Analysis of ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhathi Roy

The God of Small Things was written by Arundhathi Roy and published in 1997. This was a maiden attempt by the architect and it became an instant hit and she won the Booker Prize in the same year. The book which took four years to complete has sold over 6 million copies and has been translated into 40 languages. She has written several political articles and has been awarded Sydney Peace Prize in 2004. The God of Small Things tells the story of an extended family in Kerala in 1960s. The state’s strong communist ideas and caste system is also weaved into the family story. Arundhathi Roy is an activist as well and this reflects in her writing.

The story takes place in a small town called Ayemenem in Kerala. Benan John Ipe is an entomologist and is referred to as Papachi. He is married to an expert in violin and she is only known as Mamachi and not by her real name. Papachi is very over bearing and even beats Mamachi. They have a son Chacko and a daughter Ammu. Chacko is sent to Oxford to study. There he meets Margaret whom he marries. While Margaret is pregnant she meets Joe and falls in love with him. Chacko and Margaret divorce and a heart broken Chacko comes back home to Ayemenem.

Ammu goes to live with a relative in another town and there she meets Baba whom she marries. They have twins, a boy and a girl, Estha and Rahel. Baba turns out to be an alcoholic, and tells lot of lies for no reason. He loses his job and his English boss offers to do something for him if Baba allows him to sleep with Ammu. Baba brings this indecent proposal to Ammu and even beats her when she refuses. Ammu thinks she has had enough and takes the kids and comes back to Ayemenem.

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Events of year 1969 forms a major chunk of the novel. The twins are seven years old. Joe is killed in an accident and Chacko invites Margaret and his daughter to Ayemenem for the holidays. Chacko, Ammu, Baby Kochamama (an aunt), Estha and Rahel go to pick up Margaret and Sophie Mol. The trip to the airport from Ayemenem to Cochin is eventful. There is a communist march and the streets are blocked and all of them catch a glimpse of the Velutha who is a worker at Mammachi’s factory. He slinks away into the crowd when he sees them. The next event is that all of them go to see the film The Sound of Music. Estha could not stop singing along and he is sent out to stand in the lobby. When he is alone there he is molested by the man who sells drinks and this is a harrowing experience for Estha which he does not share with the elders.

Sophie Mol, Ammu and Estha become friends. Estha’s experience haunts him and he feels the drinks vendor would find him and he wants to row to an abandoned house called History House. Ammu is also game for it and they ask Velutha to get an old boat fixed. Soon Velutha’s father reports to Mamachi that Velutha and Ammu are lovers. Now this was shocking as there was huge gap in the castes to which they both belonged to. Ammu is locked in a room. The children decide to leave the place and Sophie joins them. That night they row away, the boat hits a log and topples. Rahel and Estha swim to the other side but Sophie drowns.

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Baby Kochamma and Mammachi are planning to send Velutha out of town but that’s when they hear about Sophie’s death. Quickly the two blame Velutha for raping Ammu and kidnapping the kids. The police are in search for Velutha and find him in the History House where the children are also hiding. They see Velutha being beaten up. Later the Inspector says there is no case to it as the children are found. At Sophie Mol’s cremation everyone ignores Ammu, Rahel and Estha. After the funeral Ammu goes to speak for Velutha only to find him dead. Ammu is sent out of her home and is asked to fend for herself. She suffers from Tuberculosis and dies soon after. When Ammu leaves, she sends Estha to his father, Baba. Rahel continues to stay with Mammachi but she is a troublesome kid at school and is kicked out many times. Eventually she goes to study architecture in Delhi and then moves to US. There she marries Larry McCaslin. Her marriage does not last long. Estha becomes a silent person after moving with his father. After some years he returns to Ayemenem. Hearing this Rahel also comes back. The siblings spend many hours together going through trinkets and living their younger days. This time spent together finally ends up in their love-making.

The story of The God of Small things narrated here is sequential from 1960s to 1990s. However in the novel it flits between the 1960s and 1990s. Most of the story is set in Kerala. However there is a lot of change between the Kerala of 1960s and 1990s. The fervour of communism and casteism had toned down. The house in Ayemenem was symbolic of it. Only Baby Kochamma from the past is there in the house. She and her maid are tuned into the satellite TV all the time and the house is in shambles. The high-handedness of the powerful woman is no longer there. Rahel and Estha come to house and Baby Kochamma is not bothered and refuses to take care of Estha who had become a very disturbed and silent person.

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The God of Small Things is a fictional family drama. The drama really begins when the little girl Sophie Mol drowns. And it is family drama because this dramatic event affects every other member of the family. How each member of the family reacts to this and how it snowballs into others’ lives is unravelled. It is a literary fiction because it is complex and its complexities unfold through its characters. Arundhathi delves into the psyches of many characters. Literary fiction focuses on style and characterization and this is done in style in The God of Small Things.