The God of Small Things Essay Example

  • Category: Literature, Novels,
  • Words: 2362 Pages: 9
  • Published: 30 May 2021
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In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Rahel realizes in hindsight that, "perhaps Ammu, Estha and she were the worst transgressors. But it wasn't just them. It was the others too. 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." (31) The members of their family all resist societal expectations, crossing boundaries for love, symbolized by the jam/jelly from their family’s pickle factory. It cannot be categorized as jam or jelly; it does not fit within the guidelines of either and is a mix of the two. Anything that society cannot label is forbidden. Ammu crosses the boundaries put in place by the caste system, while Estha and Rahel do the opposite, loving within their own family. These crossings are detrimental to the characters, and Ammu’s leads to her dying young and alone; these effects prove the ruinous impact of the Love Laws.

By the end, “All three of them [are] bonded by the certain, separate knowledge that they had loved a man to death,” (307). The striking juxtaposition of love and death demonstrates how restrictive their society is of love, and how it is possible for one of the most beautiful parts of life to become a source of death and destruction, exemplified through Velutha’s death. Society dictates “Love Laws” differing between castes and genders, yet most cannot resist crossing these boundaries for love in whatever form they seek, despite negative consequences, showing the injustice of the Laws.

Mammachi’s Love for Chacko

Mammachi’s love for Chacko is a complex balance between a mother’s love for her child and the love between a woman and a man, demonstrating the presence of gender roles and double standards in their society. Her feelings begin when he protects her from another abusive man: 

The day that Chacko prevented Pappachi from beating her (and Pappachi had murdered his chair instead), Mammachi packed her wifely luggage and committed it to Chacko’s care. From then onwards he became the repository of all her womanly feelings. Her man. Her only Love. (160)

Because her marriage is not one of love, and in her mind, her son saved her from it, she views him as her savior. This transfer of her “womanly feelings” from her husband to her son exemplifies the complicated and intertwined nature of romantic and familial love. Due to how society glorifies men over women, Mammachi needs a man to love, viewing other women who could be competition as enemies, such as Margaret Kochamma: “She hated Margaret Kochamma for being Chacko’s wife,” because of her jealousy (160). Since she loves Chacko as more than a son, she does not want him to have an emotionally involved relationship with another woman.

But, she believes that as a man, he requires and deserves sexual relationships, which she permits, even in her own home. She pays them to satisfy his “Men’s Needs”, and “in her mind, a fee clarified things. Disjuncted sex from love, Needs from Feelings,” which allows her to make peace with the situation (161). Mammachi refuses to accept that Chacko does not reciprocate her feelings, so she portrays the women as fulfilling a physical desire only. Her love for him allows her to ignore his relationships with other women, as well as Margaret Kochamma, even though Chacko is emotionally abusive to Mammachi. He criticizes himself and praises his ex-wife, intending to upset Mammachi: “She would flinch as though he had denigrated her instead of himself,” because her love for Chacko is so consuming, she takes any insults to him personally (236). Chacko’s power as a man allows him to be abusive without consequences.

Mammachi’s view of “Men’s Needs” encapsulates the excuses that society makes for men, contrasting its judgement of women; “Her tolerance of “Men’s Needs,” as far as her son was concerned, became the fuel for her unmanageable fury at her daughter. She had defiled generations of breeding,” as their family’s appearance in society is paramount for Mammachi (244). With regards to sex and every other aspect of life, Touchable Men have the majority of privileges and freedoms. Later, when describing the Touchable policemen's pursuit of Velutha and ensuing brutality, Roy uses this concept to explain why they deemed it necessary: “Man’s subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify. Men’s Needs,” represent society’s use of gender as an excuse applies not only to accepted sexual and romantic relationships, but violence as well (292). The caste system amplifies the power that men derive from their gender.

The Caste System

This system is even more restrictive than the gender roles on relationships; its unjust nature is most emphasized through the forbidden love between Ammu and Velutha. Ammu is already a pariah, as “a divorced daughter from an intercommunity love marriage,” in the words of the judgmental Baby Kochamma (45). She chose a divorce instead of staying in her loveless marriage, even though her family already did not accept her choice of husband. Ammu was willing to face the consequences of her choices to have a chance at love someday. As an Untouchable, Velutha is an outcast as well, and he initially tries to resist love:

He tried to hate her.

