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Set in India during the late 1960’s, The God of Small Things renders the story of an Indian family engulfed by its society’s traditions, its nation’s struggles and the caste system. The Kochamma family, prominent touchable Indians and owner of the Paradise Pickles & Preserves (a pickle factory that later on branched out to making of jams as well), lives in Ayemenem, Kerala, India. It is a big family composed of striking characters, each with an interesting and rather sad story to tell.

Rahel and Estha, whose point of view the story was told, were fraternal twins who were particularly different from all others twins. The twins, it seemed, had a strong mystical bond that kept them as close as two different people can possibly get despite all the years they had to spend apart. They shared experiences through dreaming of each other, giving unauthorized access to each other’s innermost and most personal thoughts.

Ammu, the twins’ mother, was a divorcee who left her husband, the twins’ father due to his alcoholism, beating and significantly impossible demands. Ammu married the wrong man and for the wrong reason. They met while she was staying with a distant aunt in Calcutta one summer. Ammu had married him not for love, but for desperation. She had just finished schooling and was more than eager not to return to Ayemenem. Marriage seemed a viable escape and so she married the twins’ father five days after they had met. After the divorce, Ammu had no choice but to return to Ayemenem. She despised “sympathy” from spectators of her life, her mistakes specifically. The madness she had when she was young was still very much in her – it came to life whenever she listened to the songs she loved on the radio, smoked cigarettes, and took midnight swims walking out of her wretched world and on to a happier place.

Chako, the twins’ uncle, was also a divorcee. He married an English woman named Margaret whom he met while he was studying at Oxford as Rhodes Scholar. She was the first companion he ever had and he loved everything about her especially how she was not dependent on him. Their marriage started falling apart just a year after. Margaret was no longer charmed with the things she used to find amusing about jobless, messy Chako. They moved to London – Chako worked on his ill-paying assignment and Margaret met Joe. Margaret left Chako for Joe along with their daughter who was still in her womb. Chako returned to India and lived comfortably thanks to his mother. He was a self-proclaimed Marxist but did not quite live the part. He flirted and slept with the female employees of their factory while he ran the factory with the ways of a Capitalist. Despite what he had become, he remained in love with his former wife with whom he exchanged letters with consistently after the divorce and in great longing for his only child, Sophie Mol.

Mammachi, grandmother of the twins, founded the Paradise Pickles & Preserves. She took on the said business after her husband lost her job. In the unexpected triumph of her endeavor, her husband became a petulant, wife-beating husband. Mammachi eventually developed great loathe for her husband but stayed with him nevertheless. All her love was turned to her son Chako who saved her once in her days with her petulant, wife-beating husband. Mammachi is almost blind – physically that is. She had long been blinded by her deep love and adoration for her son. She aches as her son talks of his former wife with so much love still.

Baby Kochamma, grand aunt of the twins, is a spinster. In her youth, she fell in love with Father Mulligan, an Irish Roman-Catholic priest. He visited their house a lot, not solely for Baby Kochamma but for her father. Her love for the priest grew uncontrollably, she made ways to spend time with Father Mulligan and her ways stretched from subtle to transparent. She read him passages from the bible so they could have longer conversations. She gave bath and showed kindness to unfortunate children to get the priest’s admiration. She converted to his religion to win his affection. She entered the convent hoping she could spend time with him just talking inside those closed doors. The priest however, had a change of belief and eventually converted to Hinduism. Consumed by a lifetime of unrequited love, she unconsciously or consciously antagonizes her own character giving everyone a taste of her bitterness.

Velutha, whom the twins utterly loved, was a Paravan or an Untouchable as the Caste system of Hinduism would classify him. He works for the Kochama family just as his elders have done before him. Velutha was skilled and smart which encouraged Mammachi to send him to school and get more than what members of the Untouchable class normally get. The Kochama’s factory was practically being run by Velutha. Despite the slight distinction from other Paravans, Velutha still joined communist rallies pushing for a classless society. Yes, he was above other Paravans – but only salary-wise. He would still never be given the job title he probably deserves for the skill he possesses and for the work he does. His son would still be a Paravan and a Touchable can still spit on his face as coded by their system and more importantly, he would still be not allowed to love anyone outside his class.

The family’s great tragedy among its many mishaps took place when Margaret Kochamma and Sophie Mol came to Ayemenem. Margaret had just been widowed of her second husband and Chako had long been inviting them to come to Ayemenem. Though it stirred much confusion among her friends, that she went to her first husband after her second husband died, Margaret felt like Ayemenem was the best place to go after such a distressing event.

