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The God of Small Things. Class and Gender Divisions Pin-chia Feng Spring 2001 Kate Liu Fall 2002. Outline. The author , the book and its controversies The setting : Kelara and the History House Background : Syrian Christianity and Marxism Major Themes: Women ’ s position ;

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The God of Small Things

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The god of small things l.jpg

The God of Small Things

Class and Gender Divisions

Pin-chia Feng Spring 2001

Kate Liu Fall 2002


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Outline

  • The author, the book and its controversies

  • The setting: Kelara and the History House

  • Background: Syrian Christianity and Marxism

  • Major Themes:

    • Women’s position;

    • Class and Politics;

    • Cultural identities;

    • Children’s perpsectives;

    • Small Things and Transgression


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Arundhati Roy--Biography

  • “My mother says that some of the incidents in the book are based on things that happened when I was two years old. I have no recollection of them. But obviously, they were trapped in some part of my brain.” (source)


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Arundhati Roy-- childhood

  • born as Suzanna Arundhati Roy on 11/24/1961

  • mother--Mary Roy (Christian)--a well-known social activist, ran an informal school (Corpus Chrisiti )  strong women in the novel

  • father (a Bengali Hindu tea planter)

  • uncle--George Issac (owned the Palat Pickles--the slogan: “Emperor in the realm of taste”)  Chacko


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Arundhati Roy--childhood

  • 1-yr-old— parents split

     feeling of insecurity because of the broken marriage; “on the edge of the community”

  • Age 10 – went to school

  • “When I think back on all the things I have done I think from a very early age, I was determined to negotiate with the world on my own. There were no parents, no uncles, no aunts; I was completely responsible for myself."


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Adult Life and Career

  • Age 16 -- left home and lived in a squatter’s colony in Delhi

  • The Delhi School of Architecture

  • marriage (Gerard Da Cunha)--divorced after 4 years

  • First worked with a TV company:

    • a role in Massey Saab

    • The Banyan Tree--TV series

    • screenplay--In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones /Electric Moon

  • a critique of Bandit Queen, which ended up as a court case.  concentrates on her writing while working as a aerobic teacher.


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The God of Small Things

  • Completed in May 1996 (after 4/12 years of writing)

  • published in 4/4/1997 by Random House

  • the Booker Price--Oct. 1997 (India’s 50th anniversary of independence)--the first non-expatriate Indian author and the first Indian woman to win the price


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Arundhati on Writing the Novel

  • inspiration--“the image of this sky blue Plymouth stuck at the railroad crossing with the twins inside and this Marxist procession raging around it” (Chapter 2)

  • “so much of fiction is a way of seeing, of making sense of the world…and you need a key of how to begin to do that. This was just a key. For me (the novel) was five years of almost changing and mutating, and growing a new skin. It’s almost like a part of me.”—but she claimed that she never revised. (source)


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Controversies

  • India--communist critique from E M S Namboodiripad (a veteran Communist leader)

    • disagrees with the depiction of 'Comrade Pillai‘;

    • sees the novel as anti-Communist campaign (source)

  • obscenity case--Sabu Thomas (the lawyer who has dragged Roy to court)

    -- affront Indian tradition, culture, and morality;

    -- “excites sexual desires and lascivious thoughts”; hurts the Syrian Christian community (source)


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Setting: Kerala

1. Monsoon rains

- fill up the rivers there;

-- Kill Sophie Mol.

2. Communism

--democratically elected

Communist government

-- abolish landlordism


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Marxism in Kerala

  • “The first Communist government in the world was elected in Kerala in 1957, and from then on it became a big power to contend with. I think in '67 the government returned to power after having been dismissed by Nehru, and so in '69 it was at its peak. And it was as if revolution was really just around the corner.”(Arundhati Roy) + (p.64-65)


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Kerala: Races

  • 60 % -- Hindus

  • 40% -- Muslims and Christians ( A small group of Jews)

  •  caste system adopted not just by Hindus, but also by people of the other religious groups.


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Syrian Christian Community

  • less than 5% of Indian’s population

  • more than 20%-1/3 in Kerala are Christians (the Untouchables turned “the Rice-Christians” 71)

  • the Syrian Church is one of the oldest branches of Christianity--came to India with St. Thomas in 52 CE.


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Influence of Kerala

  • “A lot of the atmosphere of A God of Small Things is based on my experience of what it was like to grow up in Kerala. Most interestingly, it was the only place in the world where religions coincide, there is Christianity, Hinduism, Marxism and Islam and they all live together and rub each other down. When I grew up it was the Marxism that was very strong, it was like the revolution was coming the next week…. To me, I couldn’t think of a better location for a book about human beings.”


