The God of Small Things

The God of Small Things

infobox Book |
name = The God of Small Things
title_orig =
translator =

author = Arundhati Roy
cover_artist =
country = India
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = Flamingo Pubs (UK)
release_date = 9 June 1997
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 321 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-00-225586-3
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The God of Small Things" (1997) is a semi-autobiographical, politically charged novel by Indian author Arundhati Roy. It is a story about the childhood experiences of a pair of fraternal twins who become victims of circumstance. The book is a description of how the small things in life build up, translate into people's behavior and affect their lives. The book won the Booker Prize in 1997.

"The God of Small Things" is Roy's first book, and as of 2006, is her only novel. Completed in 1996, the book took four years to write. The potential of the story was first recognized by Pankaj Mishra, an editor with HarperCollins, who sent it to three British publishers. Roy received half-a-million pounds (approx. $970,000 USD) in advances, and rights to the book were sold in 21 countries.


The story primarily takes place in a town named Ayemenem or Aymanam now part of Kottayam in Kerala state of India. The temporal setting shifts back and forth from 1969, when Rahel and Estha, a set of fraternal twins are 7 years old, to 1993, when the twins are reunited at age 31. Much of the story is written in a viewpoint sympathetic to the 7-year-old children. Malayalam words are liberally used in conjunction with English. Prominent facets of Kerala life that the novel captures are Communism, the caste system, and the Keralite Syrian Christian way of life.

This plot summary places the events in chronological order, though the novel shifts around in time.

Shri Benaan John Ipe (referred to as Pappachi, which means grandfather), an imperial entomologist prior to his retirement, fathered Ammu and Chacko with his wife, Shoshamma Ipe (referred to as Mammachi, which means grandmother). Pappachi has been bitter since his discovery of a new species of moth was dismissed and then credited to someone else. His facade of being a perfect husband and father hides his abusive tendencies towards his family, especially Mammachi. One night, while Pappachi is beating his wife, Chacko, Ammu's brother, a Rhodes scholar home from Oxford University stops him and tells him to never do it again. From then on, till his death, Pappachi never hits nor speaks to Mammachi again. He also refuses to let Ammu continue with her college education, so she is forced to return home to Ayemenem.

Without sufficient dowry for a marriage proposal, Ammu becomes desperate to escape her ill-tempered father and bitter, long-suffering mother. Finally, she convinces her parents to let her spend a summer with a distant aunt in Calcutta. To avoid returning to Ayemenem, she marries a man who assists managing a tea estate (who she later discovers to be a heavy alcoholic, who beats her and attempts to prostitute her to his boss so that he can keep his job). She gives birth to two children, dizygotic twins Estha and Rahel, but ultimately leaves her husband and returns to live with her mother and brother in Ayemenem.

Also living at the house with Ammu, Chacko, and Mammachi is the sister of Pappachi, Baby Kochamma (Kochamma is an honorific name for a female). As a young girl, Baby Kochamma had fallen in love with Father Mulligan, a young Irish priest who had come to Ayemenem to study Hindu scriptures. In order to get closer to him, Baby Kochamma became a Roman Catholic and joined a convent. Father Mulligan though, becomes a Hindu, adding an ironic twist to her actions. She quickly realized the futility of her plans and returned home, though she never stopped loving Father Mulligan. Because of her own misfortunes, Baby Kochamma delights in the misfortune of others.

While studying at Oxford, Chacko had fallen in love and married an English woman named Margaret Kochamma. Shortly after the birth of their daughter Sophie Mol (Mol means girl), Chacko and Margaret get a divorce (Margaret having fallen in love with another man, Joe, while pregnant). Unable to find a job, Chacko returns to India to teach. Chacko never stops loving Margaret, and the two of them keep in touch (even though she no longer sees him in a romantic light). After the death of Pappachi, Chacko returns to Ayemenem and expands his mother's pickling business into an ultimately unsuccessful pickle factory called Paradise Pickles and Preserves.

Margaret remarries, but her husband Joe is killed in an accident. Chacko invites the grieving Margaret and Sophie to spend Christmas in Ayemenem. On the way to the airport, the family (Chacko, Ammu, Estha, Rahel, and Baby Kochamma) encounters a group of communist protesters. The protesters surround the family car and force Baby Kochamma to wave a red flag and chant a communist slogan. She is humiliated and begins to harbor a deep hatred towards Velutha (a man from the factory), who Rahel claims to have seen in the crowd. After this, the family visits a theater playing "The Sound of Music", where Estha is sexually abused by the "Orangedrink Lemondrink man" (the food vendor).

Velutha is an untouchable (the lowest caste), a paravan. His family has been working for Chacko's for generations. Velutha is extremely gifted with his hands, an accomplished carpenter and mechanic. Unlike other untouchables, Velutha has a self-assured air, and has become indispensable at the pickle factory because of his skills with repairing the machinery. Rahel and Estha look up to Velutha, and he befriends them. The day of Margaret and Sophie's arrival, Ammu and Velutha realize that they are attracted to one another.

