Roy’s Insight on Human Nature

by brooklyn89

“I think perhaps that the question we should ask is, ‘What does it mean to be human?’” -Roy

This quote showed to us during Mondays class really brought together what I would like to discuss with you all.  To me this novel seemed to be exactly how Roy describes, ‘what does it mean to be human?’ I think Roy is touching on the small things that humans usually overlook in life. These seemingly small things however add up to form a bigger part of our being. Everything we do or say in our lives has meaning, things as small as a smile to as big as a kiss impact those around us in a great way. Particularly Roy’s character Baby Kochamma stands out as a symbol of some of the innate flaws in the human character.  On page 93 near the bottom reads “Baby Kochamma…would not admit to herself that she was looking forward to the picture. She preferred to feel that she was only doing it for the children’s sake. In her mind she kept an organized, careful account of Things She’d Done For People, and Things People Hadn’t Done For Her”. This character is the epitome of selfishness and she demonstrates many humans inability too look within themselves too see how their actions affect others. On page 78 we see another of the many examples of this, “In the days that followed, Baby Kochamma focused all her fury at her public humiliation on Velutha. She sharpened it like a pencil. In her mind he grew to represent the march, And the man who had forced her to wave the Marxist Party flag”. Baby Kochamma cannot stop, mirror herself  and see that her actions are irrational, she’s taking her pain out on someone else without good reason and being a mindlessly selfish person. In the end this character manages to destroy or at least play a hand in the demise of many of her loved ones. Why is it that people frequently lack the ability to see their selfish actions? How can people like Baby Kochamma live in such ignorance? People form emotional reactions and patterns to situations without even recognizing it. 

Perhaps if people like this took the time to stop and analyze the situation they would react differently. Is this linked perhaps to laziness? Are people too lazy to take the time to monitor their actions?  Roy really tries to bring light to many interesting and sometimes problematic human characteristics. Did you notice any interesting universal characteristics in other characters in the novel, or anything other interesting things about Baby Kochamma? What do you think it means to be human? Or maybe you have had a situation where you’ve seen yourself taking the time to think about your thoughts and actions and how they effect the people around you. Did your analysis of the situation change the way you would normally react?  Did you take the time to think about the consequences of your actions.

Another thing that I noticed was Roy’s notion towards the human characteristic to label things? In this novel we see peoples need to make things either one or the other, jam or jelly, Touchable or Untouchable. Things can no longer just Be, they have to fit in some place. Maybe this makes us feel safer and more comfortable in our world, when all things have a place and definition nothing is unknown or scary. What do you think?

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7 Comments to “Roy’s Insight on Human Nature”

  1. I’m going to touch on your second point. That really stood out to me as well. When they talked about the Banana (mush?) being illegal because it was not jam or jelly I couldn’t believe it. But it is such a clear parallel to the touchable/untouchable issue: you are either a touchable, or an untouchable. There is no in between and there is no option to move between.
    I think it also ties into the idea of adulthood and childhood. There is such a huge distinction between the way Rahel and Estha were when they were children and the way they are when they are adults. It’s almost like there was some point at which they switched and they could no longer be children anymore.
    Your other point, about human nature, is an excellent one too I’m just at a loss for a specific example… I’ll get back to you!

  2. I agree with you that “what it means to be human” is expressed in this book through all the small things. The small things are what make people who they are, otherwise they would not be human. They would just be robots. And the small things include everything down to the violent, disturbing, repulsive, offensive and hurtful, etc. things. Take Baby Kochama, there are hurtful and irrational little things about her, but they only make her human. It is not unusual for all of these, what sound absurd, things to be a part of who someone is. I think Roy does just that: Shows what it is to be human by writing down all the small things in nature and in human appearance and behavior.

