The book The God of Small Things is a politically charged novel by Arundhati Roy, an Indian author who grew up in Kerala, India. It almost took two years before Roy have completed such a best selling book which tells the story of a family who live in the communist state of Kerala. This book has won the Britain’s Booker Prize in October 1997 but so far it has not been followed until today. The author has been able to create an arresting and startling fiction that goes through the mainstream of reality and struggle of the people living in this southernmost part of India.
To provide further critical analysis of this book, let us first summarize the highlights of the story to put direction of our analysis in perspective. The plot of this story happens in Ayemenem (sometimes called Aymanam) which is part of Kottayam in Kerala, India. This setting was located within a communist state ruled by a strict government where personal relationship between two castes or class is forbidden. The focus of the story centers to the family in 1969. During this period, Kerala is well known for its strict freedom policy for women. This policy has established a society that is unjust, judgmental and inadequate to women which have encouraged men to dominate their ruthless society.
The plot of the story follows a chronological order of events that begins with the family of Shri Benaan John Ipe whom his family referred to as Pappachi or grandfather. Pappachi is an entomologist who works for the imperial government and his wife is Shoshamma Ipe or Mammachi which means grandmother in Indian term.
The government is run by imperialism which the author depicted as a form of communism that has eaten up the society and governed by rigid dictatorial laws. Pappachi as an imperial employee put him in the status of the Indian upper class and therefore regards himself who has an upper hand over the lower classes which called “the Untouchables”. He was hard working employee but very strict with his guidelines especially when it comes to running his family’s business. He was also a temperamental man and always putting emphasis of his status as an upper class individual showing his dominance over other people.
Before Pappachi’s retirement, the couple had fraternal twins, Ammu and Chacko. But having twins did not appease Pappachi disposition and his frustrations from his job unfortunately is now often vented to his wife and children. He is used in beating Mammachi without any provocation and the kids witnessed the rudeness of their father against their mother and against each of them as well. Thus as they grow older they have instituted hatred against their father.
Chacko grew up to be an intelligent man and became a scholar of Oxford University while Ammu was taking her degree at a local university. Over the years, Pappachi has not mellowed from his arrogant treatment with his wife and so when Chacko was on his school vacation he saw his father beating up his mother. Chacko intervened and warned his father never to hurt his mother again. Pappachi cannot hurt Chacko as he used to so he swore he will never talk to him nor treat him as his son anymore. He thought that his family is useless to him and in desperation of unable to unleash his anger, he turned this to Ammu. Pappachi refuses to provide financial assistance to Ammu’s education and this forces her to stop her education abruptly.
Women even in the upper class Indian society were regarded as second class citizen next to men and can only have the privilege to go to college only if their father allows and support them. So far, Pappachi has reinforced his rule arrogantly to force Ammu to leave school and come home to Ayemenem. In her desperation and rebellion for his father, Ammu went to Calcutta to live with her aunt. There she met Baba, a man who works as a manager for a tea estate and marries him. But the man happens to be alcoholic, a wife-beater and even tried prostituting her to his boss.
Despising his husband’s habit but able to live with him for a few years, she manages to become a mother of fraternal twins, Estha and Rahel. When the twins were about seven years old, Ammu and her children left Baba and went home to her mother in Ayemenem. Meanwhile, Chacko, while studying at Oxford University married an English woman named Margaret. Incidentally, after having a daughter named Sophie, the couple divorced. Sophie stayed with her mother. Chacko, after unfruitful search for a job in the US decided to come back to India to help manage his family’s pickle business. The business did not flourish which leave Chacko but to get another job as a teacher.
Pappachi have died years ago but it seemed that all is still not well with Mammachi’s family. This is because of Baby Kochamma, the sister of Pappachi who stays with the family and has the character of his brother, Pappachi. She also has an ill-mannered and temperamental attribute like Pappachi and she played well in destroying the life of each member of Mammachi’s family.
