Class distinction and prejudice in ‘The God of Small Things’ and ‘Persuasion’ are brought about by social, political and economical developments in the periods the novels are set. These developments arise through “war”, “Revolution”, caste and class bias. Firstly, in ‘Persuasion’ the behaviour of Anne’s family is so vile that their bigoted opinions affect the moral, spiritual and cultural lives of their victims. From the onset we become aware that It is either the family or people with the power to “persuade” who create divisions within the classes and sexes.
Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ exposes the inequalities in Britain that existed. In France the same divisions prompted the French Revolution of 1789. The British Government, taking the events in France on board decided to initiate political and social policies before French history repeated itself in Britain. These policies challenged the status of upper class families, like the Elliots, as the location of wealth and power in British society was changing due to the industrial revolution and “Napoleonic” wars.
Anne’s father, Sir Walter fears losing control over what he has acquired or inherited.
Sir Walter dismisses the rising classes at every opportunity, as he sees them as a threat to the aristocracy. Sir Walter has a kindred spirit, Lady Russell, who aids him in the process of pushing his bigoted behaviour through to the next generation, in the hope that they will guard themselves against the common man’s rise from rags to riches. Sir Walter and Lady Russell only acquaint themselves with people who hold a certain “standard of good-breeding” and “rank” along with “consequence”.
Sir Walter is faced with the possibility of losing everything he has inherited.
He is vulnerable, has to go through the process of “retrenchment” or face bankruptcy. If he doesn’t change his pattern of spending he will not be able to live in the manner he is accustomed to, and so be looked down on by his elite “circle”. In ‘The God of Small Things, Ammu has fallen from her elite ‘caste’, and has to act recklessly to secure her own sanity and safety. She breaks away from her restricted, abused and bullied life by marrying outside her caste and religion. While in ‘Persuasion’, Anne arms her heart with a shield of dense melancholy.
Anne has had to reject the love of her life, Captain Wentworth, because her father, Sir Walter, considers Wentworth to be a “nobody”, not a “gentleman”, “without alliance”, and views the union between Anne and Wentworth to be a “degrading” affair. Anne experiences emotional suffering. Ammu physical and mental abuse. Ammu is erratic in dealing with her experiences, and Anne dignified, but both heroines are brave throughout their ordeals, as they obey the rules that are created by their ‘class’ or ‘caste’.
The novels reflect the ‘heroines’ feelings in dealing with prejudice and discrimination in relation to the choices they want to make. Their fathers’ have full control over them, as their choices are limited or ignored. Ammu and Anne’s lives are arrested. Trapped in the ‘caste’ and ‘class’ circle of discrimination and prejudice. Arundahati Roy takes the private child memories of Rahel and explains them to us from an adult’s perspective. The story spans the late sixties to early nineties. Memories are told in vivid and upsetting repetitive imagery.
Rahel flickers from her adult state to her child state with damaging or important events stressed with capital letters. The stressing of such words makes the reader aware of their significance to new and evolving horrors, situations or important people in Rahel’s family’s lives. The novel relays India’s human despair in a ruthless, sexist caste society, which contribute to Ammu’s psychological demise and eventually her premature death at the “viable, die-able age” of “thirty-one”. There is a contrast in Ammu’s upbringing and Anne’s. Ammu is abused by her father physically, and Anne psychologically.
Sinister little remarks always seem to be made when Anne is present, about the man she loves, A “very degrading alliance”, Sir Walter remarks on Wentworth and Anne’s relationship. Sir Walter makes it clear to Anne that her “connection” with Wentworth is not acceptable and is frowned upon by all in their circle. Austen brings to our attention through the antagonist Anne, prejudice and class distinction in rural England in 1816. Anne at the age of nineteen fell in love with Captain Wentworth, but her family considered him to be financially and socially too risky for her to marry.
This left Anne heart broken and forlorn, which took its toll on her looks. At the beginning of the novel Anne is a twenty-seven year old woman, and a shadow of her former self. Captain Wentworth notices that her looks have “wretchedly altered” to the point that it is hard to find the Anne he once knew in the “ruins of the face” of the Anne now. Anne has slowly been forced to take a back seat in the Elliot family and this has had a devastating effect on her whole being. She has lost her “bloom and spirit”, Lady Russell remarks.
