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The God of Small Thing by Arundhati Roy Essay

Write about the 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 drama. This novel could be seen as a family drama, a romantic drama, and also a literary fiction. From the first chapter, we already begin to see the story centred on a family’s background. We meet Baby Kochamma whose name was really Navomi Ipe and we learn that she is ‘Rahel’s baby grandaunt, her grandfather’s younger sister.’ A reader could blindly say that the book is a family drama because of the mentioning of a grandfather, a grandaunt and a niece (granddaughter). Furthermore, Estha who is Rahel’s twin brother is mentioned. ‘They were two-egg twins. Dizygotic doctors called them, born from separate but simultaneously fertilized eggs.’

The twins were very close to each other, almost as if they ‘were a rare breed of Siamese twins, physically separate but with joint identities.’ The story of the God of Small Things revolves around the Ipe family, Estha and Rahel’s family. Roy tells us the story of the Ipe family through flashbacks. ‘They were nearly born on a bus Estha and Rahel. The car in which Baba, their father, was taking Ammu, their mother, to the hospital in Shillong…’ With this event from one of the flashbacks, the parents of Estha and Rahel are introduced. There is also a flashback to the death and burial of their cousin, Sophie Mol. ‘She was visiting from England. Estha and Rahel were seven years old when she died. She was almost nine. She had a special child-sized coffin.’ This flashback introduces the reader to a major anti-climax of the story- the death of Sophie Mol and the events prior to that. We know it is a family drama also because of the way the Ipe family members react to the death of Sophie Mol.

The novel also takes the form of a romantic drama. The novel could be interpreted as a love story on forbidden love. Forbidden love because in the story, there is love between different classes of people. There is love between Velutha, a man in the lowest class in the caste system (untouchables) and Ammu, a higher caste woman. Forbidden love because it breaks the ‘laws that lay down who should be loved, and how, and how much.’ The story has elements of romance in it. For instance, Ammu has just realised that she loved at night, the man her children loved by day. The novel also takes the form of a literary fiction because of how Roy cautiously unfolds the story to us.

We go right into the minds of the characters, read and imagine their stories from their own point of view. Roy tells us the story through these forms and leaves us anticipating and asking questions. Questions like ‘how did Sophie Mol die?’, ‘were Velutha and Ammu the only ones that broke the love laws?’ and more. Through the course of the story, Roy leaves the readers to pick up answers to their various questions. The structure of the first chapter is very detailed. In most novels, first chapters set the scene, telling us about what we will encounter in the other subsequent chapters. The story is told in an episodic manner using a series of flashbacks. The story in the first chapter begins in the present time when Rahel returns to ‘the old house on the hill’ because her brother is back. From this flashback to the past, we are moved to the future as we are told that Ammu has died. ‘Thirty one. Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age.’

From that point in the future, Roy takes us back to the past when Baba was taking Ammu to the hospital to give birth. From this point, we are more or less reading the story in a linear manner. We find out that the children are not happy that they were not born in a bus because they’ve lost the privileges of getting free bus rides and being buried with Government money. We learn about Sophie Mol’s death and her burial and of how Ammu, Estha and Rahel were allowed to go for the burial but ‘were made to stand separately…no one would look at them. After the funeral, Ammu goes to the police station with her children to see Velutha, make a statement and tell the truth. Velutha had died and inspector Thomas Matthew had indirectly told her so. (Still in a linear manner) Two weeks after that Estha was Returned to his father.

Roy leaves the past and puts us back in the present ‘twenty three years later’ Estha came back with bad results and refused to go into college. From then on we remain in the present until we are told about Rahel’s behaviour in school which got her expelled thrice. We move again to the future as we find out about Rahel’s husband Larry McCaslin and their unfulfilled relationship. We’re then told about baby Kochamma’s life, both in the past and present. The last pages of the chapter focus on the mishaps- Sophie Mol’s death, Velutha’s arrest and Estha’s Return. Hence, this chapter is structured in an episodic and flashback manner, moving one step forward to the future and present and two steps backwards to the past. Roy introduces us to a town called Ayemenem in Kerala in India and its seasons where most of the story is set in 1993. ‘’ the days are long and humid. The rivers shrink and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still dust green trees.’’