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'History House of Kari Saippu'

Built by a Protestant missionary Baker

Puliyampallil House –the school Arundhati's great-grandfather found.

(pp. 4, 30)

Allusions to the places in Kelara: History House & Ayemenem House


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The God of Small Things: Characters

the Untouchables: Vellya Paapen Velutha Paapen

  • Comrade K. N. M. Pillai

  • The Ipe family 1st generation:. Papachi (Benaan John) + Mammachi (Shoshamma)

    Baby Kochamma (Navomi Ipe) (Father Mulligan)

  • 2nd generation:

    Margaret + Chacko; Ammu (1942-73) + Baba

  • 3rd generation:

  • Sophie Mol(1960-1969) Esthappen (Estha) Rachel


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Timeline

  • 1969 --communist march (p.62-69); Sophie Mol’s visit, death, and funeral; Ammu and Velutha; Velutha’s death (clues: pp 31; 9-10);

  • 1973--Ammu’s death (31), p.5 “a viable die-able age”

  • 1992--the narrative present--Estha (“the quietness,”“re-Returned”); Rahel (indifferent, divorced, back for the States); Baby Kochamma (satellite TV and diary)


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Chapter 2

  • time: 12/1969 (the day before Sophie Mol’s arrival)

  • place: Ayemenem Cochin for The Sound of Music.

  • Ammu’s life pp. 38-44;

  • Baby Kochamma 44-45;

  • Mammachi * Pappachi pp. 46- 50

  • Cuff-links – language issues;

  • Chacko on history pp. 51-

  • Chacko’s management of the factory 55-


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Chapter 2

7. The twins’ reading habit pp. 57 –

8. At the level crossing p. 58- (Murlidharan pp. 60 - )

9. The Communist March pp. 62 –

10. Velutha 68 –

11. Baby Kochamma’s humiliation

12. Hatred of Velutha afterwards, 78-

13. Arguments among the family inside the car;

14. The train comes and goes, BK sings to be jolly. Pale moon.


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Questions

  • Gender Relations: How are the three grown-up women (Mammachi, Baby Kochama and Ammu) described in Chap 2?

  • Class, Religion & Politics: How are Syrian Christians, Velutha and Marxists presented?

  • Cultural Identity: Chacko and his views of history and cultural identity? Where else do we see the influences of colonial cultures?

  • Children’s Perspectives & Memory: How do the two children respond to English language and the parents’ divorce? How does Rahel remember her past?

  • Titles & Main Themes: the novel’s title, the first chapter’s and the second, why?


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Women in Kerala

  • Relative freedom for women in Kerala

  • assertive, energetic, courageous women

  • instances of patriarchal oppression


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Mammachi, Ammu & Baby Kochama

  • Mammachi – contradictions in her talent and submission to her husband

    • ’s pickles (and violin) vs Pappachi’s moth & beating & silence (p.48)

    • Paradise Pickles & Preserves (Mamachi as the “Sleeping Partner” p. 55)

  • Ammu –contradictions in her self-assertion and her love

    • “life had been lived”–married the wrong man--p.38-44 “Unsafe Edge” (p.44)

    • “The fate of the wretched man-less woman.” (p. 44-5)

  • Baby Kochama –one within the boundaries; self-righteous – 44-45; (chap 1: 21-29)


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Velutha and Syrian Christianity

  • Velutha:

    • The untouchable 71; his talents 72

    • V’s father p. 74

  • S. Christians

    • “suffer from inbreeding” p. 59

    • Possible supporters of Marxism pp. 64

  • Marxists movement & the Communist March – pp. 63 - ; 67


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The Love Laws/ Caste System

  • p.33 “That it really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And How much.”

  • caste is “the defining consideration in all Indian politics, (and) in all Indian marriages, (but) the lines are blurring. India exists in several centuries simultaneously.” (p.71 on the Untouchables)


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Influences of Colonial Culture:

  • The Anglophilic characters: p.50-51

    1. Pappachi's moth (p.48): his need for re-inventing the category; and possessing its name; This obsession and failure becomes something that haunts the whole family.

