The portrayal of socioeconomic status of India:
An analysis of the socioeconomic status in India as depicted by Arundhati Roy in The God of Small Things
Society, the word itself means a large group of people who live together in an organised way, making decisions about how to do things and sharing work that needs to be done. However, things do not remain the same every time and so the consequences of this change affect people’s mind. In The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, a similar type of society is shown where things fall apart and people try to adopt a modern way of living life which ultimately turns out to be inappropriate. This type of society that is described in Roy’s novel show how people and community perceive social norms that build up a society during the post-independence period in India. At the end of the novel, the caste-system, the eternal love and the men-women roles in society affect people’s thoughts and emotions. These things assist to illustrate how a narrow-minded society punishes people for transgressing the social boundaries.
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In the novel, The God of Small Things, Roy uses the character of Velutha to emphasise on the social boundaries that were fixed for the untouchables during post-independence era in India. Velutha, being a Paravan was considered an untouchable which were excluded from the India society. Although, he was born to a family of Paravans, the abilities he had were commendable in even the upper-class of the society.
It was Velutha:
It had a light-brown birthmark, shaped like a pointed dry leaf. He said it was a Lucky Leaf; that made the Monsoons come on time. A brown leaf on a black back. An autumn leaf at night.
A lucky leaf that wasn’t lucky enough.
Velutha wasn’t supposed to be a carpenter.
He was called Velutha—which means White in Malayalam—because he was so black. His father, Vellya Paapen, was a Paravan. A toddy tapper. He had a glass eye. He had been shaping a block of granite with a hammer when a chip flew into his left eye and sliced right through it. . . . Pappachi would not allow Paravans into the house. Nobody would. They were not allowed to touch anything that Touchables touched. Caste Hindus and Caste Christians. Mammachi told Estha and Rahel that she could remember a time, in her girlhood, when Paravans were expected to crawl backwards with a broom, sweeping away their footprints so that Brahmins or Syrian Christians would not defile themselves by accidentally stepping into a Paravan’s footprint. In Mammachi’s time, Paravans, like other Untouchables, were not allowed to walk on public roads, not allowed to cover their upper bodies, not allowed to carry umbrellas. They had to put their hands over their mouths when they spoke, to divert their polluted breath away from those whom they addressed. (Roy 70)
In this quote, Roy illustrates how Velutha was treated in the society despite of his sharpness and curiosity to work on things that were impossible for the men in the upper-class. The line “A lucky leaf that wasn’t lucky enough.” foreshadows an unexpected or a different behaviour that could occur with Velutha which might get him into some trouble. Roy uses these lines to show how the untouchables were treated badly and often experienced some trouble. Also, the line “A brown leaf on a black back” points out alliteration to the sound of “b” that highlight Velutha’s appearance which made him special for the twins. Roy uses these lines to emphasise on the untouchables who were restricted from doing many things in the society but the character of Velutha show an exception in Paravans whose capabilities exceed their caste. In the post-independence period, Paravans were refused to walk on the roads as there might be a chance of a Brahmin accidentally stepping on their footprints. Addition to this, they were refused to talk, carry umbrellas and much more which highlight their inferiority. Roy intentionally uses these lines in her novel to show how people perceived the untouchables during the post-independence era which changed their thoughts regarding social norms. This further affected their views regarding people who crossed the social boundaries.
In the novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy shows how crossing the social boundaries affect Velutha’s life which ultimately brings him death. Velutha, being a Paravan was refused to participate in certain social activities. Vellya Paapen cautioned Velutha but he never obeyed his father and finally crossed the social limits which suffered him till death.
When Mammachi decided to enclose the back verandah, it was Velutha who designed and built the sliding-folding door that later became all the rage in Ayemenem. Velutha knew more about the machines in the factory than anyone else.
