The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: The Basics

Brief Analysis for Mainstream English Year 11 Students studying ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy, AOS1 Unit 1 Analytical Study

The God Of Small Things By Arundhati Roy

Historical Context of The God of Small Things

The God of Small Things takes place mostly in 1969 and 1993, in Ayemenem, in the district of Kerala in India. Marxist ideas grew popular in Kerala soon after India’s liberation from British colonial rule, and in 1967 the Naxalite party split off as a more radical Communist group than the mainstream. The growing social unrest from these labour movements affects the action of the early novel. The ancient Hindu caste system (dividing Untouchables from Touchables, among other rules) was abolished around 1950, but many Indians still clung to old traditions and the class divide. Some of the characters in the novel are also Syrian Christians, an ancient community in Kerala originating with St. Thomas.


Ayemenem: where most of story takes place; where Estha/Rahel come home to when they are older (1993), where the death of Sophie Mol takes place (1969).

New York: where Rahel lives shortly while married to Larry

Delhi: where Rahel goes to school studying architecture.

Cochin: where the family see “The Sound of Music” and Estha gets molested by the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man. On the way Rahel sees Velutha participating in a communist rally. Location of the airport when the family picks Sophie Mol & Margaret Kochamma up from their London flight.

Main Plot

  1. In Ayemenem Pappachi and Mammachi live together. Pappachi is an imperial entomologist who discovers a new species of moth and never gets credit for it, making him resentful for the rest of his life. Elements of pappachi are mentioned later on, Sophie mol has his nose and throughout the novel it is mentioned that Rahel has a moth on her chest, spreading its wings when traumatic events happen.
  2. Pappachi beats Mammachi who starts Paradise Pickles and Preserves and is a talented violinist. Pappachi also smashed Mammachi’s violin.
  3. When Chacko comes back from studying in England where he meets his only love, Margaret, he sees Pappachi beating Mammachi and tells Pappachi that it will never happen again. After this Pappachi and Mammachi never talk again.
  4. Chacko has his heart broken by Margaret while she is pregnant with their child. He moves back to Ayemenem. Meanwhile, Ammu wants to leave Ayemenem and does so by marrying Baba and has the twins with him, she then goes back to Ayemenem after he tells her about his bosses proposal for sex after he loses his job. Baba is an alcoholic, compulsive liar and Ammu later sends Estha back to him when she can’t afford to care for him.
  5. The family in Ayemenem go on one of their routine trips to Cochin where they see the sound of music, and Estha is molested by a vendor there. On the way to Cochin they witness a communist rally where Rahel sees Velutha.
  6. The next day in Cochin the family pick up Sophie Mol and Margaret from the airport. Rahel then describes everything as if it were a play and everyone is trying to impress Sophie Mol.
  7. Velutha tells the twins that the person at the rally is his twin brother when they bring it up.
  8. There is a moment where Velutha and Ammu make eye contact, signaling their relationship to begin.
  9. Estha is still fearful of the man who molested him, and while he is stirring jam at the factory Rahel walks and he tells her about his plan.
  10. They go to the history house on a boat and bring their toys and food. They go multiple times, and on their way back with Sophie Mol, she dies in an accident.
  11. Around this same time, the house is alerted by Velutha’s dad about Ammu and Velutha’s forbidden relationship.
  12. Ammu is locked in her room by Baby Kochamma and Mammachi. When she comes out she yells at the twins and they go to the history house with Sophie Mol, who dies.
  13. Baby Kochamma fabricates a story to the police that Velutha raped Ammu and kidnapped the kids, and is responsible for Sophie’s death. He is beaten to death by police.
  14. Ammu later goes to the police station and tries to tell them the truth, but they do nothing and she leaves crying saying “I killed him”
  15. Baby Kochamma uses Chacko’s grief to kick Ammu out of town for her actions. Estha is ‘returned’ and Rahel stays with Mammachi and Baby. Ammu dies soon after.
  16. Baby Kochamma abandons her garden and becomes consumed by the TV. Kochu Maria joins her. The returned Estha at the house doesn’t speak.
  17. Rahel watches Estha as he enters the shower after his walk in the rain and they end up having sex in the bed after.

Narrative Structure

The book is written in a non-linear format using multiple narrators and flashbacks. The story unfolds in two time periods, 1969 and 1993, and the unknown narrator gives details about events outside those times. The non-linear technique with gaps in the plot until the end keeps the reader interested and leaves them with many questions.

Things are seen from Rahel and Estha’s childlike perspectives, for example Rahel is convinced Sophie Mol is alive and that Velutha didn’t die, it was his fictitious twin. The climax of the novel is surrounding Sophie Mol’s death, and it is known from the beginning that she will die due to the non-linear format. This technique creates anticipation regarding Sophie’s death. Even more shock is present during the climax when the Ammu and Velutha’s unexpected relationship is revealed by the sobbing Vellya, the only clue of their relationship mentioned previously being their eye contact.

The non-linear format allowed for Estha and Rahel’s love scene being juxtaposed with Ammu and Velutha’s because they are placed back-to-back. The reader is shocked by the incestuous relationship and also by the graphic nature of Ammu and Velutha’s love scene.