    2. Chacko's ambivalent position:

    -- sympathetic with Marxism, but owning the factory and naming it "Paradise pickles and preserves'';

    -- critical of colonial culture (saying that the Indians are locked out of their history), but marrying a white woman. p. 51

  • -airplanes and pickle baron (p.55-56)


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History

  • “The History House” (p.51-54) Chacko’s--“an old house at night.” (p.51)--abstract children’s—a physical space—Kari-Saipu’s house--in 1990s: “Toy Histories for rich tourists to play in. Like the sheaves of rice in Joseph’s dream, like a press of eager natives petitioning an English magistrate, the old houses had been arranged around the History House in attitudes of deference. ‘Heritage,’ the hotel was called.” (p.120)

  • geological time: ‘the Earth woman” (p.52)

  • Intertextual reference--Kurtz and the Heart of Darkness (colonialism)


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popular culture:

  • The Sound of Music (1965); Elvis puff, p. 37

  • Love-in-Tokyo p.37

  • Coca-Cola sign


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Children’s Perspectives & Memories

  • 1. Their understanding of language

    • Well read; read simple things backwards;

    • language: p.37 Malayalam vs English (“Pre NUN sea ayshun”--example of small transgression)/

    • “cuff-link” p.50

    • disposed p. 51


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Separation –1. Two-Egg Twins

  • P.4-5 “In those early amorphous years when memory had only just begun, when life was full of Beginnings and no Ends, and everything was Forever, Esthappen and Rahel thought of themselves together as Me, and separately, as We or Us. As though they were a rare breed of Siamese twins, physically separate, but with joint identities.”--“…now she thinks of Estha and Rahel as Them, because, separately, the two of them are no longer what Theywere or thoughtThey’d be.”


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Separation –2. Parents’ divorce

  • Before and around 1967

  • P. 60 the children treasured the moment when Ammu were getting alone with Chacko (“precious beads on a necklace” 60)

  • -- In between the father and the mother, or Ammu and Chacko: pp. 80 – 82: imitating being clerks, remember his anger, the photo, spit bubble. Millstones around Chacko’s neck p. 72

  • Response to the death of Velutha and Sophie Mol pp. Ethsa: protecting the mother, Rahel, believes that Sophie does not die at the time of the funeral.


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Displacement and loss

  • The twins’ routes of migration

  • Estha: Assam—Ayemenem—Calcutta (Returned)—Ayemenem (re-Returned) quietness pp. 12-

  • Rahel: Assam—Ayemenem (3 expulsions)—Delhi—Boston (married to Larry McCaslin)—New York—Washington, D.C.—Ayemenem emptiness/ p. 20


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Displacement and loss (2)

  • Rahel’s and the author’s images of memory: pp. 5; 11; 69 – 70;

  • Rahel’s desire for a watch whose time she can determine.

  • Signs of loss: yellow church p. 8;

  • Rahel’s watch (p.37 ten to two)

  • Signs of fragility: The twins like frogs (p.42)  squashed frog 78


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The Meanings of the Titles

  • Pappachi’s Moth

  • Paradise Pickles & Preservers

  • The God of Small Things


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Small Things

  • ambulance (Sacred Heart Hospital) and wedding party (p.58)

  • Murlidharan’s keys and “cupboards, cluttered with secret pleasure” (p.61)


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Small Things

  • What is the god of small things?

  • Big God vs. Small God (P.20 ) —Big God—in control vs Small God

  • from the children’s perspective—away from the adult boundaries; small transgressions

  • the structure of the book is a collection of small thing (episodic, fragmentary) // life


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Small Things

  • Cannot change the big things:

  • Pp. 321 “. . .instinctively they stuck to the Small Things. The Big Things ever lurked inside. They knew that there was nowhere for them to go. . .They had no future .”


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Examples of transgression

  • Mammachi’s p. 74 letting Velutha become a carpenter.

  • Ammu’s 43

  • The kids’ going the Velutha

  • The kids’ changes of language.


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The Title: Roy’s own interpretations

  • “To me the god of small things is the inversion of God. God’s a big thing and God’s in control. The god of small things…whether it’s the way the children see things or whether it’s the insect life in the book, or the fish or the stars--there is a not accepting of what we think of as adult boundaries. This small activity that goes on is the under life of the book, All sorts of boundaries are transgressed upon….”

  • Transgressions-- Problem with classification—banana jam—neither jelly nor jam (p. 30)


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Biology and Transgression

  • “I have to say that my book is not about history but biology and transgression. And, in fact is that YOU CAN NEVER UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF BRUTALITY UNTIL YOU SEE WHAT HAS BEEN LOVED BEING SMASHED. And the book deals with both things--it deals with our ability to be brutal as well as our ability to be so deeply intimate and so deeply loving.” (Roy)


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  • “It’s a story that examines things very closely but also from a very, very distant point, almost from geological time and you look at it and see a pattern there. A pattern…of how in these small events and in these small lives the world intrudes. And because of this, because of people being unprotected…the world and the social machine intrudes into the smallest, deepest core of their being and changes their life.”--a last minute title


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References:

  • The Arundhati Roy Web http://website.lineone.net/~jon.simmons/roy/index.htm

  • Kelara http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/Bahri/Kerala.html

  • “Now, it is EMS's turn to slam Arundathi Roy!”http://www.rediff.com/news/aug/30ems.htm


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