Sophie Mol died in Ayemenem. It happened in a night of bad weather, literally and figuratively, when the children of the Kochamma household had gone unnoticed. Chako and Margaret had gone out to confirm return tickets for herself and Sophie. The other elders had unconsciously set aside the children’s whereabouts when Velutha’s father stormed in the house of the Kochamma’s with a shocking revelation. The Kochamma’s tragedy did not start nor end with the death of Sophie Mol for even before her arrival, painful words had been said and heard, indecent acts had been done and experienced, and secrets had been made and kept. Rahel felt that Ammu loved her less after blurting out careless words; Ammu said “When you hurt people, they begin to love you less. That’s what careless words do, they make people love you a little less.” Estha had a forced sexual encounter with a stranger. And Ammu, she had been seeing Velutha.

Ammu was separated from her loves after Sophie Mol’s death. Estha had to be sent away to his father because both Chako and Margaret irrationally blamed Estha for the death of their daughter. Baby Kochamma fabricated a story that Velutha raped Ammu and for that, he was punished. Ammu died alone.

Love, death, politics, discrimination – to see these things in a single novel is anything but extraordinary. What made Arhundati Roy’s novel worthwhile is how it made one theme, in this case religion, effortlessly squeeze out those issues letting them prompt irony and bittersweet emotions.

Religion though one of the oldest, is indeed a strong institution in the society. Religion is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the service and worship of God or the supernatural; a personal set of institutionalized system of religious beliefs, attitudes and practices. *some more definitions* No matter what religion and no matter how it is defined, it directs one’s life and consequently guides the path a society takes by setting rules and boundaries it has to live within. This novel gave further evidence to this phenomenon.

The tragedies in this novel were all caused by the characters crossing boundaries, boundaries that were set by their own religion – the very thing they live by. The Caste system, part of the Hindu-Buddhist tradition, classified people according to the work they do. Originally, the Caste system was made by the Indo-Aryans to keep their race pure and superior by preventing marriages between their kind and the Dravidians which were all put under the Untouchable class. Ammu and Velutha, though very much in love and in need of each other could not be permitted to be together. Ammu was a Touchable while Velutha was an Untouchable. It was a foremost prohibition that a relationship be formed between a Touchable and an Untouchable. For the course of events that took place, Ammu eventually died and her death changed the members of the family’s lives. Her death caused unspeakable remorse and pain to everyone. Discrimination is very evident in the Caste system. The reason it was made in the first place and how it continues to insinuate discrimination among classes. Because of very obvious manifestations of inequality through discriminations, some Indians opted to convert to another religion hoping to escape their fates. However, converting did not do much for them since a lot stayed with their religion and continued on with their traditional beliefs. Converting in fact, worsened their situations because after which, they weren’t only Untouchables, it seemed and felt that they were not part of the society at all that composed mainly of Hindu-Buddhists. Consequently, Communist groups were formed. The Communists pushed for a classless society.

How Arundhati played with the English language was particularly noticeable in this novel. These words were cleverly played with and for a very good reason. India was once colonized by Britain. Though technically free, they seem to have remained colonized, forever. The setting within which the novel was written was a time their government was still struggling to establish itself, and more importantly struggling to define itself after their colonizers had altered their history. In freed colonies, there are only two ways a person would regard of their colonizers – one is to hate them and the other is to love them. Apparently, India had come to love their British colonizers. They spoke and thought very highly of the English people. They denied the possibility of these people actually acting inappropriately. It can be recalled that in the novel, Sophie Mol was described to be instantly loved and that was because she grew up in London and had an English woman for a mother. The twins often compared themselves to her and felt inferior. The inferiority they felt was a result of how the elders regarded of Sophie, of English people in general. The English language was somehow a status symbol. If it was well spoken, the person is thought to be smart and/or well off. At such young ages, the twins in the novel were taught the English language religiously and very strictly. The teaching of the language did not stop at being properly spelled and used. They had to omit their native accents and actually sound like the Englishmen to be considered good speakers. An indication of this was how Arhundati Roy ran words together improperly implying that the children were trying to imitate the Englishmen’s natural accent. Some words were improperly spelled on purpose, too. They were spelled according to how they would be spoken with a native accent. Like most freed colonies, India was not able to completely cut itself off from its past for their colonizers live right in their tongues.

Rooted from the restrictions set by the Caste system, it seems that religion or their faith for that matter played with the characters’ lives like little toys – The Small Things of God.


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