She’s one of them, he told himself. Just another one of them

He couldn’t. (204)

Velutha cannot stereotype Ammu with the Touchables; he sees that she is different. Despite his best efforts, he cannot stop himself from being with her, and is willing to break the rules for their love.

Yet, he cannot be with her in all the ways he wants to; their relationship is full of contradictions. He understands that, “If he touched her he couldn’t talk to her, if he loved her he couldn’t leave, if he spoke he couldn’t listen, if he fought he couldn’t win,” because their different castes prevent them from having a full relationship (205, 207, 312).  Although he can sometimes talk to her in the light of day, he can only touch her under the cover of darkness. Most striking is his knowledge that “if he fought [the system] he couldn’t win,” as the caste system is too ingrained in the minds of the people to escape. The struggle against the rules is an impossible one; the Love Laws cannot change, so instead, many disregard them.

Despite the hopeless nature of the battle against society, Ammu and Velutha continue to dream. Velutha expresses his anger through the Communist Party: “She [Ammu] hoped it had been him that had raised his flag and knotted arm in anger. She hoped that under his careful cloak of cheerfulness he housed a living, breathing anger against the smug, ordered world that she so raged against,” as the rules of society preventing them from being together are unjust to Ammu (167).

Although the caste system prevails in India today, the hope of the Communist revolution was to end it, making everyone equal. Similar to his anger with his society, the passion that he feels about Estha and Rahel is new to him; he loves them more because they are Ammu’s children: “He loved them without knowing it. But it was different suddenly. Now. After History had slipped up so badly. No fist had clenched inside him before,” as he had never felt so strongly about someone (202). Because of this, both Velutha and Ammu are even more upset with the rules of society.

Yet in some instances, even without the boundaries of the caste system, some families are unable to love each other openly, such as Chacko, Margaret Kochamma, and Sophie Mol. As Rahel describes, Sophie Mol is “Loved from the Beginning,” by Chacko even though he does not know her yet (129, 176). As her father, Chacko does not need to know Sophie Mol to love her. Despite his feelings, Chacko is unable to express himself to Sophie Mol, as society would deem it inappropriate: "But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. The Big Things lurk unsaid inside,” with the ‘Big Things’ being Chacko’s love for Sophie, and the ‘Small Things’ being the pleasantries exchanges with her and her mother instead (167). The idea of ‘Small Things’ and ‘Big Things’ applies to almost every relationship that crosses boundaries of society, as the title of the book suggests.

But, as much as Chacko loves his “wife” and child, they do not feel the same towards him. Sophie Mol, too young to understand the rules of society, “Informed Chacko that even though he was her Real Father, she loved him less than Joe,” bringing attention to the difficulties of their relationship; as a child, she does not know him enough to love him (180). Because Chacko knows this, he is unable to express his feelings, as she does not reciprocate.

Similarly, Chacko is constantly referring to Margaret Kochamma as his wife, and is reminded that she is an “(Ex-wife, Chacko!)” who no longer loves him the way he loves her and he cannot be with her (252). For Margaret Kochamma, Chacko was a form of rebellion, of crossing boundaries in her own way, rather than someone that she truly loved. She later understands that, “what she assumed was her love for Chacko was actually a tentative, timorous, acceptance of herself,” and by being with Chacko, she was learning how to break the rules of society and be herself  (233). For her, breaking the laws of society was less about love, and more about her own wish to escape the restrictions of their world.

Boundaries

In addition to societal restrictions of familial love, those who crave romantic relationships must cross boundaries as well. Baby Kochamma seeks to cross religious boundaries for her love of Father Mulligan: “All she ever dared to hope for. Just to be near him. Close enough to smell his beard. To see the coarse weave of his cassock. To love him just by looking at him,” although she understands that they may never be together because of the limits of the church (25). Even so, she never stops loving him, continuing to start diary entries with “I love you I love you” addressed to Father Mulligan, even after his death (281). She refuses to let go of her youthful dream, even though she becomes an avid upholder of society’s restrictions later in life.

