Feminism in The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

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Feminism in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

By – K Sheeba (introduction at the end of the paper), Vol. III, Issue. XXVI, March 2017



The research paper has been attempted to explore the elements of Feminism in Arundhati Roy’s novel ‘The God of Small Things’. The paper seeks to study the work of Arundhati Roy, ‘The God of Small Things’ as a text of ‘feminine writing’.  She has beautifully and effectively shown the plight of women in Indian society. Arundhati has taken up the issue of feminism to fight for their identity and economic and social freedom. Her female characters in the novel The God of Small Things stands out as persons and not as role-players. Through this novel, she throws light on some important things of life like how love is always associated with sadness, how a person’s childhood experiences affect his/her perspectives and whole life.

KEY WORDS: Marriage, Chauvinism, Relationships, Indifferent and Patriarchal




Arundhati Roy is one of the towering stars in the firmament of Indian fiction in English. She was born on 24 November 1961 in Meghalaya, India. Her father Rajib Roy, was a Bengali Hindu and her mother Mary Roy, was a Syrian Christian. The god of small things is her debut novel and is also a semi-autobiographical novel. She was awarded the Booker Prize for the novel The God of Small Things in 1997. She was the first Indian Women to win this prize.  In January 2006 she was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award. She as an Indian English writer penetrates contemporary social-political issues which is amply perceptible in number of articles, interviews and books. In the opinion of many perceptive readers of the novel, The God of Small Things is characterized as an extraordinary art of imagination.

 The God of Small Things portrays the truthful picture of the plight of Indian women, their great suffering, cares and anxieties, their humble submission, persecution and undeserved humiliation in male dominating society. It shows the women’s marathon struggle for seeking the sense of ‘identity’ in a totally averse and envious society. The social structure of an average Indian woman is full of ups and downs, ifs and buts. It can be very clearly seen in some of the women characters like Ammu, Mammachi, Baby kochamma, Rahel and Margaret Kochamma.

The novel maps four generation. The novelist does not say about the women in the first generation. Aleyoooty Ammachi is Pappachi’s mother. She continued to live in an oil portrait besides her husband Rev. Ipe’s painting. While Ipe smiled Aleyoooty Ammachi looked more hesitant. Baby kochamma and Mammachi belong to second generation. Baby kochamma is the daughter of Reverend E. John Ipe, who is the priest of the Mar Thomas Church. He had seven children but only two of them survived. Baby is one of those survivors, and other is her brother, Benan John Ipe. Her real name is Navomy Ipe but everybody called her baby. She fell in love with a handsome, young Irish monk, Father Mulligan when she was eighteen. The young girl and the intrepid Jesuit both were quacking with unchristian passion. She entered a convent in Madras after becoming a Roman Catholic with special dispensation from the Vatican. She hoped that it would provide her opportunities to be with Father Mulligan. The love affair did not materialize. She was sent abroad for studies and two years later she returned with a diploma in ornamental gardening. She does not however forget Father Mulligan. She takes care of her body and makes a fresh entry in her dairy everyday: ‘I love you I love you’. Moreover she tries to remain in contact with him who too stays in touch with her. He had begun studying Hindu scriptures to denounce them intelligently but the study eventually leads him to a change of faith. He becomes the Vaishnavas and joins an Ashram North of Rishikesh. He writes to her every Diwali and sends greeting card every New Year. Baby preserves those things.  Father Mulligan dies, the death of her beloved does not turn her to a widow like living. Instead she becomes more concentrated about make up takes much interest in lotteries and enjoys watching color TV and she totally discarded gardening. And now she behaves like a teenager at the age of eighty three.  After fifty years she abandoned the gardening and fell in love with dish-antennae.

