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Arundhati Roy and the God of All Things

In: English and Literature

Submitted By elandria1028
Words 2698
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Mary Rosefern Montecalvo

Arundhati Roy and The God of Small Things
Asian Literature – Finals Paper

Does everything really happen for a reason? Or do they merely occur at random? These are but two of several questions that Arundhati Roy left me with after I finished reading her novel The God of Small Things. Roy quoted contemporary writer John Berger for her novel’s epigraph when he said: "Never again will a single story be told as though it's the only one." Readers would agree that it is perfect for a story that is told in a non-linear manner with multiple perspectives.

Synopsis of the Novel:

Mostly set in a village named Ayemenem in India, the story tells about the childhood of fraternal twins Estha (a girl) and Rahel (a boy) when they were 7 years old in 1969 and then 24 years later in 1996. Ammu, the twins’ mother, also grew up in Ayemenem with her parents Pappachi and Mammachi. She has a brother named Chacko who went to study at Oxford and married a white woman named Margaret. They have a daughter named Sophie. While she's pregnant, Margaret falls for a guy named Joe, whom she marries after divorcing Chacko. Chacko is heartbroken and moves back to Ayemenem. Ammu also used to be married before she went back to Ayemenem with the twins in tow. Her husband’s name was Baba and they got divorced when Baba informed her about an indecent proposal thought up by his boss. Ammu did not agree to play along with it and in doing so, got herself beat up by Baba. This was also what led her to go back to her parents’ house.

The novel begins with Rahel travelling back to Ayemenem after she heard that her twin brother Estha has returned there. They have been separated since they were 7 years old due in part to the arrival of their half-English cousin named Sophie and the subsequent events that surround her coming to Ayemenem.

We then learn that the family went on a trip to meet Margaret and Sophie after Joe died. The family stayed at a hotel the night before Margaret and Sophie arrived. This was also an opportunity for the twins to watch the Sound of Music but Estha was asked to wait outside because he was very noisy and unfortunately, was then harassed by the “Lemondrink Man”. Rahel was very concerned that Ammu will love her less because of Sophie’s presence and Estha had this fear that the “Lemondrink Man” knows where he lives so they devised a plan to “escape”. They asked a maintenance worker named Velutha to help out in fixing a boat. Coincidentally, this is the same man who is also Ammu’s lover. Velutha’s father found out about the affair and confronted Ammu’s family about it pointing out that it shouldn’t happen since Ammu and Velutha were of different classes with Velutha belonging to the lowest class. He also offered to kill his own son to set things right. Ammu was locked inside her room causing her to unload emotionally at her children by shouting at them. This was the point when the twins decided to carry out their plan and Sophie joined in saying that they were all going to make the adults “feel very sorry”. While rowing across the river, their boat got hit by a log and it capsized. Sophie drowned and died.

Baby Kochamma (Ammu’s aunt) and Mammachi decided to ask Velutha to skip town to avoid the embarrassment on their family because of his relationship with Ammu but then Sophie’s body was discovered which led to Baby Kochamma resorting to a different plan. He blamed Velutha for the three children’s disappearance saying that he abducted them and also accused him of raping Ammu. The police found Velutha and beat him savagely although it was then found out that he had nothing to do with the children’s disappearance.

Ammu and the twins were ignored by everyone during Sophie’s funeral and when later Ammu decided to go to the police station to clear Velutha’s name, she was told that it was already too late because he’s already dead.

The grief Chacko (Sophie’s father) felt was used by Baby Kochamma to set him up against Ammu. It was decided that Estha will be sent to live with Baba and Rahel will live with Mammachi and Baby Kochamma while Ammu was banished from the Ayemenem house. She died at the age of 31 when she was out of town on a job interview.

24 years later, the twins meet again in Ayemenem. Sharing a fond moment in their mother’s bedroom, they made love out of "hideous grief" for the deaths of Ammu, Velutha, and Sophie.

The novel’s final chapter describes the first night of Ammu's and Velutha's affair. They are both drawn to the riverbank, where they meet and make love for the first time. After that, they continue to meet in secret and share their admiration of "Small Things" such as the creatures of the riverbank. Each night as they part, they say to one another: "Tomorrow? Tomorrow." On the last night they meet before Velutha's death, Ammu is compelled to turn back and repeat one more time: "Tomorrow."

The Story in Context

The novel is said to be semi-autobiographical with a lot of the events in the story coming from Arundhati Roy’s family history.

