Novel transcends cultural boundaries

Arundhati Roy, Author

Arundhati Roy, Author

Allison Rosewicz

Before peace can occur between two religions, it must exist within one.

In her novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy eloquently proves the problems that can occur within Hinduism. And the passion with which she wrote this book (her first, and so far, only fiction novel, which won the prestigious Booker Prize) wrenches anyone’s heart who reads it, despite caste, creed or religion.

Anytime an author can transcend cultural boundaries with his or her writing, the book becomes a classic. Readers don’t only gain an understanding of a contrasting culture through this story. They learn life lessons from it; they love it; they live in it.

Roy tells The God of Small Things through flashback. It isn’t until the end of the story that each event culminates with the others and the reader learns the truth behind the tragedy.

Estha and Rahel, twin brother and sister, have reunited in Ayemenen, Kerala, after years of separation. When they were eight years old, Estha was sent to live with his father, while Rahel stayed with her aunt, Baby Kochamma, and uncle, Chacko. The twins’ mother, Ammu, died a few years after the separation from the desperation of a ruined soul.

The twins were forced apart following the death of Sophie Mol, their cousin who was Chacko’s daughter from London. She had drowned in the river near their home. Velutha, the Paravan carpenter, best friend of Estha and Rahel, who serves the twins’ grandmother, Mammachi, and lives across the river, brought her limp body home. But Velutha’s kindness is not appreciated. As Roy mentions several times, Velutha has to pay the price of history.

The family discovers Velutha, member of a low caste, and Ammu, from a relatively well-off family, are having an affair. Despite friendship since childhood that grows into undeniable love, their relationship is forbidden.

When the family finds out about it, Mammachi is enraged. She spits in Velutha’s face and warns him never to come near her home or family again. Meanwhile, Ammu has been locked in her room, helpless to defend her lover.

Later, when Sophie Mol is found dead, Baby Kochamma, a sickeningly bitter woman, takes matters into her own hands. Rather than allow her reputation to be tarnished by Ammu and Velutha’s relationship, she chooses to destroy Velutha. She accuses him of kidnapping the three children the night of Sophie Mol’s death and tells the police Velutha raped Ammu. As a Paravan, Velutha has no chance.

The police arrest and beat him nearly to death. After some brainwashing, Baby Kochamma convinces Estha and Rahel to go along with her story.

Velutha’s end is imminent.

After Velutha’s death, nothing is the same. The children are separated, and Ammu eventually dies.

Velutha is the god of small things.

Without him, nothing can exist as it did before.

“He left behind a hole in the Universe through which darkness poured like liquid tar. Through which their mother followed without even turning to wave goodbye,” Roy writes.

Roy has an incredibly unique, almost poetic, style of creating The God of Small Things. She relies on the sound and feeling of individual words. She often uses incomplete and fragmented sentences to make a more emotional impact.

Roy also utilizes many metaphors, including personification, to create the world of this story. Not only is the setting presented in this way, but emotions are also given living qualities, which makes them seem much more real.

Perhaps the most meaningful symbol of the story is the river. Just as Mark Twain used the river to represent life in his stories, so does Roy in this one.

The river of Ayemenen practically raises Estha and Rahel.

It is the means by which they learn their life lessons. It is the threshold between childhood safety and harsh reality, to which their father figure, Velutha, must succumb.

Velutha is the greatest character in this story, possibly in any story.

His name means “white” in Malayalam – “because he was so black.” But I think his name represents his purity. He symbolizes the good in humanity. He loves without regard to difference.

Unfortunately, the antagonists outnumber Velutha, so evil defeats him. Although evil seems to prevail in this story and hope for humanity proves nearly hopeless, the bond between Estha and Rahel brings it back in the end.

They are twins but have a “single Siamese soul;” “there was no Each, no Other.” Roy creates such a close bond between the twins, even the reader experiences that bond. The reader feels alive through Estha and Rahel.

In this book, Estha and Rahel learn the greatest lessons, and therefore, the reader does also.

That is what makes The God of Small Things so enthralling: Roy impacts readers by inviting them inside the story.

Throughout the book, Estha emphasizes his “Two Thoughts: a) Anything can happen and b) It’s best to be prepared.”

Everyone, characters and readers alike, learn point A is sadly true and that sometimes, you just cannot prepare for the depressing realities of life.

No one can prepare for a sudden event that forces a child to grow up too soon, just as the twins couldn’t when they watched the police beat Velutha. But perhaps the harshest lesson the twins learn is that love doesn’t always conquer all, that “they had loved a man to death.”

After reading this book, I immediately knew it was my new favorite. Never before has a book affected me as this one did.

It caused me to feel every emotion, showed me a new culture, made me learn about life.

Roy herself describes it best within her own story: “The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic.”

The God of Small Things is a phenomenon; Roy is the magician.

I want to know again and again.