India has been described as the “country over our shoulder”. To what extent does Arundhati Roy both explain and exploit the culture of Kerala for the English reader in ‘The God of Small Things’? In ‘The God Of Small Things’, as the reader we are introduced to a culture that we will ultimately struggle to understand because the values within a country such as India are so very different to the principles and ethics that we are brought up upon, as a Western reader.
The book itself is written by an Indian, is about Indian culture and therefore it is fair to assume that we will be introduced to new ideas and ways of life throughout the book. One critic believed that “The God of Small Things rapidly reveals its disinterest in trying to encapsulate India” and that it “completely immerses in one community ‘s, one family’s universe. “ And on the whole it is hard to disagree.
Most characters in the novel suffer some form of heartache and pain, which is an attempt by Roy to show that although the death of Sophie Mol, the death of Velutha and the family decay are relatively small things to the rest of the world, their impacts on those surrounding them are far greater and damaging.
I believe Indian culture and its constraints do have much more of a bearing on life compared with the western world (a credible generalization), and that prejudices and social bigotry is inherent in everyone; but what I believe Roy to be exploring is how people face these barriers and react to them.
“The book is not about what happened but about how what happened affected people” . I think that it is wholly implausible to expect an author to entirely enlighten English readers to the Indian traditions, but what Roy does is open up our minds to small things in a small community; thus containing these apparent ‘flaws’ to a specific set of people. Whether we as readers take it as a fundamental generalization for Indian society as a whole remains to be seen. It is the relationship between Ammu and Velutha that dominates the story.
Furthermore it is enhanced by the fact it goes against all the ancient rules and regulations of the caste system. What makes the eventual death of Velutha that more tragic is that the relationship between he and Ammu is one that is borne from true love and not simply a marriage/relationship forced upon them by the regulations of the country, “they had nothing. No future. So they stuck to the small things” . Throughout the book we see a number of relationships that cannot match up to the depth of love that is abundant in the relationship between Ammu and Velutha.
We have Mammachi and Pappachi; a woman subject to years of abuse from the husband and the Rahel/ Larry McCaslin, Chacko/ Margaret marriages all of which did not last. Putting the whole caste system to one side it could be argued that the Ammu and Velutha relationship is the only one that we, as western readers see as conventional. And yet, ironically, in the eyes of all those around Ammu and Velutha this relationship is one that can never be approved of. “They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much.” .
To understand the anger and backlash that comes from the relationship between Ammu and Velutha we must look at what, through ‘indian’ eyes, the relationship actually meant. The caste system is important in Hindu tradition, dating back to 1200BC and the term literally means ‘race’ or ‘breed’. This system dictated who had what jobs, and it was the untouchables who had to do the menial jobs, “Untouchable jobs, such as toilet cleaning and garbage removal, require them to be in contact with bodily fluids. They are therefore considered polluted and not to be touched. “.
The love laws are a whole “nexus of beliefs, rules, practices… “ that govern human sexual behavior. They are not laws that people must abide by- the country has moved on- but the whole tradition and ‘nostalgia’ associated with such beliefs do govern to some extent reactions by people with others. I think that Roy intended not to give an outright rejection of the caste system, but simply to show that it is embedded in Indian culture. In Roy’s novel, “The God of Small Things”, the characters of Ammu and Velutha, an Untouchable or Paravan, break the laws of India’s caste system.
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