The God of Small Things: Class Struggles and Love-Laws

by robinkate

The God of Small Things is a novel written by Arundhati Roy about two-egg twins, Esthappen and Rahel, and the pivotal events surrounding the tragic death-by-drowning of their newly acquainted English cousin Sophie Mol. Set in Kerala, India in the post-colonial era of the 1960’s, the God of Small Things brings forward many themes including those of class and caste antagonism, love-laws, and the expectations surrounding those issues.

This is Roy’s first novel which won her the Booker Prize in 1997. Considered to be a part of Indo-Anglian literature, Roy has been fighting against the stereotype of “What does it mean to be Indian.” In an interview with Salon.com, Roy replied to this question stating, “I think perhaps that the question we should ask is, “What does it mean to be human?”” Roy notes that while people are always asking the question, “What is Indian” or “Who is Indian”, rarely would someone ask “What does it mean to be American?… or British?” Roy states that in her writing, like every writer, she is trying to make sense of the world around her. She says, “When I write, I lay down my weapons and give the book to the reader.”

Using repetition, Roy artistically explores the themes of the novel. “It’s all about design to me.” says Roy in an interview with Salon.com. She compares her writing to her training in architecture. “In buildings, there are design motifs that occur again and again, that repeat — patterns, curves.” The repetition in the novel enhances the themes and plot of the story while using childish language to bring forward themes that might otherwise be difficult to speak about. The twins themselves are a form of repetition as there are two of them, doubles of each other while at the same time opposites: one male, one female; one shy, one outspoken; one (re)returned, one remains. The journeys that the twins encounter throughout their lifetimes reiterates what happened to them during their childhood.

The characters in the story battle with the expectations of their class and caste all throughout their lives. There are Love-Laws from which no one is exempt and one cannot disassociate oneself from the cultural and religious laws of the community. It is these Love-Laws which dictate the events to come and which cause the demise of many of the characters in the story. Ammu, the twins’ mother, is divorced from a cross-cultural, cross-caste marriage which leads to the twins getting chastised by their family and community throughout most of their lives. Velutha, an “untouchable” who works for the family, is loved by both the twins by day and their mother by night. Their love for this man causes his own death and eventually to the death of Ammu.

The God of Small Things is a novel not to be taken lightly. It is a novel that pushes issues that have been eluded throughout most of history and have even led to obscenity charges against Roy in Kerala, where the story takes place, for the controversial nature of the story. Weaving through the playful childish language of the twins and a mixture of Malayalam and English Roy paints a vivid picture of life in rural India where everyday life is combined with class struggles and the battles people face with the Love-Laws. All in all a great novel and a worthwhile read with excellent character development and an intricate plotline.

By Robin Morris

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