Like her brother, her frustrations of a failed relationship with an Irish priest led her to become vengeful, remorse and anti-social. Her most potent despicable character showed up when Ammu fell in love to Velutha, their pickle factory’s mechanic. Baby Kochama’s revelation of the forbidden relationship led the family to detain Ammu and fire Velutha from his job. Rahel ad Estha was devastated to see their mother locked up and Sophie who is now on vacation to Ayemenem with her mother sympathized with the twins.
In disgust, Ammu begins to feel very desperate and angry which somehow pushes her twins to go away from her. The twins were upset by their mother’s attitude and so decided to go away. But Sophie feeling strong compassion to the twins also decided to go with them.
Unfortunately the night the children are crossing the river, Sophie fell to the water and drown. But somehow, Baby Kochamma manages to tell a story. She told the police that Velutha was the caused of the death of Sophie. That Velutha tried to rape Ammu but when he failed, kidnapped the children and eventually led to the death of Sophie. Ammu and the twins testified against that of Baby Kochamma’s statements.
But eventually, Baby Kochamma managed to make things in her favor and pin down Velutha which eventually died at the hands of the authorities. Ammu was now helpless, unsecured and nowhere to go. She was an outcast from her family basically because of her relationship with a man of the lower class. In desperation, she sent Rahel to his father and Estha stayed with her grandmother. Ammu died of poverty only years after.
Years passed and Rahel was able to migrate to the US, worked as a waitress, married and divorced and finally returned to Ayemenem after 24 years. She finally saw his brother, Estha and still longingly wanting to be with him. The many years of lost communication and attachment have given them scars in their heart which until then has been hurting their souls. Rahel and Estha promised never to be separated again and decided to live alone the rest of their lives. This is the story of a family that was broken down by the very dictatorial and communist form of government ruled predominantly by men of upper class (Mullaney).
Although the average reader may have a tough time understanding Roy’s prose, this book will surely bring enough understanding on what is life to live in Roy’s world where she once live. She has witnessed the disorder of Indian politics and the discrimination of the Indian upper class against the lower class which, however, provide her the inspiration to write such novel.
The story portrays women as second class citizen by an unjust society that normally showcase battering of women, infidelity, rape, emotional and psychological anxieties and many intriguing characteristics that have plagued women in the plot of the story. Vividly enough, Roy explores the often chaotic social and political history of India which has contributed to the transgression of the characters in this story.
While this book depict the story of a family that have been torn apart because of the segregation of classes between people, it tells us about the need of mankind to experience love and affection especially brought about by link uniting the family. The family that is centered in this story was used only to reveal what a communist government can do to a family that has been made fragile because of the dominance of men against women. Roy also has clearly shown to the readers that indeed, as she has witnessed, the rigid Indian politics during those times has made the Indian society an undisciplined culture that has made lives unproductive because of the system imposed by the upper class.
During the time this book was made, Roy observe the place she lives in to be in disarray and discrimination of the Indian upper class was overwhelmingly prejudiced against the lower class. The hardship of living in a caste-based society was clearly focused as the predominant topic of discussion in this story.
Nevertheless critical responses of this book are positive enough. But accordingly, some critics observe that the author’s lush and sensuous prose as well as her presentation of wide range of personal and social issues is somewhat similar to the works of Salman Rushdie, William Faulkner and James Joyce. They also notice that the resemblance of Roy’s style is most notable as a Rushdean’s stylistic trick of capitalizing significant words and running together other words to emphasize concepts.
It is also noted that just like Rushdie, her novel is filled with the same class of prediction as Rushdie’s Midnight Children and uses an inappropriately lively tone to narrate tales of tragedy and horror. But Roy denies all this during her interviews and said that Salman Rushdie’s style in writing has never been an influence. It just happens that they are capitalizing the same genre in the presentation of their story. However, Roy is praised for such an efficient effort and indeed her work of art proved to be a success which has powerfully reawakened the consciousness of a once turbulent society (enotes).
- “Arundhati Roy the God of Small Things.” (2008). November 24, 2008 <http://www.enotes.com/contemporary-literary-criticism/roy-arundhati>.
- Mullaney, Julie. Arundhati Roy’s the God of Small Things. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002.