Anne tries to curb the discriminations her family inflict verbally behind the backs of those who strive to better themselves, like “men of the navy”, but her words fall on deaf ears. Anne “would not be allowed to be of any use” or “importance” Lady Russell tells Anne, making the reader aware that she is not valued. Anne is not ranked highly in her own family, her “word had no weight” in any decision making process. Elizabeth reinforces this notion about Anne, by telling everyone that “nobody will want her in Bath”.
The immediate impression we have of Anne is that she is just passing her days away until she is either married off forcibly, or she dies a spinster. Anne has no confidence or faith in her future, as other people seem to know what’s best for her. Anne is willing to be persuaded without any conflict by Lady Russell and her father. She is submissive to her father and older sister Elizabeth. At this point in the novel Anne shows no independence or confidence. It seems a daughter is easily dismissed or spirited away if she does not follow orders.
In ‘The God of Small Things’ we are introduced to Ammu, who is also twenty-seven years old, along with her two children Rahel and Estha. The events in the novel span a twenty-three year period from 1969 to 1993. Ammu has hopes and aspirations in the beginning, but her dreadful childhood has left her slightly deranged. She is abused physically and verbally by men throughout her life, including her own father, until she dies in squalor. Prior to her tragic demise, she tries to ensure a better future for herself by marrying, but he is the “wrong man” who is inferior to her. From the day she marries nothing gets better for Ammu.
Most of Ammu’s adventures or tortures take place in Ayemenem, which ironically is no “Paradise”. Ammu has developed an “Unsafe Edge” and the “reckless rage of a suicide bomber”. She is completely the opposite to Anne Elliot. Ammu is a rebel, risk taker and disturbingly fearless in the face of adversity. There is no hope in this novel for Ammu and her children. Haunting feelings are constantly channelled by Roy in her disturbing use of language. We feel from the beginning the dense and sombre mood, which is born from society’s prejudice and class “brooding” distinction in Ayemenem.
Ammu is uncomfortable with her lot and we feel throughout the novel the frustration of Ammu, Rahel and Estha. Nothing can change for them, as the laws in relation to caste make them outcasts. They learn to live with the “cold, calculating cruelty” Ammu’s society inflicts. From the onset in ‘Persuasion’ we are made aware by Sir Walter that two distinct branches exist to define class in his society: The Baronetage and Navy Lists. One represents the aristocracy and the other the navy. Both battle for supremacy in a changing new world.
The navy is a threat to the aristocracy, as Sir Walter is always making defamatory remarks about any one who is in it, as it “cuts up a mans youth and vigour” and he finds it a “disgust” to speak to anyone who is in the navy because of their humble beginnings. Sir Walter cannot stand the fact that common men could easily rise to a higher status if they worked hard in the navy and were financially astute, like Captain Wentworth. This was annoying to people like Sir Walter who believed that the right to such a privilege should be inherited or handed down.
However, Sir Walter’s prejudices are not fostered by the younger generation. We become aware of how highly they appreciate the navy for their success in the Napoleonic wars, the Battle of Trafalgar and Waterloo, which affected a great many people. Louisa’s outburst of “admiration” and “delight” while walking with Anne in Lyme Regis proves that the young are not so easily influenced by prejudices and discriminations cultivated by the older generation. The younger generation see the real value of men who lay down their lives for England.
Louisa declares that men of the navy have “more worth” and “deserve to be respected and loved”. Sir Walter highlights in chapter one that the “Baronetage” contains ‘his’ “ancient and respectful family”. We are made aware that Sir Walter has delusions of grandeur. His prejudices are in relation to “vanity” and “situation”. Sir Walter thinks if people are not good looking, married or with status they have no worth and should not receive his attention. He actually believes that without both you are clearly “inferior” and not from good blood.
Bizarrely, Sir Walter believes beauty and perfection are associated with “good-breeding” and must be evident at all times. He discriminates directly against people who are not attractive, and even the slightest mark is considered hideous. This is cruelly brought to us when Sir Walter is “continually making severe remarks” about Mrs Clay’s “freckles”, “projecting tooth” and “clumsy wrist”. All her human faults are linked to being a person of an obscure birth line. Her slight physical imperfections are portrayed to us as grotesque deformities or disabilities by Sir Walter.
