small things in life as, “They knew that there was nowhere for them to go. They had nothing. No future.” The significance of the small things, although define the little things they would speak and observe in their time together, also defines them as people. Velutha was a “small thing” in the cast system and Ammu was a “small thing” within her family. The idea of Velutha and Ammu as small marginalised groups in society can be further seen with Velutha being beaten to death for being accused of a false crime, and partly for having a relationship with Ammu. Ammu then spent the rest of her life alone, with her lover dead and her two children taken away from her as she dies alone in a hotel room. The demise of both Velutha and Ammu are examples of the ultimate conclusion for both marginalized groups in society due to their class or gender. But their deaths were also examples of the consequences faced when classes act against what society expects from them as well. Further reinforcing the idea that they are nothing but small things in their world as society ultimately dictated their fate.
Arundhati Roy depicts the untouchables and women as marginalized groups within The God of Small Things. This can be explained with the characters Velutha and Ammu as they are marginalized, however they are rebelled against common ideas society put upon them. This rebellion ultimately causes Velutha’s death and Ammu’s lifetime of sorrow.
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