An Unsentimental Bildungsroman When one thinks of childhood, death and sadness are not usually the first words that come to mind. Bildungsroman is defined as a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character. It typically ends on a positive note, with the hero’s foolish mistakes and painful disappointments behind him and life of usefulness ahead (Wikipedia contributors).
In this essay, I will argue that The God of Small Things written by Arundhati Roy is in fact an unsentimental bildungsroman that closely depicts the tragic lives of Rahel and Estha and gives the naive readers who believe childhood consists of laughter and happiness a better understanding of the horrifying experiences that one’s childhood could entail.
To understand the significance of Estha and Rahel, the “two egg twins” in the novel, it is important to know their relationship is that of “one”. At the beginning of the story the author makes this very clear. 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” (4). This statement not only indicates the inescapable linkage these characters have, but also introduces the theme of the novel. Even as adults, there was never a time when they were not communicating, although they were thousands of miles apart. The twins were linked together in a way that no one would ever understand, not even Rahel’s husband. What Larry McCaslin saw in Rahel’s eyes was not despair at all, but a sort of enforced optimism. And a hollow where Estha’s words had been. He couldn’t be expected to understand that. That the emptiness in one twin was only a version of the quietness in the other. That the two things fitted together. Like stacked spoons. Like familiar lovers’ bodies” (21). The twins’ relationship is so intimately intertwined that they feel each other’s emptiness, sense each other’s desires. Throughout the novel the connection between the two grows and fades, but in the end the two are closer than ever.
Giving the readers a strong sense of the characters relationship from the beginning ominously creates the idea that these two are going to suffer extreme tragedy that will split them apart. Besides the love Estha and Rahel share for each other, the most crucial downfall to their tragic childhood is the lack of unconditional family love. If the two twins were accepted for who they were, the events that take place in this novel would have panned out much differently. Baby Kochamma, their Great Aunt proved that family love didn’t exist for these two characters. In the way the unfortunate sometimes dislike the co-unfortunate, Baby Kochamma disliked the twins, for she considered them doomed, fatherless waifs. Worse still, they were Half-Hindu Hybrids whom no self-respecting Syrian Christian would ever marry. ” (44). The only love laws that existed were those that stated who you could love, and how much. There were no love laws that expressed the love you needed for your family. The unconditional love that one needed to feel in order to love oneself. Baby Kochamma is the woman every mother tells their children about; when people aren’t nice to you, it is because they are insecure about themselves.
Her lack of British inheritance is the root cause for the hate she feels for the others who lack the same things she does. Throughout the novel Baby Kochamma has a strong dislike towards the twins. She will find any opportunity to humiliate them. They will never be good enough; they will never be Sophie Mol. “That whole week Baby Kochamma eavesdropped relentlessly on the twins’ private conversations, and whenever she caught them speaking in Malayalam, she levied a small fine which was deducted at source. From their pocket money.
She made them write lines – “impositions” she called them – I will always speak in English, I will always speak in English. A hundred times each” (36). Because Baby Kochamma finds the British language and culture inherently superior to India’s customs, she takes it out on the children. They are punished for being born into the Indian culture and ultimately disliked for it by their own family. This creates a fear for the twins’ that there is no such thing as love. Rahel even worries at one point that Ammu will love Sophie Mol more; that the love for her own child will reside because of the half British girl that is going to enter their lives. Chacko told the twins that, though he hated to admit it, they were all Anglophiles. They were a family of Anglophiles. Pointed in the wrong direction, trapped outside their own history unable to retrace their steps because their footprints had been swept away” (51). Hate surrounded Estha and Rahel because they weren’t British. As a child, one should be taught that you are loved for who you are and the people that cannot accept that are irrelevant to our lives. Unfortunately this family was taught that they were nothing because of who they are and the caste they were born into. Due to the lack of love within the family, the twins create life of quietness and emptiness with an unreal amount of tragedy in between. There are some things in life that no one, especially a seven-year-old child, should have to experience, ever. “’Now if you’ll kindly hold this for me,” the Orangedrink Lemondrink man said, handing Estha his penis through his soft white muslin dhoti, “I’ll get you your drink. Orange? Lemon? ” Estha held it because he had to’” (98). This is the moment in Estha’s life where he will silence himself from society. Haunted by the memory of this man and the fear that he will come find him consumes his thoughts.
His life is forever changed because of this instance that no one will ever understand, besides Rahel that is. “Rahel started towards him but something about the steady gaze in which he held her, made her shrink from him. So the redsteps once again. This time Rahel lagging. Slow. No I don’t want to go. A ton of bricks on a leash” (106). Rahel could sense within Estha’s voice that something was wrong with this man. The connection these two have is so strong that they can read each other through the tone in their voices and the gaze in their eyes, twin telepathy.