She is snobbish in all sense and pretended that she had great knowledge of literary sense. She strongly believed in theory that a divorced daughter had no position anywhere at all. A divorced daughter from a love marriage was outrageous. A divorced daughter from an inter community marriage love marriage was simply unbearable to her. That’s why she never tolerated the presence of Ammu and twins in her house. Baby takes drastic steps of conversion in order to meet man of her choices dislikes Ammu for similar reasons. She allows her brother to have illegal relationship with unfamiliar women but frowns upon Ammu for thwarting the ethical boundaries of the family. This shows Roy does not present her female characters as ideal ones. She is neither exploited by the man nor devasted by the customs in the society.

Mammachi is the wife of Pappachi, an entomologist. She has been a silent sufferer from the beginning of her marriage life. Though she is not frustrated in love like Baby but she is an unhappy character. She is like a doll in the hands of Pappachi. Her husband has a very poor opinion about her. In the beginning Roy presents a pathetic picture of Mammachi’s life. Roy observes

“Mammachi was almost blind and wore dark glasses when she went out of the house. Her tears tickled down from behind them, trembled down from behind them and tremble along her jaw like raindrops on the edge of a roof”(p:5)

The frustrated and unsatisfied marriage life of Mammachi shows reader a different tale of woe. Her husband is seventeen years older than her. He is a respectable man in society and a notable entomologist. He is a very jealous husband. Mammachi takes lesson in violin when her teacher praises her he becomes sad and abruptly discontinues her lessons. Every night he beats Mammachi with a brass flower vase. One day Pappachi bet Mammachi with brass vase, Chacko had come to Ayemenem for summer vacation and he saw Pappachi beating Mammachi and he strode Pappachi to room and twisted his hand back. This episode created hatred in mind of Pappachi and he never touched or sought any help from Mammachi.

            Mammachi showed indifferent attitude towards Margaret kochamma. She shows female jealousy for woman whom her son had loved and married. She never met Margaret but looked down upon her. She was unkind towards the workers of the factory paradise pickles and preservers. But she was meek with Chacko. She had a separate entrance built for Chacko’s room, so that the object of his ‘need’ would not have to go traipsing through the house. Mammachi is not crafty as baby kochamma but her mind is hardly less pervert than that of baby kochamma. She subscribes to the logic and ethics of the male chauvinism in Toto. Her conservative turns her inhuman, nasty and brutish.

            The third generation of women characters are Ammu and Chacko’s alien wife Margaret Kochamma. Margaret is a minor but remarkable character. She is the wife of Chacko and mother of Sophie Mol. Like the other “Mombattis” of the book she also suffers and loses her dreams in male dominated society. After the marriage with Chacko her life becomes more frightful and more insecure than before. She has to undergo unbearable grief and sorrow. A chain of misfortunes make her life sad and gloom.

            Margaret was working as a waitress in a café in London when she first met Chacko. Like Ammu, she left the house of her parents ‘for no greater reason than a youthful assertion of independence’ (p: 240). She had an ardent desire to be good and gentle lady with enough money. So she had to face with the real world. One day when Chacko came to café, she all of a sudden drew towards him like how Ammu drew towards Baba. Margaret and Chacko had an affair and they both married without their family consent. But this untraditional rebellious marriage as a bad luck did not prosper in a fruitful way. To crowd the effect, Margaret’s parents refused to see her. Her father disliked Indians as he thought Indians as sly, dishonest people. He could not believe that his daughter marrying such a man. Moreover Margaret was also fed up with the living of Chacko and she divorced Chacko and married Joe. Though Margaret is a tragic character partly tortured by the powerful character but mostly devasted and harassed by her own fickle mind and incapable conduct.

            Ammu is the central character of the novel. Her tragic story, right from the beginning to the end arouses our sense of pity and catharsis. Her tragic tale begins in her childhood. As a little girl Ammu had to endure some unbearable nightmarish experiences. She and her mother Mammachi suffered from the cruelty of her father. Pappachi used to beat Ammu and her mother Mammachi with a brass vase. Ammu was deprived of higher education because according to Pappachi college education is not useful for a girl. This shows the truthful portrayal of the women of the society who find nothing but the step motherly treatment in the male dominated- society. In an atmosphere entirely different she has to feel like captive in a Big Ayemenem house. She has to help her mother in house works and wait for marriage proposals. She has become the victim of frustration due to sudden disruption of education. She wants to fly freely in the sky.

