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.
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