The Parts that Make up the Whole

by christinahall2

By Christina Hall

Through Arundhati Roy’s richly expressive and descriptive novel, The God of Small Things, we come to realize that it is truly the small things that define, shape, and ultimately change our lives.  Perhaps as much, maybe even more so, than the major pivotal moments that seem to govern our memories.  Yet it’s the small things, childhood curiosity, misspoken words, the power of one look, which can have earth-shattering consequences when fatefully intertwined.Roy’s novel, in its intricate, plentiful imagery, focuses less on the climax and more upon the details that lead to it.  In fact the novel begins with the end, the climatic moment of the funeral of young Sophie Mol, who has died by drowning.  Much more is eluded to in this first chapter, broken customs, a family in ruins, a society in political upheaval, yet how it all fits together and leads to the tragic outcome is something Roy slowly and thoughtfully lays out for us.

The story takes place mainly in Ayemenem, a town in Kerala, India.  It jumps between the years 1969 and 1994; between the twins Estha and Rahel’s turbulent childhood and their reunion after being separated for 25 odd years.  Told predominately from Rahel’s perspective, it is a story of interlacing conflicts: Communist uprising, inter-caste love affairs, incest, pedophilia, death and the breaking of centuries old love laws.  The twins, unable “to exorcise the memories that haunted them,”(Page 182) have returned to a polluted town and a decrepit Ayemenem House.  The only family to welcome them is their bitter and suspicious grand aunt, Baby Kochamma, who fears the past and locks out the present.  Everyone else has abandoned the estate, either through death or emigration.  Even the twins, that in childhood were vibrant, rambunctious, and imaginative, are now little more than “Quietness and Emptiness.”(pg 311)

Roy tackles these uncomfortable issues by soaking them in description, making them easier to swallow.  The use of a child’s point of view allows the tragedies to unfold with the naïve ambiguity that only children can provide to such a complex situation.  Rahel’s voice and perceptions bring an almost comedic relief, with her rhyming, repetition, and personification of descriptive sayings.  When Ammu, their mother, instructs them to jolly well behave, Rahel describes it as, “Jolly Well was a deeply well with larfing dead people in it.”(pg 141)

The elaborate imagery in The God of Small Things may, at first glance, mask the severity of the issues Roy has chosen to tackle, but they are undeniable, and we know from the beginning, the tragedies that await us within its pages.  We are introduced to a family on a path to ruin and “a time when the unthinkable became thinkable and the impossible really happened.”(pg 31)  Where “only the Small Things are ever said,” and “The Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”(pg 136)  We are reminded that it is the small things in life, joyful and terrible alike, which constitute who we all are.


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