Vellya Paapen feared for his younger son. He couldn’t say what it was that frightened him. It was nothing that he had said. Or done. It was not what he said, but the way he said it. Not what he did, but the way he did it. Perhaps it was just a lack of hesitation. An unwarranted assurance. In the way he walked. The way he held his head. The quiet way he offered suggestions without being asked. Or the quiet way in which he disregarded suggestions without appearing to rebel. While these were qualities that were perfectly acceptable, perhaps even desirable, in Touchables, Vellya Paapen thought that in a Paravan they could (and would, and indeed, should) be construed as insolence. Vellya Paapen tried to caution Velutha. But since he couldn’t put his finger on what it was that bothered him, Velutha misunderstood his muddled concern. (Roy 72)
In this quote, Roy illustrates how Velutha’s curiosity and eagerness to work eventually cause him trouble. The line, “It was not what he said, but the way he said it. Not what he did, but the way he did it.” foreshadow Velutha’s further actions which were inappropriate. The words “what and way” are given emphasise to show Velutha’s actions that were different and unexpected. Also, Roy’s use of “An unwarranted assurance” juxtapose Velutha’s promises to his actions which were unnecessary. The line “his muddled concern” personify “concern” by giving him the human quality of “muddle” which highlight Velutha’s confusion regarding his actions. This quote shows the concept of caste-system as Velutha’s actions force people to perceive the social norms in a different perspective. This ultimately brings a change in their perception regarding people who cross the social limitations. However, there is a quote by Earl Warren which gets related to what Roy illustrates in her novel regarding Velutha:
We are now at the point where we must decide whether we are to honour the concept of a plural society which gains strength through diversity, or whether we are to have bitter fragmentation that will result in eternal tension and strife.
In the early years of independence, the caste-system was meant to be strictly followed and crossing the social boundaries was severely opposed by the society. Velutha’s character in Roy’s novel show the same behaviour which change people’s perception. This quote by Earl Warren tell us how to view society as one and not differently.
In the novel, Arundhati Roy uses the concept of social-classes to show how transgressing of social boundaries are offended by the people in society. This is supported by showing the sexual relationship between Ammu and Velutha that is against the caste-system. They both have crossed the limitations and so they are strongly opposed in the society.
Slowly the terror seeped back into him. At what he had done. At what he knew he would do again. And again.
She woke to the sound of his heart knocking against his chest. As though it was searching for a way out. For that movable rib. A secret sliding-folding panel. His arms were still around her, she could feel the muscles move while his hands played with a dry palm frond. Ammu smiled to herself in the dark, thinking how much she loved his arms—the shape and strength of them, how safe she felt resting in them when actually it was the most dangerous place she could be.
They chose him because they knew that they had to put their faith in fragility. Stick to Smallness. Each time they parted, they extracted only one small promise from each other:
They knew that things could change in a day. They were right about that.
. . .
She turned to say it once again: “Naaley.”
Tomorrow. (Roy 319)
This quote demonstrates how the social boundaries are crossed by Ammu and Velutha which is offended by the society. The line “She woke to the sound of his heart knocking against his chest.” personifies “sound of the heart” which is given the human quality of “knocking”. This demonstrates the fear that strikes Velutha reminding him of what he had done. Roy intentionally uses “how safe she felt resting in them when actually it was the most dangerous place she could be.” to show irony as Ammu and Velutha are punished for being together and being engaged in a sexual relationship that is unaccepted in the society. The given quote illustrates flashback as the story goes back before the time when Ammu and Velutha met each other and were engaged in a sexual relationship. This behaviour is later known to the rest of the characters which affect the way they perceive the social norms. Roy uses disjointed timeline to make the plot more interesting. Roy uses these lines to stress on caste-system and highlights a narrow-minded society where people have strong societal views. The following quote relates to the lines used by Roy in her novel:
We cannot choose freedom established on a hierarchy of degrees of freedom, on a caste system of equality like military rank. We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.
This quote explains as how people should follow caste-system. This reflects on what Roy shows her readers in the novel.
In the novel, Roy shows how Mammachi’s love towards Chacko is one of the unique loves that is described in the novel. Mammachi started loving Chacko more after he prevented Pappachi from beating her. However, she was jealous of Margaret being with Chacko. This reflected on Chacko’s relationship with Margaret Kochamma and eventually affected his life.
Of course Mammachi would have despised Margaret Kochamma even if she had been heir to the throne of England. It wasn’t just her working-class background Mammachi resented. She hated Margaret Kochamma for being Chacko’s wife. She hated her for leaving him. But would have hated her even more had she stayed.