This is only just the beginning of the tragic events that unfold in these characters’ lives. Mourning the loss of someone you love is one thing, but witnessing the death of a young girl is a completely different experience. A harmless adventure turned into a gut-wrenching catastrophe when Sophie Mol insisted it was essential for her to tag along. “’Sophie Mol? ” she whispered to the rushing river. “We’re here! Here! Near the illimba tree! ” Nothing. On Rahel’s heart Pappachi’s moth snapped open its somber wings. Out. In. And lifted its legs. Up.
Down’” (277). The death of Sophie Mol did not only bring these “two egg twins” broken hearts, but it will change the way in which they live. Forever. There are some things in life that you can only understand when you feel them. These two felt something that no one should ever have to feel in their childhood. “They lay down in the back verandah on a grass mat with an inflatable goose and a Qantas koala bear. A pair of damp dwarfs, numb with fear, waiting for the world to end” (278). Two seven-year-old children believe that their world is going to end.
That there is nothing left to give. The only significant people they have left in their lives are each other and Velutha, which to, is all about to change. With little left in their lives besides the love they share for each other, Estha and Rahel witness the brutal beating of the one who truly loved, the God of Small Things. “They heard the thud of wood on flesh. Boot on bone. On teeth. The muffled grunt when a stomach kicked in. The muted crunch of skull on cement. The gurgle of blood on a man’s breath when his lung is torn by the jagged end of a broken rib” (292).
Too young to understand these were history’s henchmen doing what society has bestowed on them to do, fear engulfs their bodies. No one ever told these two that their lives were going to consist of sorrow, fear and loneliness. They were never warned that their childhood was never even going to begin. The laughter, happiness and play that people make childhood out to be was nothing they had ever felt. How could it get any worse for these children? What more could they possibly bear to see or feel? What was left for them in their lives? The only connection that was keeping them alive was the love they share for each other.
On top of witnessing death and experiencing more fear than any human should feel, Estha and Rahel were blamed for everything bad that happened in their lives. “’It’s a terrible thing to take a person’s life,” Baby Kochamma said. “It’s the worst thing that anyone could ever do. Even God doesn’t forgive that. And yet, you did it. You are murderers. So now you will go to jail and your mother will go to jail because of you. Would you like that? ’” (300). Being accused of murder at age seven is not something that can ever be forgotten. These children will look back on their lives thinking of themselves as criminals, animals of their own kind.
Their whole lives will be shaped by these words that their own Aunt engraved into their minds. “If you want to save her, all you have to do is to go with the Uncle with the big meeshas. He’ll ask you a question. One question. All you have to do is say ‘yes. ’ Then we will all go home. It’s so easy. It’s a small price to pay” (302). A woman who created a life of fear for these kids was now forcing them to make the biggest decision of their lives. The decision whether to save their mother with lies or to put this woman in her place would shape the rest of their lives.
For years to come this scene played in their heads over and over again. As children. As teenagers. As adults. This moment shaped who they had become. No one could ever take back what they saw. Their childhood would exist only in excruciating memory. In order to create a sense of closure for Estha and Rahel, they did something unspeakable, something that could only exist in a childhood filled with terror and remorse. Twenty three years later they find each other again. “They were strangers who had met in a chance encounter. They had known each other before Life began.
Only the quietness and emptiness fitted together like stacked spoons. Only that they held each other close, long after it was over. Only that once again they broke the love laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much” (310). Twenty three years later and they are still that of “one”. Experiencing so much pain with someone makes you want to love them to the deepest depth there is. They understood each other in ways that no one could ever understand and they grieve together all that they have lost. “There was little anyone could say to clarify what happened.
Nothing that would separate sex from love. Or needs from feelings” (310). As controversial as this scene is, the author gives the readers the idea that their childhood scarred the rest of their existence. These characters had nothing left to live for. Emptiness filled their lives and the only way to feel complete was to have each other; as close as humanly possible. After everything they went through, making love with each other seemed like the only right thing to do. This was the only way to feel alive, to rid the feeling of numbness that has encompassed one’s entire body.
Without a doubt the two egg twins’ lives rapidly spiraled down from an early innocence to a later horrifying wisdom. Many people think a childhood consists only of laughter, happiness and play. Arundhati Roy opened the eyes to the naive readers and gave a sense of reality. Estha and Rahel will never be the same. Not only because they witnessed horrifying events, but also because true love was something they had only felt with each other. In the first seven years of their lives they were molested, watched a young girl die, witnessed a brutal beating, accused of murder and worst of all, unloved.
How do you come back from that? How do you learn to love and be loved? Sometimes the only way you can come back from a life so tragic is to become whole again, to put back together the missing pieces. And that is exactly what they did; “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” (4). Works Cited Wikipedia contributors. “bildungsroman. ” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2013. <http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Bildungsroman>.
Cite this “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy
“The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy. (2016, Nov 13). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-god-of-small-things-by-arundhati-roy/