To seek escape from she goes to Calcutta to spend summer with a distant aunt and ends marrying a Bengali Hindu there. She marries him as she does not want to go to Ayemenem. Ammu shows her strength of mind not only in marrying the man of her choice but also in divorcing him when the choice proves eventually wrong. Her husband whom she loved was alcoholic and even made her to smoke. As he neglects his duty, he is threatened with dismissal by his manager, Mr.Hollick and acquiesces in to his proposal to go away for a while and send his wife to his bungalow to be ‘looked after’. Her husband put his proposal before his wife. This extreme humiliation created a sense of great hatred in the heart of Ammu. In a scuffle, she hit her husband with a heavy book and left the place with the twins- Estha and Rahel. She goes to Ayemenem and tells her father the story of the reason for her divorce but her father does not believe her. Her parents were indifferent to her and her children. She was step motherly treated in her own house. She imagined her twins “ like a pair of bewildered frogs engrossed in each other’s company lolloping arm in arm down a high way full of hurtling traffic”(p:43)

Ammu challenges the androcentric notion of the society which avoids the surname after divorce. Estha and Rahel has no surname because Ammu is considering reverting to her maiden name, though she feels that choosing between her husband’s name and her father’s name does not “give a woman much of a choice”. Law does not give a daughter any claim to property. Though Ammu does as much work as Chacko, the latter feels free to declare the factory as his own.

As a mother, Ammu loves her children. She is concerned about their innocence which makes them willingly to love people who do not love them. She not only wants to impart them bookish knowledge but also cares to teach them correct manners too. The rebel in Ammu does not permit her to remain contented with motherhood and divorcee hood. So she proceeds to reclaim her body. The other factor which stir her is the dream of the one armed man, suggests her that it is no use seeking perfection in life, the small and powerless peoples like her can satisfy themselves with the little time provides them. The preferential treatment shown towards Chacko’s ex-wife and their daughter is openly displayed in front of all and sundry, throwing Ammu and her twins in complete isolation. This is too severe a blow for Ammu to bear. The arrival of Margaret kochamma proves Ammu’s sexual desires.

The real tragedy in life of Ammu starts when she comes in contact with Velutha, a Parayan.  Ammu loves Velutha from childhood not for his exceptional talents but for his fiery spirit of protest. Velutha’s return after many years makes her take a fatal decision to “love by night the man her children loved by day” (p: 77). The secret love goes for thirteen days until it is reported to Mammachi by Velutha’s father and compounded by the accidental death of Sophie Mol. When the relationship was revealed she was tricked into her bedroom and locked. Velutha is implicated in false cases of attempted rape. Kidnapping of children and murder of Sophie Mol. After Sophie’s funeral Ammu goes to police station to set the case right. After four days of the funeral, Chacko assumes the role of a defender of morality and asks Ammu to pack up and leave. The punishment is unjust as it ruins three lives for the supposed offence of one. Ammu is separated from her children as Estha is returned to her father and Rahel alone was permitted to live in Ayemenem but Ammu is not allowed to visit her frequently. Desperately wanting to have a good job that enables her to bring her children with her she tries a number of job and dies alone in the Bharat lodge in Aleppy where she has gone for a job interview. After her death the church refused to bury her on several counts. So Chacko hired a van to transport the body to the electric crematorium.

Ammu is such a tragic character that even het last rite is not done properly with traditional rituals. Ammu, the tragic character tortured and abused by police, family and politics. It is not only the men folk alone responsible for her tragic plight but mostly the women characters like Mammachi and baby kochamma who may be called the real culprit to engender sufferings in Ammu’s life.