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. (Roy 160)
The line “Mammachi would have despised Margaret Kochamma even if she had been heir to the throne of England” is ironic as it shows how Mammachi dislikes Margaret Kochamma and would have hated her even if she was the queen of England. This illustrates Mammachi’s hatred towards Margaret Kochamma. Roy uses “But would have hated her even more had she stayed” to foreshadow the end of relationship between Chacko and Margaret Kochamma. The line “From then onwards he became the repository of all her womanly feelings. Her Man. Her only Love.” shows foreshadowing as Mammachi starts loving Chacko even more and so tolerates and even facilitates his affairs with the factory workers although she was horrified when she heard about Ammu-Velutha relationship. This idea demonstrated by Roy in her novel is related to the quotes by Agatha Christie and Susan D. Anderson:
A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no aw, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.
This quote by Agatha Christie highlights Mammachi’s love for Chacko. This love as described in the quote is unique. As it says “it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path” it explains that nothing can be compared to this love and anything that tries to dare this love or try to stand in its path can be crushed fiercely.
Remember, no matter how many candles you blow out this year, there’s one gal who will always think of you as young, strong and handsome – your mother.
This quote by Susan D. Anderson points out how mothers will always have a positive attitude towards their children disregarding how they actually are. This relates to Mammachi and Chacko as how Mammachi tolerates Chacko’s affairs with the factory workers although she was shocked with Ammu-Velutha relationship.
In the novel, Arundhati Roy highlights the love between Chacko and Margaret Kochamma and shows how their relationship comes to an end despite of both loving each other. Chacko and Margaret Kochamma met each other for the first time when Margaret was working as a waitress at a cafe in Oxford.
Being with Chacko made Margaret Kochamma feel as though her soul had escaped from the narrow confines of her island country into the vast, extravagant spaces of his. He made her feel as though the world belonged to them—as though it lay before them like an opened frog on a dissecting table, begging to be examined.
In the year she knew him, before they were married, she discovered a little magic in herself, and for a while felt like a blithe genie released from her lamp, She was perhaps too young to realize that what she assumed was her love for Chacko was actually a tentative, timorous, acceptance of herself. (Roy 233)
In this quote Roy shows the love uses “ Being with Chacko made Margaret Kochamma feel as though her soul had escaped from the narrow confines of her island country into the vast, extravagant spaces of his” to show irony describing the true feelings and love that Margaret had for Chacko. The line “for a while felt like a blithe genie released from her lamp” shows simile as Margaret is directly compared to “a blithe genie released from her lamp” showing how free she felt while being with Chacko. In later years, Margaret married to Joe who was a biologist and better than Chacko in everything. When Joe died, Margaret accepted Chacko’s invitation to Ayemenem for Christmas. These lines used by Roy tell about Margaret’s perception of love. The love between Chacko and Margaret Kochamma show their true feelings for each other. However, a small misunderstanding and greed for money to live a lavish lifestyle highlight the end in their relationship.
Where you find true friendship, you find true love.”
This quote relates to the friendship between Margaret Kochamma and Chacko. However, their love for each other was never finished and this can be proved when Margaret Kochamma accepted Chacko invitation to visit Ayemenem for Christmas after Joe’s death.
But one always returns to one’s first love
This quote by Etienne relates to Margaret Kochamma and Chacko’s life. Margaret leaves Chacko for Joe but eventually after Joe’s death she accepts Chacko’s invitation and comes back to visit him in Ayemenem during Christmas. This shows that Margaret did not forget Chacko and returns to visit her first love.
In the novel, The God of Small Things Roy shows how the small things in life sometimes have the biggest things to offer. Ammu falls into a sexual relationship with him knowing that society won’t perceive them as they want.
As he rose from the dark river and walked up the stone steps, she saw that the world they stood in was his. That he belonged to it. That it belonged to him. The water. The mud. The trees. The fish. The stars. He moved so easily through it. As she watched him she understood the quality of his beauty. How his labor had shaped him. How the wood he fashioned had fashioned him. Each plank he planed, each nail he drove, each thing he made had molded him. Had left its stamp on him. Had given him his strength, his supple grace.
