The God of Small things critique
Through the novels “The God of Small Things” and “Heat and Dust” both the authors suggest that the perspective offered by the passing of time renders the past both more clear and more strange - The God of Small things critique introduction. Roy and Jhabvala similarly explore the seemingly ridiculous and completely alien cultural and social concepts of the past that are as foreign to the later characters as those of another country. Roy and Jhabvala both use contrasting characters and the technique of flashback in order to move through time periods, enabling them to present the distinct beliefs and customs of India in the past and present.
Through the contrast of the older and younger women portrayed in the novels, the injustices of past society are highlighted and contrast the changed attitudes towards women that have evolved with the passing of time. This is further emphasised in both novels through setting. The reader observes a society, India, in a state of flux that leads to change, and new freedoms for women that the elder women would have desired. Roy and Jhabvala present characters in their novels that do not conform to their societies and the heavy price they pay for their transgressions leave later characters with the need to resolve these events.
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In order for the characters to resolve the problematic past and progress into the future they must struggle to understand the cultural expectations of the past. In both novels the authors move through time in the narrative, allowing the main characters, Rahel and the narrator, to explore the past in order to better understand the events that occurred. “The God of Small Things” is principally based on the events of Rahel’s life, from the time of the death of her English cousin, Sophie Mol, to her return to Ayemenem twenty-three years later.
However, Roy adopts a third person narrative in order to establish a seemingly more objective viewpoint. As Rahel relives the traumatic events of “December sixty-nine (the nineteen silent)” she is able to see things from a different perspective that offers a clearer understanding and enables her to accept the past. Simultaneous incidents combine and unravel in one tragic day of the novel. Roy presents the day of persecution as deeply traumatic through the narrative’s movement between past and present, emphasising that the events affect the family for a lifetime.
However Roy demonstrates that eternal love finally overcomes all, as she chooses to complete the novel with the final scene of the lovers. The highly optimistic tone in the final chapter of the novel is encompassed in the final word, “Tomorrow. ” The use of this very hopeful word that suggests a sense of continuity enables Roy to convey the acceptance and clearer understanding gained by Rahel. In much the same way Jhabvala demonstrates the found understanding of the narrator of “Heat and Dust” through the positive outcome of the story.
She is left with limitless possibilities, choosing “even if I should want to” exactly what she wishes to do with the future. Olivia lives her life at the base of the mountains, looking out on a view, whiles the narrator is able to climb higher. Both characters in the novels seek to better understand past events, enabling acceptance of the clearer, yet forever foreign events. Jhabvala much like Roy conveys to the reader through anecdote the incomprehensible and, now, seemingly unnecessary events that took place in India’s past due to cultural beliefs and customs that the main characters of the time struggle to understand.
The narrator and Rahel are similarly confronted with religious practices and taboos that seem ridiculous from the perspective offered through the change of time. In 1923 Olivia encounters the culture of suttee deaths in India, a practise that seems a “barbaric custom” to the English conditioned by Western views, not understanding alternate cultural practices and is later explored by the narrator in the seventies. In much the same way as Olivia, the narrator grapples to comprehend the concept despite the liberated perspective that time gives her.
Jhabvala uses the main character of the narrator to demonstrate the perspectives time offers, and although the narrator belongs in a far more liberated and changed world she is still unable to understand the customs that existed in Olivia’s time, as she deals with the confronting differences of another culture, equally as strange as those of the past. While both the narrator and Rahel gain an understanding which enables acceptance of the past, it is equally clear in “The God of Small Things” that much of the past will remain incomprehensible for Rahel.
Roy uses the viewpoint of a child to represent Rahel’s ongoing plight through adulthood to know and understand more fully the secrets of the past. Childish curiosity is evident throughout the novel in the characters of Rahel and Esthappen, they are constantly questioning, “what veysha meant” and “Did Captain von Clapp-Trapp blow spit-bubbles? Did he? ” While being seemingly irrelevant and childish questions, they are representative of the questions Rahel is asking about the past, displaying how little she understands.
The childlike viewpoint emphasises her confusion with respect to the past, evident in both novels as the main characters grapple with the customs and beliefs of the past. Both Rahel and the narrator exist in a time in India that is far more liberated, especially with respect to women. The restrictions and taboos placed upon the elder women of the novel, is explored by the narrator and Rahel, who possess the personal freedom and choice that Olivia and Ammu desired.
