Arundhati Roy’s New Perspective in ‘The God of Small Things’
Indian English Literature has a relatively recent history, it is only one and a half centuries old. Indian writing in English has undoubtedly acquired its own independent identity. It no more remains mere imitative and derivative. Its long journey from colonial to post-colonial, from imperial to democratic and from English to Hinglish forms a remarkable chapter in the history of world literature.
Indian English Literature in its early stages was influenced by the Western art form of the novel. Early Indian writers used English unadulterated by Indian words to convey an experience which was essentially Indian.
In recent times there has been an increasing interest in rethinking fictions written in the modernist period from a post-colonial perspective – that is to make a post-colonial reading of a text in order to outline the effects of colonization on both the centre of empire and the margins, and reveal how such a text either openly or unwittingly exhibits colonial ideologies
Creative writing in English is considered an integral part of the literary traditions in South Asia. Indeed, according to the words of an Indian critic Iyengar three decades ago, quoted by Kachru, there seems to be an acceptance of Indian English literature as “one of the voices in which India speaks…it is a new voice, no doubt, but it is as much Indian as the others” (Kachru 1994:528-529).
Even before the Spaniards came to colonize our country, the natives in our land already had a civilization of their own. This is in contrast to what some early Spanish colonizers claim that the Philippines, before they came here, did not have a culture of its own and was barbaric. Even during the modern times, some people claim that natives of the early Philippines had a culture which is inferior ...
Sanyal claims, too, that Indian writing represents a new form of Indian culture. It has become assimilated and is today a dynamic element of the culture (Sanyal 1987: 7).
In recent years the Indian English literature attempts to present the different genres of Indian writing in English. It aims at tracing its distinctive features, such as cultural alienation, romanticism, realism, naturalism, modernism etc. Among the latest writers, one of the notable Indian English writers is Arundhati Roy, a Booker prize winner.
Roy’s novel, The God of Small Things, deals with the social movements and historical conditions that contributed to longevity in Kerala. It sheds its main light, however, on the desperate repercussions for one family of hatred across caste lines. As far as Roy is concerned, this novel is not a history but biology and transgression of characters.
Caste is a social custom, and all our great preachers have tried to break it down. From Buddhism downwards, every sect has preached against caste, and every time it has only riveted the chains. Beginning from Buddha to Rammohan Roy, everyone made the mistake of holding caste to be a religious institution and tried to pull down religion and caste altogether, and failed.
In Arundhati Roy’s novel, The God of Small Things, the laws of India’s caste system are broken by the characters of Ammu and Velutha, an Untouchable or Paravan. Velutha works at the Paradise Pickles and Preserves Factory owned by Ammu’s family. Yet, because he is an Untouchable, the other workers resent him and he is paid less money for his work though he deserves more. Although Velutha is a dedicated member of the Marxist Party, his Untouchable status makes other party members dislike him, and so local Party leader Comrade K.N.M. Pillai became politically successful.
Traditionally, a woman who has had sex with a man from a lower caste would be expelled from her caste. When Velutha has an affair with Ammu, he breaks an ancient taboo and incurs the wrath of Ammu’s family and the Kerala police. He breaks the rigid social rules of the caste system and therefore, the authorities must punish him. Roy describes the policemen’s violent actions as being done out of fear, “…civilization’s fear of nature, men’s fear of women, power’s fear of powerlessness”(292).
... ways in which Arundhati Roy tells the story in the first chapter of ‘The God of Small Thing.’ The God of Small Things takes different forms ... of people. There is love between Velutha, a man in the lowest class in the caste system (untouchables) and Ammu, a ... man, Baba, Ammu, Sophie Mol, Chacko, Margaret Kochamma, Mammachi, Velutha, Kochu Maria, Comrade Pillai, Larry McCaslin, and others. The ...
The division between the Touchables and Untouchables is so ingrained in Kerala that Velutha is seen as a nonhuman: If they hurt Velutha more than they intended to, it was only due to the rigid social and caste system that prevailed. Arundhati Roy depicts the fatal consequences of the inter-caste sexual relations.
The novel delineates the conflict that exists at the individual and the societal levels. The novel graphically shows that people are helpless to resolve these levels of friction. Velutha, the outcaste can never co-exist peaceful with the “touchable” communities for as long as there is the stigma of untouchability attached to him and countless others like him. Velutha is “highly intelligent”, “An excellent carpenter with an engineer’s mind”, but he is also’ The God of Loss’, “The God of Small Things” — He left no footprints in sand, no ripples in water, no images in mirrors.” [p.265]
Roy also relates the ugly reality of the nexus between politics and law, the representatives of which are the “touchables,” Comrade K.N.S Pillai and Inspector Thomas Mathew, to find a convenient means to dispense with Velutha, a Paravan and an “untouchable” with a false allegation of indecent behaviour towards the members of Kochamma family.