Sir Walter’s friend Lady Rusell too, had “prejudices on the side of ancestry”, an important criteria to look at when being in certain company. Lady Rusell is protective of Anne, and guides her, but Lady Russell fosters the same prejudices as Sir Walter, as she was active in the break up of Anne’s and Wentworth’s relationship, because of his lack of “fortune”. In “The God of Small things Baby Kochamma disliked Rahel and Estha because they were “Half Hindu Hybrids” and “doomed fatherless waifs”. She is jealous of Ammu because Ammu broke out of her confined and bullied life to find love.
Rahel and Estha suffer racial prejudices through their mixed heritage. They are persecuted in their family and by people of their caste, because of their parents’ union. Baby Kochamma is a family member who attacks Rahel and Estha constantly. She was a nun who was taught to respect people from all walks of life, but she has gone against Christian beliefs to fuel her resentment and hatred towards Ammu’s family. Chacko also exhibits prejudices against mixed relationships. He fuels on divisions with his prejudice. He is a hypocrite, a communist supporter who uses the lower caste like slaves.
He states that “insanity” exists in Syrian Christians because of their “inbreeding”. Chacko, like Sir Walter, does not like anyone marrying out side their ‘caste’. In ‘Persuasion’ society it is acceptable to marry with close blood relatives, as Anne is already being matched to her cousin Sir Walter Elliot. There is a strong contrast between Ammu’s families views on inbreeding and Anne’s families. Inbreeding does not really concern Anne’s family at all, as the aristocracy could not possibly marry anyone outside their circle, as this would be a threat to their status and continuing blood line.
When Ammu married her husband she did not know he would try to prostitute her to help his career. Her husband’s “beatings”, “bullying” and “drinking” was too much to take any more. When Ammu left her husband, she did not realise at the time the consequence of this action. Her intention was to protect herself and her children, but instead she had placed her family at the bottom of the social ‘cast’ ladder. This was a time when women were not of any worth at all except for breeding and rearing children. Her brave escape was food to a culture that is nurtured in prejudices of all kinds in relation to colour, caste and position.
A divorcee in South India has the same social standing as a prostitute. This was coldly highlighted to her at the police station when the police officer told her she was a “veshya” and her children “illegitimate”. Ammu faced indifference at Sophie Mol’s Funeral when her family made her “stand separately” away from “the rest of the family”, and no one would look at them or acknowledge their existence. She would be subject to this bigotry until she died, and after, as her body was shuttled in the back of a dirty “van”, to be cremated, and then buried in an “unmarked” grave in front of Rahel.
Even after death this woman is shown no respect or forgiveness from any of her family. The men in Ammu’s family are indifferent to those who wish to advance in life. They use the caste system to suppress others. Pappachi is a snob whose religious and racial prejudices are abrupt, as he declares he would not allow “Paravans” to enter his house. “Paravans” were expected to clear their foot steps away so “Syrian Christians” and “Brahims” would not defile themselves. This behaviour towards untouchables is deeply rooted in the caste system.
Ammu’s dream of a one armed man, holding her close, who “leaves no foot prints in the sand” or “ripples in the water” makes us aware how deeply psychological these prejudices are rooted. Ammu cannot respond caringly to Velutha in real life, in front of her family, because he is a “communist card” carrier from a lower caste. Her family would be horrified, so her sleep state takes over to full fill her declaration of her love emotionally. Rahel’s family are aware of “classification”, which is a form of racism that keep the different castes apart.
This enables the higher caste to execute control. There is a similar prejudice exhibited in ‘Persuasion’, when Sir Walter says he has two strong grounds of objection to anyone being in the navy. He feels that persons of “obscure birth” (especially from the navy) come into distinction and gain status not through their pure heritage but by “profiteering” or pirate activities, as there are “few among the gentlemen of the navy” and the laws that govern the sea are not the same as on land. Sir Walter declares that the navy’s “methods of doing business” and “liberal notions” are questionable.