Rahel’s childhood trauma is because of her mothers transgressions, perceived at the time as unspeakable due to the social impositions of a caste system and attitudes towards women. Ammu is divorced, labelled as a “veysha” and resented by her parents and aunt, and while the adult Rahel continues to be resented as a result of her mother’s transgressions, she is not, unlike her mother, ostracized after her divorce. Roy creates a strong sense of wrong and right within the novel, through the set of rules “that lay down who should be loved, and how.
When Ammu and her children tamper with these laws, social boundaries are transgressed with tragic results arising out of the clash with cultural and social expectations. The cultural prejudice is emphasised through Chacko, who like his sister is divorced but as a male he suffers no disrespect for this, similarly the brutal murder of Velutha demonstrates the racism existent in India at that time. Olivia outrages society by eloping with the Nawab in 1923, which Jhabvala contrasts with the narrator’s affair with Inder Lal. The cultural integration and infidelity is overlooked at this later time.
While many of her actions parallel those of her step-grandmother, the narrator has been freed by the passing of time to do as she pleases without disrupting social boundaries. The unwillingness to conform of both Ammu and Olivia in the novels causes great consternation and suffering but the later explorations and reflections of Rahel and the narrator enable them and the reader to understand that the actions of Ammu and Olivia were only wrong in the cultural context of the time, this makes the repercussions of the past seem foreign and cruel.
The contrasting time periods presented in both novels highlights a society in a state of flux, struggling to resolve the events of the past and present. This is representative of the main characters who are also attempting a similar reconciliation of past and present. “Heat and Dust” presents India under the control of the Raj, being forced to conform to Western society and then later in the 1970’s when it is once more Independent, but also much that was India is also lost. Similarly in “The God of Small Things” India is searching for political identity, and as a result is in a state of unrest and change.
These changes shown throughout the novels are reflected in the lives of the main characters but are also indicated through other minor characters. In “Heat and Dust” the Nawab and later Inder Lal display peculiar fascinations with all things English, their state of ‘limbo’ between cultures, customs and possessions is a legacy the rule of the Raj in India in the early twentieth century. The characters, Chacko and Sophie Mol develop the same idea in “The God of Small Things”. The English education Chacko received is much admired and therefore his status is enhanced and his opinions given greater weight by others.
Similarly, the detailed attention paid to Sophie Mol’s dress displays the connection between the two countries. Sophie Mol’s “crimplene bell-bottoms” and her “go-go bag” were extremely fashionable 60’s items of dress and suggest that India wanted to be more like England. The expression “go-go” essentially means “without limits” emphasising the idea that she, and therefore Britain was exotic and fashionable. The family’s visit to see ‘The Sound of Music’ also highlights the confusion of Indian cultural identity at this time. In “Heat and Dust” the young couple also clearly embody this confusion.
They live in England, surrounded by the things of Indiad, but cannot tolerate visiting the real India without becoming ill. India, their cultural home has indeed become a ‘foreign’ country to them. However, as quickly as fashion changes so does India, making Sophie Mol is an appropriate representation of the ever-changing country. India is represented in the novel in many different forms and changes greatly within each novel; everything within the society is different, from appearance to cultural beliefs, suggesting that with the passing of time the same country can become an entirely foreign country.
Both “The God of Small Things” and “Heat and Dust” are journeys of discovery, where characters seek to understand themselves by gaining an understanding of their pasts. Roy chooses to base the story around Rahel, enabling the narrative movement backwards and forwards through time from her childhood and then “twenty-three years later” in order to present two contrasting time periods. Jhabvala similarly uses two different women, Olivia in 1923, and her step-granddaughter fifty years later to contrast the two time periods in Indian history.
Both the authors establish the contrasting time periods to display that the changed perspective offered by the passing of time causes the past to become clearer in some ways but at the same time also more foreign. The narrative movement in both novels enables Roy and Jhabvala to present the different beliefs and customs of India in the two time periods. The contrast between the two generations of women, as well as the parallels between them, emphasises the injustice of the past society whilst reflecting the changed attitudes towards women that have occurred with the passing of time.
These changed views are further shown in both of the novels through the representation of India as a society in a state of flux, like the narrator and Rahel, grappling to reconcile the past and the present. These characters are searching to reconcile the transgressions of the elder women who would not conform to their societies, which can only be realised through attempting to understand the utterly different culture that was the past.