The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy tells a story about the twins Estha and Rahel. Their life is filled with many tragedies that are caused by their family. The novel continues to flash back between several events at different parts in their lives. Velutha is one of the most important characters and is an untouchable servant to Estha and Rahel’s family. Another significant character is Sophie Mol and she is the twins’ cousin. Her tragic death affects both of the twins for the rest of their lives. There are several events that contain the character Baby Kochamma, the twins’ aunt. She plays a large role in manipulating the children and altering their lives inevitably. Overall the novel twists through many years of Estha and Rahel’s lives and tells a tale of traumatic events that can lead to detrimental effects in the future. It is a novel that deals with a lot of issues in the Indian society, such as loss of close family members and discrimination due to class system. A constant issue that intertwines its way through the novel is the issue of abuse. From the beginning of the book straight through until the end there are constant instances of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. The novel not only deals with the corruption within the Indian society, but narrows it down to the corruption within a single family itself.
Estha and Rahel have dealt with a great deal of loss in their life. Sophie Mol, although she was only in their life for a short period of time, was one of the greatest losses that they had to experience. The reason behind this event being so traumatic is the fact that Baby Kochamma made them feel that they were the murderers of Sophie Mol. “She looked them in the eye. ‘You are murderers’ (Roy 300). In this quotation it is extremely evident that Baby is putting the blame directly on the twins for the accident that has happened. Baby is placing the blame on the twins to protect herself from the previous accusations she made towards Velutha. At the expense of two young, and innocent children, Baby chose to protect herself leaving traumatic scars on the young children. They were now weighed down with the death of another young girl, and for the rest of the rest of their lives were set to believe that they were murders.
Velutha was another important figure in the twins’ life, and he too was killed due to unreasonable circumstances. The caste system and the fact that Velutha was an untouchable were mostly to blame for this tragic event. Baby Kochamma sent the police after Velutha once she was made aware of his affair with Ammu. The twins were hiding inside the house when the police found Velutha and beat him within inches of his life. For two young children, listening to the sounds of this beating was unimaginably painful. Not only did they lose their dear friend Velutha but they had a front row seat to his torture. In the end they were forced to place false blame on him due to the fact that Baby made them believe that they were murderers. They now had to carry the weight of Sophie Mol’s death on their shoulders. On top of that they were also forced to blame Velutha for kidnapping them. Then finally in the end they had to take partial responsibility for Velutha’s untimely demise. That is a lot of blame placed on two young children. This incident is also a representation of the corruption within the police force: they were quick to act on Baby’s accusations, but when they realized that they had made a mistake they made someone else take the fall for their actions.
Another tragic death for the twins was the death of their mother Ammu. The most difficult part of this loss is the fact that Rahel went through it alone. Estha was away when Ammu passed and Rahel was unable to tell Estha: “There are things that you cannot do like writing letters to a part of yourself. To your feet or hair. Or heart” (Roy 156). This quotation not only shows the hardship that Rahel had to go through on her on but also how truly closely bonded the twins were. The fact that Rahel referred to him as another part of yourself really shows their connection. For Estha the loss of his mother was already heartbreaking enough but then on top of it all Rahel did not even write to him when it happened. This just adds to the number of things that happens to Estha that lead to his silence.
The class system in India deals a lot with the untouchables, people that are below the caste system and are said to ritually pollute those that come in contact with them (Rodrigues 87-88). There are many instances of Velutha particularly being treated in a very negative way due to his caste. “If only for he hadn’t been a Paravan, he might have become and engineer” (Roy 72). This quote shows that Velutha was a very intelligent man and if he had been born into a different family he would have been living a very different life.
The caste system in India is not only restricting people but is also harming their economy. There could be people that are capable of life changing things such as Velutha. He could have been a great engineer and could have contributed to society, but due to his caste he was unable to pursue anything other than being a carpenter. Now, even though the different castes are still treated differently, things have made a slight change. “Mammachi told Estha and Rahel that she could remember a time, in her girlhood, when Paravans were expected to crawl backwards with a broom, sweeping away their footprints” (Roy 71). Those days have now passed and the untouchables, although still treated poorly, have slowly become more and more accepted into society. Even though the caste system is not as rigid as it once was, it still plays a huge role in people’s lives. It controls who can work what jobs, and who is allowed to love who. This comes into play when Velutha and Ammu have their affair and eventually leads to Velutha’s death. Due to Baby Kochamma accusing Velutha of rape and sending the obviously corrupted police after him, Velutha is then beaten to death, all because of his caste. Baby was not happy that Ammu was sleeping with a Paravan and therefore made wrongful accusations towards him. Her discrimination towards another caste lead to the murder of an innocent man, and other traumatic events that trailed on afterwards. Throughout this novel you can see that the caste system is an issue and can lead to catastrophic events, like death in this case yet, it is still alive today in India and discrimination is still present towards those that occupy the lower levels of the caste system.
