The big world in The God of Small Things

 

attachmentThe God of Small Things is a novel written by the Indian author Arundhati Roy. It remains her only novel and is a stunning yet harrowing tale set in the Indian town of Ayemenem. She was awarded with the Booker Prize in 1997. A few days ago, Marlon James, who is a Jamaican author, was given the prize for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. What both mentioned novels have in common is that they feature multiple protagonists. In addition, both are set in non-English cultures. To say that the Man Booker Prize (formerly known as the Booker Prize) carries significant weight and makes the awarded novelists renowned would be an understatement, but it should also be pointed out that it has helped readers challenge their attitudes and beliefs by making them more aware of other cultures, which is of paramount significance nowadays.

The article will focus on Roy’s novel and all that was mentioned before serves the purpose of putting into forefront a very significant benefit of literature, which is its power to make a reader relate to a certain character regardless of the fact that there are no similarities whatsoever between the two. I’ve recently read a great Guardian article featuring the author Salman Rushdie. In the article, Rushdie states: “Literature may be weak because it has no real power in the world, but in a way it is the grandest narrative of all, in that it puts ourselves into question with fiction. We challenge ourselves and refuse to take the world as a given. We challenge all correctives of opinion, all appeasements, all fears. Literature is the unafraid form” (para. 5). In my personal reading experience, this was never more true than when I read The God of Small Things. The novel is exceptional in every possible way and it can indeed be called a masterpiece. It features numerous grave issues and with her stunning writing style, Roy has managed to make us relate to the situation in India. The book abounds in wonderful language even when discussing harrowing events. Her powerful writing comes into forefront when she manages to make us feel for the people caught in the claws of the caste system despite the fact that the very system does not exist in our society.

In the opening sentences of the novel, readers get acquainted with the general feel of Ayemenem. It appears to be the perfect place to live in, but the gradual introduction of the protagonists makes us realize that it is not the case. The caste system is deeply ingrained in the mentality of its inhabitants. In addition, patriarchal values lie at the heart of their perception of the world. At the beginning of the book, we also find out that someone has passed away, and the rest of the novel explains all that preceded this event and puts things into place.

The novel features three generations of a family. We are soon introduced with Mammachi and Pappachi, who are Ammu and Chaco’s parents and grandparents to Rahel, Eshta and Sophie Mol. What makes the myriad of characters credible is the fact that at every point of our reading we are aware of their flaws. Pappachi is a typical representative of the patriarchal society. He does not withhold from hitting and torturing his wife. Her very character makes us realize the paradoxical situation. She is a strong businesswoman, yet she allows her husband to beat her because that’s perceived as traditional. Their daughter Ammu is another victim of society. She was born as a daughter and not a son so she wasn’t allowed to study. What makes Ammu stand out is the fact that she readily rebels and marries a man who is of a different religion, but is extremely abusive so she has no other choice but to get a divorce. This brings shame to her family. The fact that she’s far from perfect makes her a genuine character. Afterwards she falls in love with Velutha, who belongs to ‘the untouchables’. Their love is doomed and before they realize it, they are betrayed by their kin who place traditional values and beliefs above their own family members.

They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much.

Roy also introduces and elaborates on the topic of sexual abuse. One of Ammu’s twin children, Eshta, gets abused by a man who sells drinks in the cinema, while the rest of his family watches a film. His sister Rahel has always had a special bond with him and is the only one aware of the fact that something is wrong. Following this event, Eshta shuts down and withdraws from the world. This serves as a trigger and leads to the death mentioned at the beginning of the book.

Roy has indeed written an exceptional novel, which abounds in beautiful prose as well as detailed descriptions of a culture and its tradition. Every reader will benefit from this book and should be prepared to question everything he or she knows about family ties and society laws.

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Sanja Gligorić

Sanja Gligorić

Sanja Gligorić studied English Language, Literature and Culture in Belgrade. She enjoys reading, writing and translating.
Sanja Gligorić