Roy unravels and exposes the critical juncture of caste and gender in her novel The God of Small Things. It is not a novel about mass struggle. Rather, it is about the ways which individuals, particularly women, find to resist the conditions imposed upon them by society. Novelists do not set out to write public sociology. But Roy’s The God of Small Things has re-illuminated caste in post-colonial India. When Roy speaks in her clear, critical voice, she can be heard across many divides, of caste, gender, and underdevelopment.
If we look at The God of Small Things, we find characters as surprising as they would be in real life. Ammu and her twins; Rahel and Estha; Baby Kochamma the antagonist; Mammachi a jealous and possessive woman who hated her son’s wife for being his wife; and Pappachi, an entomologist who failed to persuade the authorities to name after him a particular species of the wasp he discovered — and so took his frustration out on his wife and children by beating them on a regular basis; their son Chacko an intelligent man but a failure at home (with a broken marriage) and the world (with an unsuccessful career), his English wife Margaret Kochamma, who misunderstood Estha and blamed him for her daughter’s death and comrade Pillai, the corrupt and opportunist politician — all are victims of their own powers of darkness. Ammu although educated, fails in finding a proper footing in lifeThe next social perspective which Arundhati Roy deals with is divorce.
... Velutha whatsoever. Velutha is banished, and Roy begins to refer to his as the “God of Small Things” because of Sophie Mol’s short death. ... is flashbacked to Chacko and Margaret Kochamma’s wedding, and this wedding does not last. Margaret divorces Chacko and marries Joe, who dies ... later on. His death is what made Margaret Kochamma and Sophie ...
While India feels that one should have the right to divorce, it is still a highly stigmatizing action. Women are looked upon more harshly than men in this regard. There continue to be segments of Indian society that feel divorce is never an option, regardless of how abusive or adulterous the husband may be which adds to the greater disapproval for women. A divorced woman often will return to her family, but may not be wholeheartedly welcomed.
In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, the marriage and quick divorce of Ammu has devastating consequences, reflecting the social and cultural stigma of divorce in India: “…the commonly held view that a married daughter had no position in her parents’ home. As for a divorced daughter according to Baby Kochamma, she had no position anywhere at all” (45).
There are several factors which make The God of Small Things unique in the context of the canon of ‘Indian writers in English’. In contrast to the writings of other authors, the setting of the novel, the world inhabited by Estha and Rahel, is not an urban metropolis but an obscure village which – for them at least – is dominated by the river. Moreover Roy explicitly acknowledges the existence of organised class struggles, with a specific conjuncture in the Left movement in Kerala forming the background to the novel. The novel is inseparable from its intensely personal themes of love, memory and loss is a savage indictment of patriarchy and of its specific character in a semi-feudal, backward capitalist society.Roy has said about hypocrite through Baby Kochamma’s life.
In The God of Small Things, Baby Kochamma’s “unchristian passion” for Father Mulligan turns her into a hypocrite. Baby Kochamma tried to seduce Father Mulligan with weekly exhibition of staged charity.
... in India during the late 1960’s, The God of Small Things renders the story of an Indian ... whom he exchanged letters with consistently after the divorce and in great longing for his only ... a classless society. How Arundhati played with the English language was particularly noticeable in this novel. ... speakers. An indication of this was how Arhundati Roy ran words together improperly implying that the ...
Arundhati Roy thoroughly deserves recognition for her novel The God of Small Things for cunningly interwoven narrative thinking. The themes such as love, religion, class, caste, sexual taboo, revolutionary politics, gender – and the damage wrought by hypocrisy in relationship bring a kalidoscopic impression in the novel. But these issues are woven in so effortlessly, and the book is experienced so much through the thoughts and feelings of the children that there is no trace of didacticism.
Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things New Delhi: Penguin Book India (p) Ltd., 2002
Kachru, Braj B. 1994. “English in South Asia.” In Robert Burchfield (ed.).
The Cambridge History of the English Language. Vol. V: English in Britain and Overseas. Origins and Development. Cambridge: CUP: 497-626.
Sanyal, S.C. 1987. English Language in India & Indo-Anglian Prose Style. London: TEFL.