Roy was born in 1961 in Bengal, India to a Christian mother and a Hindu father. She grew up in Aymanam in Kerala which is the same place she used as the setting of her story (renaming it as “Ayemenem”). Roy was quoted as explaining that "It (Ayemenem) was the only place in the world where religions coincide; there's Christianity, Hinduism, Marxism and Islam and they all live together and rub each other down ... I was aware of the different cultures when I was growing up and I'm still aware of them now. When you see all the competing beliefs against the same background you realize how they all wear each other down. To me, I couldn't think of a better location for a book about human beings."

With the stage set for her story, Roy then went on to tell a tale that would show us just how diverse her town is and how this place is also an allegorical representation of India as a country and even (I daresay) of the world as it is now.

The story brims with Indian political and social issues. Although the caste system and discrimination based on social status has been outlawed by the Indian Constitution of 1949, it's pretty clear throughout the novel that there are certain social rules that persist and that still have to be obeyed – particularly in terms of who is allowed to interact with whom. The novel pays particular attention to what the narrator calls the "Love Laws," which interpret the caste system to explore who is allowed to love whom, how, and how much. The violation of these social rules is central to the unravelling of the seemingly simple life that Estha and Rahel experience as children and has a key role in forming the circumstances that led up to Sophie’s death.

Class politics, particularly those based on Marxism and Communism, are also dealt with in the novel. The rise of the lower classes and the toppling of the upper classes is a concept at the heart of these political ideologies that gives hope to some of the novel's characters and fills others with fear. Roy herself seems to be particularly interested in the politics of class. She has written many political articles and was even awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in 2004. All in all, there was a lot to untangle in the book especially with the way it seems to be jumping back and forth in time.

I should also not fail to mention that Roy is widely known for her political activism as well as for her involvement in human rights and environmental causes. She has published many works of nonfiction including several essays as well as The End of Imagination (1998), The Greater Common Good (1999), The Cost of Living (1999), Power Politics (2002), War Talk (2003), The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile (2004, with David Barsamian), and An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire (2004). She also took part in the June 2005 World Tribunal on Iraq. In January 2006 she was awarded the Sahitya Akademi award for her collection of essays, The Algebra of Infinite Justice, but she declined to accept it.

Roy has faced accusations of being anti-American and was convicted of contempt of court by the New Delhi Supreme Court for her political activism. Despite all of this, she remains persistent with the things that she fights for.

The novel is therefore an avenue for Roy to express her unhappiness with the rules and laws of the Indian society as using the lens of a child. It provided her with a means to express herself creatively and it also allows the world to see India not just with the prejudicial lens that we usually have for it but through a story that we can relate to by using themes of love, childhood and the dictates of the society that rule over them.

Personal Views on Arundhati Roy and The God of Small Things

I have always enjoyed reading for as long as I can remember but the only other book I have completely read by an Indian author is Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie. Funny but my main reason is because the names of the characters on Indian novels “hurt my eyes” bad. I do not enjoy constantly struggling to pronounce the names nor the discomfort I feel when reading them and had to put the books down in favour of more mainstream reads (in my opinion) like those by Amy Tan, Paulo Coelho, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende. But for this class, I relented and pushed myself to finish Roy’s book.

As a romantic, I picked Roy because she’s a woman. I believe female writers tend to tell a story in a more compassionate and warmhearted manner than most male writes do. Also, her rendition of the story is a bit similar to some of my favourite authors’ style. I have always been fascinated with India’s caste system and when I found out that it’s part of the issues tackled on the story, I became very interested with it.

I was in for a big surprise because the story appealed to me in more ways than one.

Many people would say that a nonlinear book narration is confusing and very difficult to follow. For me, I find it to be a challenge and perhaps this is because of my assumption that a story is told in a manner that the storyteller believes would best generate the mood and credence that the story demands to ensure a deeper understanding of what it tries to say to its readers.

The novel, told in a nonlinear and multi-perspectival manner, imposes on me the feeling that each event in our lives could be considered as either a beginning or an ending of a story depending on whose perspective. To reinforce this assumption I would like to quote Roy from the novel in Chapter 12, paragraph 8 wherein she wrote:

“It didn't matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don't surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover's skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don't.”

A lot of things happen in The God of Small Things that many of us might not be able to relate to right away. It would be very hard to relate to a fraternal twin who had his/her childhood in 1960’s India with an obsession for The Sound of Music and a crazy aunt on the side. Albeit very few of us would say that’s our life but there are also many things in the story that most of us can relate to all too well. One of this would be the things that matter to each and every one of us. Given a chance and the necessary skills to allow everyone to tell a story, the stories would be as diverse as every one of humankind’s personal experiences, thoughts and sentiments.