When her intimate relationship with Velutha is discovered, Ammu is tricked and locked in her room and Velutha is banished. When the twins ask their mother why she has been locked up, Ammu (in her rage) blames them as the reason why she cannot be free and screams at them to go away. Rahel and Estha decide to run away, and Sophie convinces them to take her with them. During the night, while trying to reach an abandoned house across the river, their boat capsizes and Sophie drowns. The twins search all night for Sophie, but cannot find her. Wearily, they fall asleep at the abandoned house. They are unaware that Velutha is there as well, for it is where he secretly meets with Ammu.

When Sophie's body is discovered, Baby Kochamma goes to the police and accuses Velutha of being responsible for Sophie's death. She claims that Velutha attempted to rape Ammu, threatened the family, and kidnapped the children. A group of policemen hunts Velutha down and savagely beats him for crossing caste lines. The twins witness this terrible scene, and are deeply affected.

When Rahel and Estha reveal the truth of Sophie's death to the chief of police, he is alarmed. He knows that Velutha is a communist, and is afraid that the wrongful arrest and impending death of Velutha will cause a riot amongst the local communists. He threatens Baby Kochamma, telling her that unless she gets the children to change their story, she will be held responsible for falsely accusing Velutha of the crime. Baby Kochamma tricks Rahel and Estha into believing that unless they accuse Velutha of Sophie's death, they and Ammu will all be sent to jail. She even tricks Rahel and Estha into believing that they pushed Sophie out of the boat because they were jealous of her. Eager to save their mother, the children testify against Velutha. Velutha dies from his injuries.

However, Baby Kochamma has underestimated Ammu's love for Velutha. Hearing of his arrest, Ammu comes to the station to tell the truth about their relationship. She is told by the police to leave the matter alone. Afraid of being exposed, Baby Kochamma convinces Chacko that Ammu and the twins are responsible for his daughter's death. Chacko forces Ammu to leave the house. Ammu, unable to find a job, is forced to send Estha to live with his father. Estha never sees Ammu again, as she dies alone and impoverished a few years later.

Rahel, when grown up, leaves for the US, gets married, divorced and finally returns to Ayemenem after several years working as a waitress in an Indian restaurant and as a night clerk at a gas station. Rahel and Estha, both 31 at this time, are reunited for the first time since they were 7 years old. Both Estha and Rahel have been damaged by their past, and by this time Estha has become perpetually silent because of his traumatic childhood. The twins stay together for most of a day, and that night commit incest with one another.

Characters in "The God of Small Things"

* Ammu - Rahel and Estha's mother, sister of Chacko, daughter of Pappachi and Mammachi.
* Baba - Rahel and Estha's father, tried to beat Ammu and prostitute her, later re-married, of a lower caste than Ammu.
* Baby Kochamma (Navomi Ipe) - Pappachi's sister, aunt to Chacko and Ammu, and grand-aunt to Sophie Mol, Estha, and Rahel.
* Chacko - Brother to Ammu, son of Pappachi and Mammachi, father to Sophie Mol and divorced from Margaret Kochamma.
* Comrade Pillai - Leader of the local communist party.
* Estha (Esthappen Yako) - Rahel's twin brother, son of Ammu and Baba.
* Father Mulligan- Baby Kochamma's love interest. A Roman Catholic.
* Joe - Second husband of Margaret.
* Kari Saipu - English paedophile who lived in the History House before Estha and Rahel arrived in Ayemenem; Vellya Pappen pins his ghost to a tree with his sickle, ghost remains there asking for a cigar.
* Kochu Maria - Housekeeper to Mammachi, Chacko, and Baby Kochamma.
* Larry McCaslin - ex-husband of Rahel, travels to India to teach and falls in love with Rahel, bringing her back to the USA with him.
* Mammachi (Shoshamma Ipe) - Blind. Wife of Pappachi, mother of Chacko and Ammu, grandmother of Estha, Rahel, and Sophie Mol. Also founder of the family pickle factory.
* Margaret Kochamma - Chacko's ex-wife, mother of Sophie Mol.
* Murlidharan - Homeless, insane person who crouches naked on the welcome sign for Cochin. Carries keys to his last residence around his waist expectantly.
* Orangedrink Lemondrink Man - Paedophile from Estha's past.
* Pappachi (Shri Benaan John Ipe) - Father to Chacko and Ammu, grandfather to Estha, Rahel, and Sophie Mol. He was an imperial entomologist.
* Rahel - Estha's twin sister, daughter of Ammu and Baba, divorced from Larry McCaslin.
* Sophie Mol - Cousin of the twins, daughter of their uncle Chacko and Margaret Kochamma.
* Inspector Thomas Mathew - Police inspector who interviews Baby Kochamma on the night Velutha dies. Somewhat ambivalent about his men's practices of beating Untouchables nearly to death with no substantiated reason.
* Urumban - Velutha's imaginary twin brother.
* Kuttappen - Velutha's paralyzed brother.
* Velutha - The title character, local carpenter, an untouchable (lower social caste) by birth.
* Vellya Paapen- Velutha's father, a Paravan.

External links

* [ A study guide] , which explains many Indian terms and concepts
* [ Discussion] of various issues depicted in the novel and reviews and examination of contemporary and ancient Indian problems in relation to the novel.

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