The fourth generation of women characters are Rahel and Sophie Mol. Ammu’s daughter Rahel too deserves our attention. The story deals with her life only to the age of thirty-one and most of the stories belong to her childhood. She was deserted by father, separated from mother, neglected by her maternal uncle, grandmother and grand aunt. The neglect has accidentally resulted in a “release of the spirit”. She has grown independent, daring and capable of thinking initiative.

After finishing schooling, she gets herself admitted into a college of Architecture in Delhi. The decision is taken not out of interest in Architecture but because she wanted to stay away from Ayemenem where she is unwanted. During her stay at the school of Architecture she meets Larry McCaslin in Delhi and marries him. The decision of marriage was hers, it is not taken under ideal conditions because she knew that there is no one to arrange marriage and pay dowry for her. Her marriage was also like that of her mother and uncle is outside her community. Larry is an American research scholar. Larry is not a male chauvinistic but the marriage proves prosaic. He values her but fails to understand her. Rahel refuses to continue her relationship with him. To her marriage is not a yoke so she breaks it soon. She does not feel shame or moral weakness for the divorce. The divorce does not leave her depressed she works as a waitress in an Indian restaurant in New York. And then she serves as a night clerk in bullet—proof cabin at a gas station outside Washington.

Rahel has a great sense of responsibility for her brother Estha, who is the part of her own self to her. As soon as she received letter from Baby Kochamma that Estha has returned, she leaves her job and goes to ayemenem. Unlike her divorce mother she has no burden of children with her. But she has to look after her brother, Estha whom traumatic experiences of life have turned speechless. She because of mental and psychological tortures, has become an abnormal character;   that even creates a breach in her merry and jocund marriage life; that makes her a rebel student during her school days; that makes her so mad that in a fit of sexual passion, she even goes to the extent of making an illicit or incestuous relation with her own brother Estha.

  Sophie Mol is a pivotal character in the novel. Sophie’s character comes through the way in which particularly Estha and Rahel perceive her. She is the half-English, half-Indian daughter of Chacko and Margaret kochamma. The twins does not particularly like her because she makes them feel inferior. Other members of the family, particularly Baby Kochamma, constantly compare them to Sophie in ways that makes her seem better. Rahel and Estha dislike her based on the preconceptions about her rather than really she is. Sophie actually wants to be friend with twins, and that she’s the one who feels left out. She tries to win them over the best way she knows. She gathers up presents and gives them. She also tries to win the heart of the twins like insulting Chacko and baby kochamma. She also begs to tag along with them when they decide to run away. This decision proves to be a fatal for her. She at the immature age of nine, dies by drowning in river. At the end we see a very human, sensitive and fundamentally lonely little girl in Sophie Mol.

Roy’s The God of Small Things is feminine creation of unique nature. The novel clearly shows the untold miseries and the undeserved sufferings of women who have to bear the brunt of male domination silently and meekly. She transcends the ordinary concept of feminism. The novel examines the feminist jealousy between the woman and woman, the plight of woman in male dominated framework. Roy shows how a woman in patriarchal set up yearns for pleasure and happiness and a life far from the shackles and constraints. She is like a free bird that wants to fly freely in the open skies. But all of a sudden, her wings are cut down by the callous society and thus she is pulled down to this earth where she has to ‘grovel in the lowly dust.’


Works Cited

  • Roy, Arundhati, The God of Small Things, New Delhi: IndiaInk, 1997
  • Rama Kunda and Mohit K.Ray, Studies in Women Writers in English, 2009 print.
  • Khan, A.A, Changing Faces of New Woman Indian Writing in English, 2012 print.
  • Puney Pandey and Pandey Kumar Vipin, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, A Critical Exploration of Realism and Romance, 2012 print.


K Sheeba is doing her post graduation in English Literature from Govindammal Aditanar College for Women Tiruchendur.

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