Estha and Rahel violate the Love Laws more than most. Their final transgression comes at the culmination of their story: “Only that once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much,” by being intimate (311). Due to their traumatic childhoods, especially because of Velutha, this act is healing; after being separated for their entire adult lives, they come together in this way to reconnect and heal, despite society’s rules. Without each other, they have felt incomplete throughout their lives, and this is their coping mechanism. The “Love Laws” refer to rules that restrict relationships, especially those occurring outside of one’s caste, religion, or community, or are incestuous; they represent all of the societal norms that prevent people from being together.

Rachel and Estha

After the end of their childhood, Rahel “thinks of Estha and Rahel as Them, because, separately, the two of them are no longer what They were or ever thought They’d be. Ever. Their lives have a size and shape now. Estha has his and Rahel hers. Edges, Borders, Boundaries, Brinks and Limits have appeared like a tema of trolls on their separate horizons,” due to the impact of society on their close relationship (5). They had always viewed themselves as inseparable parts of a whole, yet the end of their childhood innocence also destroyed this sense of togetherness. 

Although it is wrong for them to be together, it is impossible for them to exist separately; Rahel is unable to have a real relationship with her husband, while Estha is rendered silent. Rahel is distant with Larry, who cannot comprehend that “the emptiness in one twin was only a version of the quietness in the other. That the two things fitted together. Like stacked spoons. Like familiar lovers’ bodies,” preventing Rahel from connecting intimately with anyone else (21). The result of their traumatic experiences manifested themselves in different ways, but affect both of them.

In their childhood, Estha is so close with Rahel that they think and feel the same way about other family members, as they view themselves as one unit:

Rahel’s “list” was an attempt to order chaos. She revised it constantly, torn forever between love and duty. It was by no means a true gauge of her feelings.

 “First Ammu and Chacko,” Rahel said. “Then Mammachi––”

“Our grandmother,” Estha clarified.

“More than your brother?” Sophie Mol asked.

“We don’t count,” Rahel said. (144)

 

Rahel cannot feel a love for Estha because she feels that he is part of her. The twins are “torn forever between love and duty,” like others who cross boundaries for love (144). Because love is such an innate, irresistible human desire, almost no one is able to resist it to adhere to the unjust restrictions imposed by society. Yet, despite the twins’ connectedness and view of each other as parts of a whole, they still view each other in a sexual way.

Their complicated relationship is exemplified when Rahel watches Estha undress: “Rahel watched Estha with the curiosity of a mother watching her wet child. A sister a brother. A woman a man. A twin a twin. She flew these several kites at once,” describing how many different facets their relationship has, and all are loving (89). Estha sees Rahel in the same way; not only as his sister, but as a woman: “She was lovely to him. Her hair. Her cheeks. Her small, clever-looking hands. His sister,” recognizing his attraction to her in addition to their primary relationship as siblings (283).

Rather than having feelings for her in spite of being siblings, he loves her because of the things they have in common, such as “their beautiful mother’s mouth, Estha thought. Ammu’s mouth,” (284). They see themselves as parts of a whole, rather than separate entities: “for them there was no Each, no Other,” so their being together intimately is only their natural way of trying to regain their lost connection due to the trauma of their childhood and the time that has passed (215). Their relationship is paradoxical, as they view each other with the familial love of siblings as well as the attraction of lovers, yet they do not really love each other at all, viewing each as an extension of the other. Because of this, despite its prohibition due to the Love Laws, it is right for them to be together, proving their unfairness. 

The story of an old song that Ammu remembers encapsulates the complex forbidden relationships: “The fisherman, his wife, her lover, and a shark that has no part in the story, but dies anyway. The sea claims them all,” as a result of their love (209). Because of the Love Laws, no one is safe, as nearly everyone breaks the rules for love. It is a tragic story, as they cannot live without love, yet society does not allow them to be together; everyone in a taboo relationship suffers; even young Sophie Mol, who “has no part in the story, but dies anyway” (209).

 

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