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Analysing The God Of Small Things English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1414 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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‘May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid’. This luscious and mysterious description of India sounds unmistakably like a tourist novel yet this example of post colonial exoticism is used to lure in readers to the novel ‘The God of Small Things’. Whilst being better known for its celebrity stakes of the Booker Prize, the author Arundhati Roy is ethnic, a strong activist and her cultural authenticity passively provides an authentic Indian voice through her idealised western way of talking and thinking about the east. Roy plays into a colonial style known for its dominating, restructuring and authoritative power over India using references from politics and history to keep the story real and dangerously intoxicating for her western readers. It serves the dual purpose of being able to write back to the ’empire’ whilst becoming a product of global capitalism, hybridity of the west and the east, using eastern examples of western ideals through examples of critiqued power relations and subverted ideas of the ‘exotic’.

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The society of Ayamenem strongly follows westerns ideas adopted from its colonial background by living with a caste system in which there are two classes, the inferior ‘touchables’ who are of a higher class than the ‘untouchables’. This idea is borrowed from the class system of the British so the inequality between both is familiar to its readers but is also exotic in the way that it controls society and influences everyday life. The extremity of having the ‘untouchables’ so grateful to the ‘touchable’ class that a man is willing to kill his own son when he discovers that he has broken the most important caste rule, that there is no interclass relations. These rules of society are unknown to that of the reader; it provides them with the mystery and danger of the exotic. Also having no interclass relations means that there is a lot of tension in the relationships between characters in the novel. The ‘untouchables’ have internalized class segregation and are aware of the limits of their place in society. Relationships with these people are strongly discouraged but the members of this family find reason to cross and defy these rules. This is unusual behaviour and the idea of resistance against the adopted colonial system is exciting to its western audience who believe that the underdog can win although Roy’s account provides enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing the consequences of the characters defiance.

The novel also exoticises India’s inequality, making it light hearted and approachable for its western audience. The style of writing suggests that Roy has written the story from an outsider’s perspective, looking, observing and commenting on daily life, ‘strange insects appeared like ideas in the evening’, questioning her authenticity through her strategic use of words and in this example she tells the reader of ‘strange’ insects in the afternoon yet these insects should be familiar to the teller of the story. This westernisation becomes more apparent through Indian society who seem like they are trying to appeal to the wider western audience. While choosing a name for the family pickle company the relevance of the name was an important factor, ‘At first he wanted to call it Zeus Pickles and Preserves, but that idea was vetoed because everybody said that Zeus was too obscure and had no local relevance, whereas Paradise did. (Comrade Pillai’s suggestion -Parashuram Pickles was vetoed for the opposite reason: too much local relevance).’ Instead of marketing to their local community, the name Paradise seemed more suitable which shows how self aware their society has become knowing that the pickling company could be seen on a global scale promoting its exotic feeling to produce global product. Roy promotes this kind of thinking throughout her novel and in a sense she is able to ‘sell’ her culture through her strategic storytelling. She tells of hotels that have truncated traditional kathakali performances from ‘six hour classics – to twenty minutes cameos’ for the small attention spans of the tourists. It shows how Indian society has given into its colonialisation, allowing their cultural values and actions to be altered so that it can be marketed on a global scale. The strategic use of how India will be seen from a tourist point of view appeals greatly to those who have never seen India and in these terms Roy provides the idealistic tourist guide that they have been seeking with bite sized portions of a culturally authentic experience such as her use of traditional Malayalam words throughout the text.

Not only has Roy tried to westernise India in her novel, she has also borrowed ideas and put them into and Indian context. The notion of love is not widely or publicly spoken about in India (although glamorised through film), it is something that is private and varies with the type of belief system one has. The God of Small Things is unique in this way; it could almost be seen as a tragic Indian love story showing the different interpretations of the dimensions of love. The idea of romantic love barely exists in Indian society as it collective society who make decisions together while romantic love is independently chosen and a modern way of finding a partner. Roy explores this through the relationship between characters such Chacko and Margaret. Chacko is Indian and he falls in love with a European woman and their relationship is the least stable as they find that it does not work and although it is demanding to say the least, Chacko decides to devote himself to her even after they have split so he can always be there for her. This type of relationship can be identified with easily as it seems to be more common throughout the west and it shows how multicultural relationships work within society. Baby Kochamma also tries to find meaning in her life through unrequited love for a Irish priest. The idea of unrequited love is discouraged in Indian society as it is embarrassing for the family as it is publicly unsuccessful.

Familial love is then the most important and scared of all types of relationships. The parents in the novel have a very strong and deep love for their children that readers can relate to, Chacko loves his daughter Sophie so much (even though he barely knew her) that when she dies he is distraught and has to move away. Ammu also has a very strong love for her children and she shares that with Velutha (her love interest) who also shows an unselfish love for her children as a reflection of his love for Ammu. The twins also love each other very much and their love is so strong that they can easily know what each other is thinking and feeling although this is where Roy introduces a twist to the plot by having these types of love become forbidden and incestuous. She crosses the line that most Indian authors would we unwilling to as such things are unspoken of and yet at the same time this excites the western readers who can handle reading about such a taboo experience. She shows that love is a powerful and uncontrollable force that cannot be contained by conventional social codes because a traditional Indian society (in the case of Ammu and Velutha) seeks to destroy romantic love as it believes that love should only be an emotion that is explained through two people’s cultural background and political identities. Roy speaks of love laws that have to be abided and such rules seem ridiculous and even intriguing to see how people live by them and the fascination of what happens if one might break these rules and how desperation and desire fight the overbearing force of being punished for loving the wrong person.

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The themes used by Roy are universal and provide a comfortable introduction to India. She is aware of how to sell her culture to the global market and is successful in promoting this novel as an authentic experience to the western world. It is not threatening but yet hybridity of cultures, strategically using exoticism to her advantage almost tricking her western audience into their curiosity to know more through her ability to be able to tell a great story which has no secrets and is exposed for all to take with them.


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