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The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy

R for Roy

Hello everyone!

I have chosen acclaimed Indian author Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, which I fall in love with more each time I read it. The storyline is complex, and the writing incredibly poetic. The narrative is non-sequential, and Roy's manipulation of language is unconventional, incorporating unexpected capitals, rhymes and the writing is interspersed with words from Malayalam (language). This unusual writing style serves to cut through the superficial storyline to a space much deeper.

Background

The God of Small Things is set in Ayemenem, southern India. It is centered around an upper-caste Syrian Christian family, particularly twins Rahel and Estahappen. The narrative constantly flips between 1969, when the twins are 7 years old, and to when they are 31, in 1993. 

The story begins at its chronological end, amid the tragic aftermath of an incident when the twins were 7 years old, and proceeds to narrow in to reach the triggering event. 

The novel explores themes politics, religion, the Indian caste system, communism, family, postcolonialism and love.

A Few Main Points

  • Twins
  • Action and consequence
  • Returning
  • Order
  • Death of a child
  • Value of human life dependent on position in the social structure
  • Relationships that cross clear boundaries
  • Honour
  • Tragedy
  • Time of change: political, cultural etc.
  • Leaf on Velutha's back
  • Children are blind to socially constructed systems (innocence)
  • A river, a boat
  • Day/Night
  • Paradise Pickles and Preserves

Concepts

Narrowing down my brainstorming and notes, I feel the two strongest ideas/themes are:

Forbidden Love

"That it really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much."

Forbidden love is central to The God of Small Things, and a lynchpin for the ensuing tragedy. The Love Laws are governed by caste, nationality, social standing and family relations. So many of the characters broke the Love Laws:

Ammu + ex-husband: Divorce

Ammu + Velutha: Caste (Upper class Syrian Christian with an Untouchable

Chacko + Margaret Kochamma: Nationality

Baby Kochamma + Priest: Religious duty

Rahel + Estha: Incest

Nice critical viewpoint I stumbled upon: "One interpretation of Roy's theme of forbidden love is that love is such a powerful and uncontrollable force that it cannot be controlled by any conventional social code."

Preservation

Perhaps a greater theme that encompasses forbidden love is preservation. The Love Laws are age-old, and preserve the rigid caste social structure, one's social standing, culture and family dignity and honour. 

Interestingly, the family factory is called 'Paradise Pickles and Preserves'. This is a nice link. Perhaps the inclusion of 'Paradise' is a metaphor, suggesting that those who adhere to the Love Laws and practice preservation achieve paradise? It seems that apart from the concequences thrust upon them by others, the one point of paradise reached between Ammu and Velutha is through breaking the Love Laws.

A few quotes linking preservation...

"Edges, Borders, Boundaries, Brinks and Limits have appeared like a team of trolls on their separate horizons. Short creatures with long shadows, patrolling the Blurry End."

"Perhaps it's true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, these few hourse, like the salvaged remains of a burned house - the charred clock, the scorched furniture - must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for."

"To Estha, steeped in the smell of old roses, blooded on memories of a broken man - the fact that something is so fragile, so unbearably tender has survived, has been allowed to exist, was a miracle."

"It is curious how somethimes the memory of death lines on for so much longer than the memory of the life that it purloined."

"Even now, after all those years, Paradise Pickles’ bottles still leaked a little. It was imperceptible, but they did still leak, and on long journeys their labels became oily and transparent. The pickles themselves continued to be a little on the salty side. Mammachi wondered whether she would ever master the art of perfect preservation…"

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