Everyone has also had something happen in their life that they wish they could undo. We've all wondered why something bad had to happen to us. Maybe a friend deserted you at a time you needed him/her most or perhaps a loved one left you for somebody else. Maybe you got turned down for something that you believe yourself to be truly good. There are times in our lives when we feel as if everything has gone terribly wrong and we repeatedly kill ourselves by thinking things through over and over again wondering what would have happened if we did one thing or another differently.

True, the death of a young child in the character of Sophie is a very tragic part of the story not just for her demise but also with how it changed the lives of Estha, Rahel, and the rest of their family. The way I see it, Roy also wanted us to see just how powerless we are at times against fate. No matter how we try to convince ourselves that we are the “masters of our destinies”, we are simply no match to how things turn out in the end. We have no means of stopping the hand that controls and shapes our lives inasmuch as we do not know when and where this hand strikes.

Beyond letting us see why bad things have to happen in the first place, the book gives us many different stories about a number of the characters involved in it, showing how each person's story got us to the place where we end up. That’s why I believe it forces us to think about whether things happen randomly or if they're meant to be.

As mentioned earlier, I see the town of Ayemenem as an allegory to India. It makes us see how diverse and colorful Indian culture is and how this diversity often bring about the triumphs and the tragedies of every Indian’s life. It is much like the Philippines, the US and even the rest of the world in that we are all governed with different laws, customs, beliefs and traditions that shape our views for and against everybody else and are also the bases for how we act and think individually.

Being brought up with a Christian mother, I think that this novel brings out Roy’s Christian upbringing in which she wants to send the message of unity among mankind – to embrace diversity and to see each and every one of us as equals regardless of any societal, political or even racial differences we may have.

By having the courage to write this novel, she not only lifted the Indian women’s level in the literary world but also provided us with a window to her country to peek in and better get to know India’s people.

I believe that with this beautiful piece of work, Roy hit several birds with a single stone – she was able to express herself creatively and got international acclaim for it, she was able to voice out her sentiments against the issues that plague her country and, best of all, she will be remembered by her readers to have provoked feelings of sympathy, passion and appreciation as well as called for moments of personal contemplation with how we see things in our lives. And aren’t those the things that matter to an author the most?…...

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...Hunting of an animal. Long detailed description of the small things with many pauses (line breaks), a feeling of something coming, suspense.! The policemen carry batons but are thinking of machine guns.! When they arrive they have the feeling of being responsible for “Touchable futur”.! They wake Velutha with their heavy boots by kicking him.! The children wake up by: ”to the shout of sleep surprised by shattered kneecaps”. They don’t know that Velutha was there. There are paralysed by fear and disbelief.! The police beat V= extreme violence, skull cracking, broken ribs puncturing his lungs, damaged spine, broken teeth, ruptured intestine…! The twins are too young to understand. The policemen are “history’s henchmen” acting out the inevitable.! Estha and Rahel learn that blood smells "sicksweet. Like roses on a breeze”! Rahel tells Estha that she can tell that it isn't Velutha – she says it's Urumban, his "twin" who was at the march. Estha says nothing because he is "unwilling to seek refuge in fiction”. Rahel retreats into fantasy and ignorance.! The six policemen take all of Estha and Rahel's toys for their kids. The only thing they leave behind is Rahel's watch, which has the fake time painted on it. they wonder if Velutha really kidnapped them.! Climatic tragedy, violence unlike Sophie Mol’s death.! The police achieve that place beyond rage that the twins would later see in the story of Bhima, and again Roy steps back to examine the larger implications of......

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Through God All Thing Are Possible

...Through God all things are possible “Ye though I walk through the valley of shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” Psalm 23:4. In my darkest time of trouble I would say this scripture which reminds me that God is aways with me. During exams, family problems, altercations and even through the greatest temptations those words always remained my guide. My experiences with overcoming obsticles can not compare to some of history’s couragous people with remarkable, unforgettable stories. We have all hear the stories of Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and even Oprah stories. But the one that touched me the most is an Afrcan’s. I assure you, you havent heard a phenomial story like Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Rwandan that survived the most hematic holocaust in history. Immaculee is a perfect example that even in difficult situations God see’s us through Like Immaculee, she too had testing times. One particular even was when she first discovered there was a tribal difference.At a young age she was discriminated because of her ethnic identity. In primary school Immaculee had to accept new changes. Finding out she belonged to the Tutsi tribe. Immaculee was able to overcome this by accepting change, she educated herself about the tutsi history. As a child she thought that being a Tutsi was a good thing, she thought it was special, she didn’t let it effect the way she thought of others. “Through a child’s eyes(or atleast my......

Words: 1262 - Pages: 6