The God Of Small Things Summary

Arundhati Roy

The God Of Small Things

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The God Of Small Things Summary

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The God of Small Things is Arundhati Roy’s first and only fiction novel. The critically acclaimed piece of dramatic literature was published in 1996. Set in Ayemenem (which is now a district in part of Kerala, India), the story spans two dozen years, jumping back and forth, through flashbacks and flash forwards, from 1969 when fraternal twins Rahel and Estha were 7 years old, and then to 1993, when they reunite at age 31.

The story opens with their family background, telling of how Pappachi, their grandfather lost his chance to become a famous entomologist, and throughout his life takes it out on Mammachi, their grandmother by beating her constantly. They have two kids – a daughter, Ammu and a son, Chacko. Chacko, a scholar, studies in England and marries an English woman named Margaret, and they have a child together named Sophie. Their marriage falls apart when Margaret falls for another man. They divorce, and then Chacko returns home. Ammu on the other hand, wanting to be more adventurous, goes off to live with a relative away from Ayemenem, where she meets a man named Baba and marries him. They have twins: a boy, Esthappen, and a girl, Rahel. Baba is abusive and incompetent. He loses his job, and his only chance of getting it back is to let his boss have sex with his wife. Before that can happen, Ammu takes the kids and back home to Ayemenem.

When the twins are seven years old, the main story begins. Chacko invites his ex-wife to visit Ayemenem after the man she fell in love with dies, and Margaret brings Sophie with her. So Chacko, Ammu, and Ammu’s kids, Rahel and Estha, all go to pick them up from the airport, however on the way they are stopped by a communist rally. Rahel sees Velutha waving a red flag – Velutha is a dear friend and an untouchable maintenance worker from her family’s pickle factory.

After they pass, the group decides to go to the theater to see Rahel and Estha’s favorite film, The Sound of Music. Throughout the film, Estha can’t help but sing along with the songs in the movie. He is told to go stand in the back so as to not bother anyone else, and he ends up getting molested by the movie theater’s snack vendor. Later the next day, after they pick up Margaret and Sophie, Rahel feels jealous of the attention Sophie is getting, and goes to her friend Velutha to talk about it, telling him she saw him at the march, but he makes up a lie, not wanting his employers to know that he is a communist. Ammu sees her daughter and Velutha talking together, and it seems to make her jealous.

Meanwhile, Estha is still traumatized after the incident with the snack vendor, and thinks of a way to escape his current life, believing that the vendor will come for him once more. He tells his sister his plan to leave, and they find a boat to fix up and get ready. As this is happening, it is discovered that Ammu and Velutha are having an affair, which is forbidden, especially because of Velutha’s low class. The family hears of this, and locks Ammu in her room. The kids find this a perfect time to escape, and Sophie begs to go with them. A log collides with the boat and Sophie drowns and dies. Rahel and Estha swim to shore and hide in a large place called “History House.”

When Sophie’s body turns up, the family takes this as a sign to keep Velutha away from Ammu by blaming everything on him. They tell the police that Velutha raped Ammu and stole the kids. The police beat Velutha and he later dies. But it doesn’t solve anything as the entire family is torn apart by Ammu’s dishonor and Sophie’s tragic death.

After Sophie’s funeral, Estha moves to live with his father, Baba. Rahel stays with Mammachi and is sent to school, and Ammu runs off to live on her own. Years later Rahel reunites with her mother when she discovers that Ammu has a lung disease that eventually kills her. Rahel finishes her studies and moves to America and lives a normal life as an architect, married to a white man that she doesn’t really love.

At age 31, Rahel finally hears that her brother, Estha, had returned to Ayemenem, and so she heads back to meet with him. Upon her return she discovers that her brother had become a mute, since he had left to live with his father. He speaks to no one, and takes long solemn walks alone with no end in sight. However, Rahel is determined to bring her brother back to her, and she spends a lot of time with him as they go through their old stuff, reminiscing together. This leads to them having sex, and for the first time in decades, being with someone they love, even if that person is not someone they should be in love with.

Arundhati Roy does wonders with the style of non-sequential narrative, and tells dozens of stories, with multiple characters in such a scattered way, symbolizing the disheveled lives of the characters themselves. Rahel and Estha, the fraternal twins, represent and illustrate most of the themes in the novel, including forbidden love, discrimination and familial and social tensions in such a large family with a lot to lose. And in doing so, this popular piece has inspired some other stories in Indian literature, and has even won some awards – and rightly so, as it is a sad yet lovely look Indian politics and the caste system, as well as more universal themes like betrayal, family and love – things we can all relate to.