  3. Thanks Mel, think you could also make the argument that the book distinguishes between child and adult. The way the children are treated makes their age a stereotype as well as the touchable and untouchables. The adults treat them like they don’t know anything about life, like when Rahel was waving out the window during the parade. Her mother never explains to her why she told her not too. Ammu built the separation between young and old and as a consequence Rahel never really grows up. As a women she’s still stuck her childhood struggling to understand the adult world. The adults assume that the children don’t know anything when in reality they might know more. They see things so simply that they make the world of jam or jelly seem ridiculous. It’s not all about classification, it should be as simple as we hang out with Velutha because it’s fun and makes us happy. Why must adults make things more complicated then that?

  4. You mention how this book deals with the question of what it is to be human and how people need to make things either one or the other. I have read this novel and considered many of the details as trying to show us that although we are all categorized as humans we are all so different and this presents itself as a challenge to humanity that constantly wants to have things one way or the other and, as you say, not just let things be. For example, there are the twins that would be perfect candidates for sharing the same human characteristics but yet they differ not only physically but in every way, there’s bourgeoisie and proletariat, there’s colonizers and colonized, English and Malayalam, HIS and HERS, “big dreams and little ones” 85…there is always differences between one and the other, while Ammu who struggle to be both mother and father for the twins, claims that she has lost all her dreams (p42).
    I think the message that Roy wants to put forward is that being humans means to differ. It is all the little details of life that make us humans, but yet everyone experiences situations differently. We spend way to loong as a society trying to categorize things becuase it gives us a sense of belonging and stability, but yet life is so fragile and ever changing and death seems to be the only shared characteristic of being humans.

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  6. I agree with Rei’s point about the small things being an indicator of human nature and behaviour in this novel. We’ve all heard the cliché that life is not about huge milestones, but rather about the quick, everyday moments and situations which add up…and it rings true in this story. These moments include Baby Kochamma’s fear, which “lay rolled up on the car floor like a damp, clammy cheroot,” (67) and “the tousled intimacy of the blue-cross stitch afternoon and the song from the tangerine transistor” (210).
    This also goes back to the class discussion last Wednesday about how the honest and descriptive observations of the children add to the nuances we see in the grown up characters, such as Baby Kochamma. Is it safe to say that had the novel not included the views of the children, many of these small things would’ve been overlooked? I think that at the very least, the children’s perspective is a conduit for the small things to be allowed to be noticed. Rahel and Estha are the mirrors through which the images of Baby Kochamma and the other characters appear. As readers, we are presented the contrast of flawed, inconsistent and often troubled characters in a seemingly neat, categorized and clearly defined society.

  7. I really like the thread you’ve taken on this Brooklyn, I felt that Roy’s grasp of human nature was incredibly true and telling. Within the field of Social Psychology there is plenty of research which goes to show the effects of familiarity (repetition), self-monitoring activity (selfishness or lack thereof) and categorization (touchable/untouchable) has on humans in general. Roy although she uses many of these techniques within her own writing also seems oblivious to the fact that shes doing so; that these techniques may actually be what made her novel so strong. I found myself inherently liking it without even thinking about how sad and tragic the entire book is.
    A perfect example for me is at the end of the novel when Estha condemns Velutha… “. . . Mathew raked his key across Velutha’s foot. Swollen eyes opened. Wandered. Then focused through a film of blood on a beloved child. Estha imagined that something in him smiled. Not his mouth, but some other unhurt part of him. Hes elbow perhaps. Or shoulder.” (303) This quote actually, truthfully made me so sad for Velutha and at the same time made me wonder at the genius of Roy’s observation and the control of the english language. This one scene where Velutha portrays something so human as happiness at recognition of someone he has always cared for, and loved even when his skull is fractured in three places, his spine is damaged, his teeth smashed and lips destroyed, his lung is torn and this same child he adores is condemning him, and he knows it, but he still expresses that feeling which was extremely touching. Empathy I have only previously felt in movies and real life. Literature, a common ground.
    I have digressed.
    The cultural importance of behaviour in this book was key to the understanding how people acted “This is my factory, my pickles” etc are quotes that directly reinforce that. And the simple existence of a caste system which started centuries ago is evidence of how difficult it is to revolutionize cultural norms.

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