Summary of The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is set in a small town of Kerala. It is a story of a particular family. The story begins with the return of Rahel to her home town Ayemenem to be reunited to her twin brother Estha after a period of about 23 years. The narrative is told in third person – often moving backward and forward in time.
The novel presents three generations of women. It can be called the story of sufferings of Baby Kochamma, Mammachi, Ammu and Rahel. They all suffer in different ways. In a country like India where patriarchal system is very strong, women suffer mentally, physically and sexually.
When Rahel returns to Ayemenem. She finds her grand aunt Baby Kochamma still alive but Ammu is no more. She had died at the age of 31. Baby Kochamma in her young days was in love with a Roman Catholic, Father Mulligan. This platonic relationship between Kochamma and Father Mulligan did not fructify into marriage. She went to Madras(Chennai) to be a nun and to be near her lover but in vain.
The unfulfilled love of Baby Kochamma probably made her cruel and heartless in her treatment of Ammu. Ammu is the worst sufferer in the novel. She becomes the victim of the male dominated society. She could not pursue her studies as education of women was considered unnecessary. At Ayemenem, she lived the life of a prisoner and she became desperate. She dreamt of escaping from the clutches of her ill-tempered father and bitter long suffering mother. During the summer, she went to Calcutta(Kolkata) where she met a youngman – who proposed to her, five days after they had met. After some initial hesitation, she accepted the proposal partly to escape from Ayemenem. Her husband turned out to be an alcoholic who beat her frequently and acted as a pimp for his boss Mr. Hollick, the English manager of tea estate. Mr. Hollick had suggested that he should go on leave and Ammu be sent to his bungalow to be looked after. She refused and her refusal brought more physical torture. Her husband attacked her, grabbed her hair, punched her. Ammu too hit back, when her husband began to beat the twins (Rahel and Estha). She decided to part her ways, she returned to Ayemenem but as a divorced woman, there was no place for her in her father’s home.
She soon realized that life had frozen for her. Her rebellious spirit made her more and more miserable. In her own home, she became ‘Untouchable’. Even Baby Kochamma believed that a married daughter has no position in her parents’s home. Baby Kochamma has already accepted her fate of manless life stoically but she did not feel any sympathy or pity for Ammu. On the contrary, she often became the cause of Ammu’s suffering.
Baby Kochamma resented Ammu and probably she took sadistic pleasure in her sufferings, she became crueler and resentful towards Ammu. Ammu did not surrender to her fate but combated with it. In her divorced state, she even declared her love for Velutha – an untouchable carpenter. Ammu violated ‘the love laws’ and this could not be tolerated in these days. Kochamma got Velutha dismissed from the factory and imprisoned. He was charged with the rape of Ammu. When Ammu went to the police station with her children, Rahel and Estha, the police officer’s behavior was very brutal and callous. Ammu felt helpless and utterly humiliated. She only muttered to herself, “He’s dead. I’ve killed him”. She knew that she would be responsible for the death of her lover Velutha – an untouchable paravan.
Rahel does not suffer as much as Ammu did. She has the most rebellious spirit that makes her resort to incest which is a taboo almost all over the world in all civilized society. As a student at Nazareth convent, she behaved with a revolting spirit and the nuns thought that she did not know, how to be a nice, decent girl. Rahel spent eight years in a college of architecture at Delhi without completing the five year degree course. She married a senior student at the college and went with her husband to Boston. She worked for a few months as a waitress in an India restaurant and later got divorced from her husband. Rahel’s suffering is more psychological than physical. She failed to receive love and affection from parents and elders. When Ammu died, she was only eleven and naturally her wounded psyche made her a rebellious person throughout her life.
Rahel’s married life didn’t result in happiness when she made love, her husband was offended by her eyes. They behaved as if they belonged to someone else. As a result the marriage broke and they were divorced.