Sir Walter is trying to make out that men of the navy are nothing more than crooks. Not only does Sir Walter discriminate against men who work hard for their money, he also ridicules their physical appearance and colouring. It is almost as if sailors are physically deformed, as Sir Walter describes how they loose their youth and vigour most horribly”. To Sir Walter it is a “disdain to speak to” any sailor as they are “quite care worn”. He would be an “object of disgust” to Sir Walter. Sir Walter’s prejudice’s relate to appearance, status and finances.
He discriminates against growing old and any one who has got “wrinkles”, “grey hairs” or “lines” will hear of Sir Walter’s “disdain” . . In ‘The God of Small Things’ displaying a freedom of mind when you are not in the correct “caste”, or even if you are a female is considered a “physical deformity” like a “harelip or club foot”. Sir Walter also makes a rude metaphor and simile about Admiral Baldwin’s face being the “colour of mahogany”, and Admiral Croft’s face “as orange as the cuffs capes of livery”. Racist ideas through Sir Walter’s words.
The slave trade was ending, but still that ideology was instilled in the British aristocracy. Sir Walter cannot differentiate between a slave or a working class man, as both do menial work, and at the end of a hard day at work both are the same in colouring. South India also adopted a lot of British Colonial attitudes towards people who have colour. It seems the shade of your skin and your religion played a role in dictating your vocation in life in Britain and India. Baby Kochama watches the news of war on her western television, as her mind wonders back to “old fears” of revolution along with “Maxist-Leninist” ideas.
She visualises “desperate” and “disposed people” who were a result of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”. She remembers these awful experiences through her ‘television’. A country at war or suppressed will always develop new prejudices and rules to hold down the less fortunate. Ammu’s family exercise prejudices against her. They keep her out of their social circle, because of the stigma attached to a woman who divorces. Likewise, Anne’s family do not hold Anne in high esteem because she did not marry Charles Musgrove. She too has no status and is treated like a glorified housekeeper at times by her own family.
In chapter eight Frederick Wentworth underpins the chauvinism in ‘Persuasion’ by objecting to women travelling on ships with their husbands, “I hate to hear of women on board” and to “see them on board” a ship Wentworth announces at dinner. There seems to be divisions of status in ‘Persuasion’ between Mrs Musgrove and Mrs Hayter. Both had money, but the difference in their position in life was the fact the Musgroves’ were in the “first class of society” and Hayters’ “hardly any class at all”. This class discrimination was because of their “inferior” and “unpolished” way of living.
The Hayters “defective education” had also placed them firmly in a lower class. Education plays a great part in Jane Austen’s society. Even Mr Elliot and Anne discuss the merits of a good education and link it to “amusing and diverse company”. Mr Elliot supports the idea that a little learning is not a “dangerous thing” and he would rather be in the company of people who are educated, of good birth and who possess manners. For Ammu, education, her father believed, was an “unnecessary expense”, as she was only a girl and the process would be wasted on her. Here we have a father showing sexist prejudices towards his own daughter.
A female’s education was not considered, as the only occupation open to a female was “marriage”. Roy makes sure that the reader understands the ignorance behind such prejudices, and the fact that it can also be applied if you are a women. In ‘The God of Small Things’ and ‘Persuasion’ we are introduced to women and men who are oppressed by their society, but have a desire to rise to a better position in life, where they are respected, valued and their voices heard. Rahel, Ammu and Anne at the end of the novels either violate or go against the rules that are imposed on them by the power of their patriarchal society.
The ‘class’ and ‘caste’ divide and prejudice against all who do not adhere to that regime is relayed by negative characters: Pappachi, Mammachi, Baby Kochamma and Koch Maria in ‘The God of Small Things’. In ‘Persuasion’ Sir Walter Elliot, Lady Russell, Elizabeth, Sir William Elliot and Mary drive on prejudice and discrimination. Both heroines desire society and their families to let them rule themselves and be valued. They want to be allowed to make choices without being threatened with poverty, abuse, indifference or death. Ammu and Anne want to live freely, and not be shackled by “male chauvinism”, “caste” or “class” ideologies .
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