He wore a thin white cloth around his loins, looped between his dark legs. He shook the water from his hair. She could see his smile in the dark. His white, sudden smile that he had carried with him from boyhood into manhood. His only luggage. (Roy 316)
The line “the world they stood in was his” shows metaphor by indirectly comparing the “the world they stood in” to “his” which meant Velutha. “He moved so easily through it” is ironic as it tells about Velutha’s life and his actions being so easy and quick. This is evident as the things that were around him were the only things that he was familiar with – “The water. The mud. The trees. The fish. The stars.” The lines show flashback and talk about Ammu’s vision of Velutha while he crosses the river and comes towards her. Ammu is happy to be with Velutha knowing that they are crossing the social boundaries which will affect people’s views towards them. She is aware of the fact that people do not have the same perception and their relationship will change as how people perceive social norms. The relationship between Ammu and Velutha is based on true love and the quality of beauty that Ammu finds in Velutha although he is a Paravan. This shows Ammu’s true feelings and love for Velutha. Further, this highlights the concept of small things where Velutha is considered to be the small thing but has a lot to offer. He being a Paravan was not a problem for Ammu as according to her even the smallest things on earth have beauty in them.
True love doesn’t have a happy ending, because true love never ends.
This quote although consists of few phrases but the phrases explain itself. This quote talks about the true love as we see between Ammu and Velutha. This quote tells us that love does not always have a happy ending. This reflects as what we see in the novel. Although the book ends with the hopes of tomorrow, the love between Ammu and Velutha does not really end with a happy ending.
In the novel, Roy illustrates how Ammu is disrespected by Inspector Thomas Matthew stressing on how women were treated with inferiority in the society.
Inspector Thomas Mathew’s mustaches bustled like the friendly Air India Maharajah’s, but his eyes were sly and greedy.
“It’s a little too late for all this, don’t you think?” he said. He spoke the coarse Kottayam dialect of Malayalam. He stared at Ammu’s breasts as he spoke. He said the police knew all they needed to know and that the Kottayam Police didn’t take statements from veshyas or their illegitimate children. Ammu said she’d see about that. Inspector Thomas Mathew came around his desk and approached Ammu with his baton.
“If I were you,” he said, “I’d go home quietly.” Then he tapped her breasts with his baton. Gently. Tap tap. (Roy 9)
The line “Inspector Thomas Mathew’s mustaches bustled like the friendly Air India Maharajah’s” shows simile by comparing Inspector Thomas Mathew to a Maharajah which means A King showing the superiority complex that Inspector Thomas Mathew had within him. This reflects on his personality and the type of character he possess throughout the story. Roy intentionally uses the statement “his eyes were sly and greedy” to personify Inspector Thomas Mathew’s eyes by giving them the human quality of sly and greediness. This portrays his low character. The line “the Kottayam Police didn’t take statements from veshyas or their illegitimate children” shows metaphor by indirectly comparing Ammu to a “veshya” that means a prostitute and indirectly saying that their children were illegitimate. Ammu’s unlawful relationship made her address that name which degraded her social-status. Roy uses these lines to demonstrate how men-women roles changed in the society. This is evident from the way Ammu is being treated by Inspector Thomas Matthew. Women in the Indian society have a specific status which was misunderstood by different characters in the novel. Women treated with inferiority in the novel highlights people’s perception towards the men-women roles in the society.
The sad fact is that throughout much of history, gender differences have been used to dominate women; in many ways, for many moons, men behaved badly.
This quote from the book, Married but Not Engaged by Paul and Sandy Coughlin talk about the same idea as discussed by Roy in her novel. This quote tells that men have been ruling society for a long time where their dominating nature often degrades women’s status.
In the novel, Arundhati Roy uses the character of Ammu to highlight the traditional inequality that existed in India during the early years of its independence. Ammu meets her future husband at a wedding reception and within next five days she decides to marry him.
He allowed the silence to take its toll. He allowed the pitiful man sitting across the table to begin to shake. To weep. Then Hollick spoke again.
“Well, actually there may be an option… perhaps we could work something out. Think positive, is what I always say. Count your blessings.” Hollick paused to order a pot of black coffee.
