Analysis of two books: the god of small things by aruadhati roy and the passion by jeanette winterson
The focal point of this paper is to analyze and evaluate the two books “The god of small things” by Arundhati Roy and “The passion” by Jeanette Winterson. The main part of the paper would encircle, develop and sustain the original argument relating to the theme of reason behind authors’ portray those who breach societal expectations in states of suffering or enduring extreme lose and also the reason behind the authors’ comment on societal dictate.
The first text in contention is the book by Jeanette Winterson. “The passion” was published by Grove Press in August 7, 1997. This is a novel about a farm boy named Henri who happened to join the royal French army during the era of Napoleon. In fact, the novel starts with Henri being recruited by the army amidst the Napoleonic wars. In the army Henri is appointed as a cook and soon becomes very close to his childhood icon, Napoleon.
Being a cook it is no wonder that the novel starts with the depiction of the Emperor’s fondness for chickens. The narrator elaborates that “It was Napoleon who had such a passion for chicken that he kept his chefs working around the clock.” (Winterson, 1)
The immediate effect of this line drives the reader towards the parameters of the text and though the subject is an emperor the main focal point is shifted towards the cook in a subconscious state of the reader. The text thus becomes a sub-alter mechanism with this simple line. However, the story follows Henri during his activities in the brutal fate of the infamous Russian Campaign where, in Russia, the young cook comes across a young woman who was sold to act as a prostitute in the French army by her husband. She was from Venice and her name was Villenelle. Soon after the entrance of Villenelle the reader comes across another important character named Partick. He was a priest but was expelled from the church because of his sexual enthusiasm in nuns and women worshippers. These three people felt that the war was going in an undesirable direction and decided to quit the army secretly. They starts their journey back home only to be confronted by several obstacle among which Villenelle’s husband was the prime problem maker as he was instrumental in taking revenge. (Fletcher, 188)
It should be mentioned that this 176 page book is divided into 4 chapters: The Emperor, The Queen of spade, The zero winter and The Rock and can be enumerated as a thoughtful book as the tone of the text is constructed in accordance to a research paper where the 19th century time period is depicted with extremely high skill and information.
This book presents a wide range of sexual orientations including elements of lesbians and rape. Here we find marriage that is virtually inconvenient in nature and extramarital sex and affairs becomes the norm of the proceedings. In a way the readers of this book should be basically adult or young adults as the description of sexual acts are not entirely vivid. However, it should be mentioned that the novel covers a huge area from France to Italy and parts of Eastern Europe with the background of war and conflict as a setting. It can be said that the book is written in rotating first person but mostly written in lots of forward and flashbacks with approach of letters, diary or a journal. The dialogues present are almost equivalent with the descriptions and narrations. (Dollard, 89-90)
But in presenting all these elements the author harvests a good amount of sympathy for the protagonist character, Henri even though we find him involved in romance that is promiscuous, unethical and unlawful at the time. His relation with the prostitute appears sinful but the author is at no occasion unsympathetic about either him or Villenelle and her profound humane approach wins the hearts of the reader. The author puts Henri at the midst of bloody war but paints him with compassion when he mentions that “I am no coward and I have seen plenty of mutilation on our firms but I was not prepared for the silence. Not even a rustle. They could have been dead, should have been dead, but for the eyes.” (Winterson, 6) This makes the character more familiar to the reader and makes him more at home with his sense of humanity in the age of blood and victory. The author even narrates scenes where we find the chef lamenting his past life of peace by mentioning that “our village holds a bonfire every year at the end of the winter…there would be plenty of wine and dancing and a sweetheart in the heart”. (Winterson, 7) He thinks of all these even when he is kicked by the military boot and is made to work.
This is no story of a killer or a licentious person who is eager to break rules of the society rather tries to survive among mass killing and perils and in the process tries to hold on to a love. In his own words Henri mentions that “I was homesick from the start. I missed my mother. I missed the hill where the sun slants across the valley”. (Winterson, 6) But no matter how sympathetic the character may appear the author narrates the characters and condemns for the breach societal expectations with toil and sufferings. The sexual acts that Henri was involved, or for that matter Villenelle was involved, are not of real concerns of today but the Napoleonic era was different and thus the author portrayed the characters in such a manner and in accordance to the values of the time. To be justified towards the story and to be true to the characters the author had to present them in such a manner. (Dollard, 91-92)
In a similar motion “The god of small things” could also be narrated as a text that is harsh towards the characters involved in illegitimate sexual actions. In this case it is incest and sub marital sexual intercourse. This novel by Arundhati Roy was published in May 1, 1998 by Harper Perennial.