The last topic, and what appears to be the most frequent throughout the book, is abuse. The one instance of abuse that is most evident throughout the book is Estha’s encounter with the Orangedrink Lemondrink man. This event is one of the many reasons that Estha no longer speaks. It completely took away his childhood and also created a constant state of panic within Estha at all times. A study that took place in India in 2007 stated that 53.22% of 12,447 children were sexually abused and 21% of those children reported that it was a severe form of sexual abuse, (Kacker 74-75). This issue has been around for a long time and the numbers are astounding. For Estha this was a life altering moment, he was never the same again. He was constantly worried that his molester would one day come and find him again. This is happening to over fifty percent of the children in India and needs to be controlled.
Throughout the book it is shown that there is a lot of domestic violence between all members of the family, and the way that the book is written it makes it seem as though it is a normal thing to happen in the average household. When Pappachi retired and Mammachi was still in her prime he took a great offence to this. “Every night he beat her with a brass flower vase. The beatings weren’t new. What was new was only the frequency with which they took place” (Roy 47). This quotation leads us to believe that Pappachi was always an abusive man but the more that he felt insecure about himself or threatened he would take it out on his wife. Yet again, the wording of that quote made it out to seem as though abuse was a normal situation within this family, as if it was a societal norm.
Overall this book talks about a lot of issues within Indian society, so much so that I was unable to touch on all of them. The few that I did touch on seemed to be the most evident to me and also seemed that they are still issues in today’s society. The loss the twins endured is something that everyone will have to go through once in their life, but the corruption within their family and the police system made this loss significantly worse. The blame was placed wrongly in several circumstances and the twins were then forced to carry immense weight on their shoulders for the rest of their lives. The second issue that is alive and well in Indian society today is the caste system. Although it has come a long way from where it once began it is still a major issue. People are mistreated and discriminated against due to only the caste they were born into. No matter how smart, or presentable a person may be they will still be looked down upon if they were to be a part a lower caste or an untouchable. This novel shows how negatively someone can be treated and how it can eventually be taken as far as death such as in Velutha’s situation. The caste system is not only harming people but is allowing for services such as the police force to act unjustly. Today there is a lot of violence towards the untouchables. In the year 2000, 25,445 crimes were committed against people of the untouchable caste (Mayelle, 2003). The article states shocking things including “every hour two Dalits are assaulted; every day three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched” (Mayelle 2003). These statistics are shocking. There is still discrimination against the untouchables today and it is extremely violent. This article also goes into depth about how the police force is not doing their job to protect this lower level class and this can also be seen in the novel many times. The police force and that caste system is allowing for corruption and is said to be “ok” because they are of a lower caste and therefore are worth less than those above them in the system. Accusations are made and quickly accepted due to the fact that someone is an untouchable. This system has changed over the years but still leads people to be discriminated against in a very negative and sometimes harmful way.
The last subject deals with abuse, which is an issue not only in Indian culture but throughout the world. This novel approaches it in a way that makes it seem normal, or even like it is the right thing to do. Although abuse is a very well know topic it is still something that should not be portrayed as a normal thing. The only time in the book where it seemed to be a traumatic event was when Estha was subject to sexual abuse. Aside from that incident abuse came across as simple as sitting down for dinner, as if it was routine, making it evident that it is a norm in the Indian society and is something that every family deals with.
In the end the novel takes the readers on a very twisted and corrupted journey of two innocent children who are faced with very challenging obstacles, that in the end, have negative effects on both of the children. From great loss, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and having to deal with the corruption in their family these two young children are left scarred for the rest of their lives. This book not only shows just how this one family is damaged but also mirrors what any family in an Indian society may go through in similar circumstances. It touches on real issues that real families, children, and individuals deal with on a daily basis. This book has a great amount of detail as to what people in these societies deal with day after day and the hardships that they must face. Overall this book is a true eye opener to the issues that are still intertwined in Indian culture today and shows that something needs to change.
References and Further Recommended Reading
Roy, Arundhati (1997) The God of Small things. Toronto: Penguin Random House.
Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism-The E-Book: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.
Kacker, Dr. Loveleen., Varadan, Srinivas., and Kumar, Pravesh (2007). “Study on Child Abuse India 2007” Ministry of Child Development Government of India, Accessed October 30, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.childlineindia.org.in/pdf/MWCD-Child-Abuse-Report.pdf
Mayell, Hillary. (2003). India’s “Untouchables” Face Violence, Discrimination. Retrieved from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/indias-untouchables-face-violence-discrimination/
Further Topics to Research
- Caste systems
- Politics within India
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
This article was written by: Kassie Miller (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.