“You’re a very lucky man, you know, wonderful family, beautiful children, such an attractive wife…” He lit a cigarette and allowed the match to burn until he couldn’t hold it anymore. “An extremely attractive wife…”
The weeping stopped. Puzzled brown eyes looked into lurid, red-veined, green ones. Over coffee Mr. Hollick proposed that Baba go away for a while. For a holiday. To a clinic perhaps, for treatment. For as long as it took him to get better. And for the period of time that he was away, Mr. Hollick suggested that Ammu be sent to his bungalow to be “looked after.” (Roy 41)
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In this quote, Mr. Hollick tries to explain Baba his point of view in the alliteration “He allowed the silence to take its toll”. Also, these lines show flashback during the time when Ammu got divorced and how she was treated as a sex-object which indirectly addressed her as a veshya and her children as illegitimate. The line “He allowed the pitiful man sitting across the table to begin to shake.” shows irony because the word “pitiful” is addressed to Baba which is opposite to how the readers perceive him. The line “Count your blessings.” shows metaphor as the blessings are indirectly compared to the good actions committed by Baba so far. Mr. Hollick uses these words to make Baba think of the good things he had done that will save him from losing his job. During the early years of independence in India, men-women roles in the society were perceived differently. Roy uses these lines to demonstrate the type of behaviour shown by Mr. Hollick that illustrate his thinking and approach towards the women in the Indian society. The way Mr. Hollick ask Baba to sent Ammu to his bungalow to be “looked after” highlight the concept of traditional inequality where without thinking of the pride that women hold in the Indian society, Mr. Hollick mentions about his sexual needs that define his perception. Further, this shows how people in India during the early years of independence had narrow-minded thoughts that were certainly against the rules of society.
Gender differences can distort our thinking about relationships. Through female glasses, male behaviour looks a certain way [and vice versa] and sometimes what seems wrong may be simply different. Men [and women] often need far more understanding than fixing.
This quote from the book, Married but Not Engaged by Paul and Sandy Coughlin try to explain the same concept as Roy does in her novel. The quote points how the gender differences change our perception regarding the man-woman relationship. Also, this quote demonstrates that relationships require more understanding than deception. This gets reflected to Ammu-Baba relationship where their relationship lacks understanding which ultimately separates them.
In the novel, Arundhati Roy shows how Baby Kochamma’s cruel thoughts and feelings regarding Velutha reflect on the portrayal of her own character and personality. Baby Kochamma was upset after she was publicly humiliated by the Marxist group.
In the days that followed, Baby Kochamma focused all her fury at her public humiliation on Velutha. She sharpened it like a pencil. In her mind he grew to represent the march. And the man who had forced her to wave the Marxist Party flag. And the man who christened her Modalali Mariakutty. And all the men who had laughed at her.
She began to hate him. (Roy, 78)
In this quote, the line “sharpened it like a pencil” shows simile by comparing Baby Kochamma’s anger to a sharp pencil. This rage is seen throughout the novel as Baby Kochamma always blames Velutha for someone else’s actions. The line “She began to hate him” foreshadows something unexpected in Velutha’s life. This was proved when Baby Kochamma filed a fraudulent F.I.R. against Velutha, accusing him as a rapist. Baby Kochamma is a type of character that uses someone else as a medium to suffer for her own actions. Being treated badly by the Marxist group, she decides to get all her frustration out on Velutha. Further, this continues till the end of the story where baby Kochamma takes advantage of Velutha’s social-status and constantly makes him suffer. Baby Kochamma’s actions and her nature reveal her personality. She files a fraudulent F.I.R. which demonstrates her views regarding the social norms. Her thoughts and feelings affect the way she perceives a man-woman relationship. Roy uses these lines to show how a woman can create differences in society. These lines prove how men and women had altered visions for each other.
Women tend to be more personal than men. Women have a deeper interest in people and feelings—building relationships
This quote from the book If He Only Knew by Gary Smalley and Steve Scott reflect on the character of Baby Kochamma. However, she also has interest in building relationships as seen with Father Mulligan.
In this way, these three things that were illustrated by the end of the novel help to define how people perceive the social-norms in a narrow-minded society. At First, the caste-system helped to show how Ammu-Velutha relationship was mistaken by the society that created an unusual and rude behaviour among them. The eternal love that was seen in the novel demonstrated how the social boundaries were crossed which forced people in the society to view things differently. Finally, the men-women roles in the society helped to explain how men and women treated each other with unequal means. Therefore, these three things that were seen in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things that changed the perception of the society gives us a message that its people who define a society and so if people try to understand and respect each other in a righteous manner then this world would be a better place to live.
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