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Arundhati Roy and The God of Small Things

In this essay, I focus on Arundhati Roys novel The God of Small Things and the prominent issues it deals with against the backdrop of entrenched caste system in the Indian state of Kerala. Although the diasporic issues are not prominently figured in Arundhati Roys novel The God of Small Things, it is a seminal literary production from India and noted, among other things, for its impressive diction. It deals with myriads of socio-political issues such as Indias rigid caste system, mores and communism in Kerala. The God of Small Things which won the Booker Prize in 1997 is primarily about the childhood experiences of fraternal twins whose lives are deeply disturbed and perhaps, virtually destroyed by the then rigid regime of social norms such as Love Laws which dictate who must be loved and how and how much. The character of Rahel, which is similar in many aspects to Arundhatis eventful life, deals, briefly, with the diasporic existence. The novel, by and large, deals with dominant themes such as the caste issue, social norms and communist politics in Kerala. History and politics Even Chacko had no really complete explanation for why the Communist Party was so much more successful in Kerala than it had been almost anywhere else in India, except perhaps in Bengal. There were competing theories. One was that it had to do with the large population of Christians in the state. Twenty per cent of Keralas population were Syrian Christians, who believed that they were decendents of the one hundred Brahmins whom Saint Thomas the Apostle converted to Christianity when he travelled east after Resurrection. Structurally-this somewhat rudimentary argument went- Marxism was a simple substitute for Christianity. Replace God with Marx, Satan with the bourgeoisie, Heaven with class society, the Church with Party, and the form and purpose of the journey remained similar. So, Karl Marx! Pappachi would sneer when Chacko came to the table. what shall we do with these bloody students now? The stupid goons are agitating against our Peoples Government. Shall we annihilate them? Surely students arent People anymore? The novel is full of such butt-end jokes aimed at the Communist Government of Kerala. History and politics is a dominant theme of the novel. Though it seems that Roy superficially touched on political realities, the novel examines in an interesting manner the historicity of those realities and offers profound insights into the ways in which human desperation and desires emerged out of the confines of a family entrenched in rigid caste system. Roy, among other things, reveals and ongoing complex and longstanding class conflict in the state of Kerala and comments on competing forces. Roy brings out powerful figures such as Inspector Thomas Mathew to personify the

brutal and systematic oppression at work in Kerala. She is also critical of hypocrisy, conventional moral code of Pappachi and Mammachi which they strictly impose on others. The novel reveals the hypocritical saviors of the mass such as those members of Kerala Communist Party amply embodied by the character of Comrade Pillai who are concerned about achieving their own ends rather than with any notion of social justice. Theme A major theme of the novel is class relations and cultural tensions. Roy codifies the complex web of class relations and attitudes on the part of many Indians towards their colonial rulers. One can argue that it is a post-colonial complex or a desire on the part of the new generation to root them in native soil and to criticise older generations attitudes towards British. In a way, the tension between Ammu and her father reflects generation gap. After Ammu calls her father a "[shit]-wiper" in Hindi for his blind devotion to the British, Chacko explains to the twins that they come from a family of Anglophiles, or lovers of British culture, "trapped outside their own history and unable to retrace their steps," and he says that they despise themselves because of this.The class tension and class relationship is another factor which figured prominently throughout the novel. The class relationships are manifested in the interactions between Untouchables and Touchable s in Ayemenem. The dalit Vellya Paapen is an example of Untouchables grateful to Touchables so much so that he is willing to kill his son who had sex with Touchables. It is obvious that inter-class sexual relationship is unimaginable and is an unpardonable sin. Class tension and relationships are a recurrent theme which figured out prominently throughout the novel. This element is present in almost all the relationships including including the twins' relationship with Sophie Mol, Chacko's relationship with Margaret, Pappachi's relationship with his family, and Ammu's relationship with Velutha. Presence of characters with diametrically opposite views such as Baby Kochamma and Pappachi who strongly subscribed to the age-old social code entrenched in rigid caste system and those such as Ammu and Velutha who represent a marked departure or anti-conventional elements , is a significant feature of the novel. Forbidden love One of the themes central to the meaning of the novel is forbidden love. The forbidden love is commented on and manifested principally through the love affairs between Ammu and Veluth and Rahel and Estha. What the author seeks to establish is the fact that love is a powerful and uncontrollable emotion which cannot be contained by a rigid regime of conventional social code. It is this forbidden nature which lends sheer intensity to the love affairs. However, Roy stresses the interconnectedness of love to a larger theme of history and social circumstances so much so that love can be interpreted in terms of two persons cultural background and political identities. Apart from forbidden love , a predominant theme of the novel is love in its myriad manifestations; Ammu and

Veluthas love is a forbidden love while Rahel and Esthas love is a brotherly love and Ammus love for children is a deep and sacrificial love. Social discrimination Rigid caste system runs parallel to a class system and the system of oppression at work in Kerala. Social discrimination is institutionalised. For instance, Roy points out that religious discrimination is practised even by Syrian Christians; it is unacceptable for Syrian Christian to marry a Hindu. Instances such as Rahel and Esthas uneasiness with regard to their being half- Hindu and Pappachis negative reaction to Baby converts to Catholicism vividly portrayed the social discrimination within diverse social institutions. One of the salient features of the novel The God of Small Things is the Intertexuality and the way in which the author portray the milieu against the backdrop of entrenched caste system and semi-feudal economic order.