Roy states all of these in order for we the readers to familiarise ourselves with the environment where the story takes place. Roy goes further telling us that ‘’by early June the monsoon breaks…’’ Monsoon is a season characterised by heavy rain and turbulence. Roy introduces the monsoon ordinarily, as another season, without telling us the significance which is the cause of the capsizing of the children’s boat in the river. Roy also introduces us to ‘an old house on the hill’ supposedly the Ayemenem house where the Ipe family live. Everything is quiet. Baby Kochamma and Kochu Maria spend their days side-by-side eating popcorn and watching TV, letting the house fall to pieces around them. Baby Kochamma’s garden turns into an overgrown mess. She explains how dull, unkept and abandoned the house looks-‘’ the walls, streaked with moss, had grown soft, and bulged a little with dampness that seeped up from the ground.’’

This is one of the techniques Arundhati Roy uses in telling the story especially in this chapter. She uses imagery and similes to convey her messages leaving the readers to interpret them whichever way they can. The community is starting to embrace Communism, which seeks to empower the poor and working classes, and to eliminate class and caste distinctions. There is an omniscient narrator but the perspective is more complex than this. The narrator is not a character in the story, but rather tells the story from a distance. He or she moves the narrative forward by delving into each character’s perspective, showing us how things look from where they’re standing. Parts of the story are told from the children’s perspective with child views that can be noted from the words in the novel. For instance, ‘when life was full of Beginnings and no Ends, and Everything was For Ever, Esthappen and Rahel thought of themselves together as Me and separately, individually, as We or Us…’

One interesting way in which Roy creates a distinct point of view for Rahel and Estha is by capitalizing certain words or phrases. We see how children envision particular ideas as being very important. Each time we meet a character whose story is to be told, the omniscient narrator introduces the character and leaves us to hear, read and see for that particular character’s perspective. It’s almost as if the omniscient narrator avoids subjectivity, however, at randomly significant points, we see the story through a child’s eyes, possibly Rahel. The language in the novel is not complex at all; the words are easy to understand. However, Roy uses a mixture of English and Malayalam, which is their traditional language. It is possible that she does this to maintain the awareness that the characters in the novel are educated and thus, bilingual. For instance, when the Inspector calls Ammu a ‘veshya’, meaning prostitute. The use of direct speech is scarce not only in this first chapter but indirect speech is used by the narrator.

For example, ‘Ammu said shed see about that’, ‘he said that the police knew everything.’ The story was narrated and told. In this first chapter , we meet all the characters- Rahel, Baby Kochamma, Estha, Orangedrink Lemondrink man, Baba, Ammu, Sophie Mol, Chacko, Margaret Kochamma, Mammachi, Velutha, Kochu Maria, Comrade Pillai, Larry McCaslin, and others. The characters are presented to us in different ways; some in depth and others, in little detail. Arundhati Roy links the characters together, introducing one through another. For example, Baby Kochamma, we know that she is an aunt because she is Rahel’s grandaunt. We learn that she was in love with an Irish monk in her earlier years. We know that she is the cause of one of the anti-climaxes in the story- Velutha’s arrest and death. We learn that Rahel has a twin brother through Baby Kochamma because Rahel has not come to see her but him.

We learn that they are dizygotic twins which share the same mind. We learn about their parents, and the children’s birth. Roy links the characters together using thin lines and later thickening them by telling us the story. We learn that Sophie Mol died and Margaret Kochamma blamed it on Estha. We learn that Chacko emigrated to Canada. We learn little about the characters at first but linking one thing to another, we begin to build up our knowledge on them. The title of the chapter is ‘Paradise, Pickles and Preserves.’

Mammachi’s pickle factory can be viewed as another symbol of the freezing of time. The whole purpose of pickling and preserving is to take something with a short shelf life and make it last basically forever. It might seem like kind of a stretch to compare, let’s say, Sophie Mol to a jar of banana jam, but it doesn’t seem to be an accident that the family is in the preservation business. The preservation and persistence of certain memories is central to the novel, and having a pickle factory as a focal point of the house in Ayemenem serves as a constant reminder of this. Hence, the significance of the title ‘Paradise, Pickles and Preserves.’


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