This 336 page novel is divided into 21 chapters with strange names like Paradise, Pickels & Preserves, Pappachi’s Moth, Big man the Laltain small man the Mombatti, Cochin kangaroos, Wisdom exercise notebooks, Work is struggle and Cost of living. It is possible that Roy presents such chapter headings to send a vibe of Indian exoticness into the reader’s mind where the flavor of faraway lands becomes visible with the usage of words. No wonder the novel starts with the mention of the blazing heat of Indian summer by narrating that “May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month.” (Roy, 1) It is a technique that is to engulf the readers to read deep into the text to get the feel of the environment. In the same context it should be mentioned that the author presents a lot of imageries that are synonymous or identifiable by western readers as predominantly Indian. These elements are spread all over the novel and most of the time these ingredients are unmistakably description of front verandah on a warm evening or back verandah at night. There are also typical materials like mangosteen tree, mounded bison head, inflatable goose, banana jam and spoiled puff that are meticulously implanted to produce an essence of Indian culture and the vibe of a distant land. (Lamb, 243-244)
However, the approach of Roy while depicting the characters responsible for breaching societal expectations in states of suffering or enduring extreme lose and also the reason behind the authors’ comment on societal dictate is quite different from that of the author of “The Passion”. The main reason behind this is to develop an essence of Indian society where illegal sexual intercourse is prohibited to the point of sacrilege. This way the sexual act, whether with the brother or the low born man is portrayed in more lyrical manner than passionate. Lines like “the river flowing down his body” (Roy, 360) creates more poetry than passion and it could thus be mentioned that the author was more concerned about the social impact of immoral sex than anything else thus kept away from describing the sexual acts in a realistic format. (Lamb, 245)
But nevertheless, Roy is brutal towards the characters in her narration as an indication that people indulging in improper intercourses are to be punished not just from the point of view of the society but from inside their own self. It can always be mentioned that this depiction of the own self or the punishment implied by the own self is predominantly formulated by the society itself where the punishment for sacrilege is induced from inside. Roy makes sure that each action of incident is presented in a metaphor that looms of the characters while development of any incident takes place. With indications like “the baby bat flew up into the sky and turned into a jet plane without a crisscrossing trail” (Roy, 8) the author presents a growing sense of darkness or evil, in terms of the social doctrines, as if the social norms are watching every bit of action taken by the human character. Roy even takes up the imagery of a jet which intentionally reminds us that this is not a story of a by gone era but a contemporary narration where the decorum approach of the social order is automatic and unavoidable. (Kar, 145)
In the same context Roy never fails to remind the readers that the western religion, like Christianity, in a land, where beliefs are treated as unbreakable, turns into a fragmented custom of the local population and becomes a different religion altogether. She mentions the funeral rituals by mentioning that “the sad singing started again and they sang the same verse twice. And once again the yellow church swelled with voice”. (Roy, 8) Here the demise of a character is structured in such a manner that the implication of the church itself appears to be less than holy or sanctimonious. The color yellow itself is detrimental with the tone of the author and mourning sequences makes it even gloomy. This again is an indication of punishment that is looming over the characters even before the sexual promiscuity had actually been performed. It is no wonder that Roy makes the characters suffer as it evokes a justification at the end in a moral manner though no matter how dark or unforgiving the moral may be. (King, 126)
Both these novels, “The god of small things” by Arundhati Roy and “The passion” by Jeanette Winterson, present a vibe that the authors are acting as a social soul where there is every chance of being punished or being penalized if a character breaks the laid down rule of the society. It is as if that the authors mention loudly that there is no forgiveness or compassion in the society for the sinner and once an individual is sinned it is obvious that the individual would be condemned even if the news of adultery is not made public. For these two authors it is the sin of the mind or the fear of sin in the mind that is most instrumental while punishment is induced. It can be the environment, the society or even the self that would pay one for the misdeeds in accordance to the laid down norms. There is no hiding at all because no one can hide from himself, or herself, as the case may be. In general, both the books are recommended for readers of good literature.
Winterson, Jeanette; The passion; Grove Press; August 7, 1997
Roy, Arundhati; The God of small things; Harper Perennial; May 1, 1998
Dollard, John; Modern Literature: A look into Tomorrow. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 2006)
Fletcher, R; Beliefs and Knowledge: Believing and Knowing. (Mangalore: Howard & Price. 2006)
Kar, P; History of Metaphor and related applications (Kolkata: Dasgupta & Chatterjee 2005)
King, H; Literature Today (Chennai: HBT & Brooks Ltd. 2005)
Lamb, Davis; Cult to Culture: The Development of Civilization on the Strategic Strata. (Delhi: National Book Trust. 2004)
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