Love relationships & forbidden love / sexuality / death / dreams / Indian caste system / narrative past / narrative present / time is stagnant / family influence & obligations / change versus preservation of time / western values / white westerners superior / gender politics / Communism / social structures / Indian politics / imperialism / religion / the environment


Small Things = small moments, objects and changes that lead to the big things in life, small talk that is a mask for larger hidden feelings, relevant to the taboo relationship of Ammu & Velutha

Big Things = big events in life like love, death and political upheaval

Pappachi’s moth = signifies the family’s downfall and acts as a carrier of negativity

Spider = relates to Ammu and Velutha’s relationship & part of the ‘small things’ they focused on

Rahel’s watch = the time on the watch stays the same at ten minutes to two signifying that time is stagnant, the novel is literally frozen in time

Sophie Mol’s death = while it is a tragic accident her death is tied to many elements in the novel including Estha’s sexual abuse, Ammu & Veluthas taboo relationship & Estha & Rahel’s sexual encounter

The Heart of Darkness = Joseph Conrad’s novel connected to the History House that Chacko explains to the twins how to understand history

The History House = Kari Saibu’s house the Englishman who had ‘gone native’ and was mentally unstable and been corrupted

Communism = Chacko, Pillai and Velutha are communists from different classes yet shows how widespread communism is in India

Love = love and the rules about “who should be loved.  And how.  And how much” refers to love laws in India that are controlled by the caste system

The Sound of Music = the movie is popular because it represents western values and links to the theme of natural beauty against society’s demands on the individual

Ammu’s dream = represents her physical reaction to Velutha as the one-armed man that she cannot touch and Ammu’s own romantic death

Colours as Symbols

White = the association of whiteness as being superior and privileged in status as westerners like Margaret Kochamma and Sophie Mol who are British are compared to the twins who are Indian and darker skinned made to recognise as subordinate their own ways of seeing.  Sophie Mol’s white skin is precious as Rahel says “she’s very delicate, if she gets dirty she’ll die”.

Blue = blue can be negative associated with sadness, fear and depression but on the positive side it can signify harmony, confidence and cleanliness.  Pappachi, Baby Kochamma and Margaret Kochamma represent the old social order under threat of losing its grip everything about them is blue, symbolised by the “skyblue Plymouth”.

Red = red represents rebellion and change in the characters of Ammu, Rahel, Estha, Velutha and Comrade Pillai with the Communist “red flags”.  Red and blue signify warring parties.  Red is also associated with impending danger and an omen of bad consequences such as Velutha’s red blood is his symbolic sacrifice at the blue altar of the Ayemenem Police Station.  Rahel’s “yellow-rimmed red plastic sunglasses” make her a prophet predicting the future.

Yellow = represents fear in the context of cowardice, illness, dishonesty and weakness.  The “yellow church” is a chorus of fear and tragic fate that is the sadness of Sophie Mol’s funeral.  Sophie Mol’s “yellow Crimplene bellbottoms” are bell shaped indicative of silent, fearful bells.  The “yellow teeth” of the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man represent fear.

Green = green is the colour of earth, fertility, youth and the undergrowth.  Green can also have final cruel power taking over Baby Kochamma’s garden but most importantly is linked to the river that is part of the cause of Sophie Mol’s death with its “thick, viscous water … of green scum”.

Main Characters

  • Pappachi:               Imperial Entomologist position in Delhi, upper-class education, father to Chacko and Ammu, habitually beats his wife Mammachi with a brass vase until Chacko forces him to stop.  Never overcomes the professional disappointment of discovering a new species of moth but not having it named after him.
  • Mammachi:           Esther & Rahe’s blind grandmother who is unhappily married to Pappachi who regularly beats her and smashes her violin before he dies.. After Pappachi dies becomes an entrepreneur starting successful Paradise Pickles and Preserves business.
  • Baby Kochamma:                Pappachi’s sister who is fearful because of the western media she consumes. Loves Father Mulligan and tries to become nun to win him over but fails, embittering her. Was forced to wave communist flag in rally by men and is traumatized by this, aims all her anger about this event towards Velutha after finding out about him having sex with Ammu.
  • Chacko:                   Ammu’s brother and self-proclaimed communist, takes over factory and makes female factory workers call him comrade and flirts with them. Has a door built into his room so the women he sleeps with can secretly leave. His only love is Margaret Kochamma, who divorced him and took their daughter Sophie Mol to live with her and her husband Joe in England, who dies. Margaret is his only love.
  • Ammu:                    mother of Estha and Rahel who got married to Bengali Hindu man Baba in order to escape from her parents to an alcoholic, then separated from him after he offered her to his boss for sex. Had a taboo sexual relationship with the Paravan Velutha, leading to his death. Dies at 31 while waiting for a job interview/trying to provide for her twins.
  • Baba:                        Estha & Rahel’s father and Ammu’s ex husband, is an alcoholic who tires to persuade Ammu to safeguard his job by sleeping with his boss.  He gives Estha a loveless home for 2 decades, then decides to emigrate to Australia sending Estha back to Ayemenem
  • Rahel:                      fraternal twin of Estha who studies architecture and moves to America marry Larry McCaslin. She separates from her husband and eventually moves back to Ayemenem in 1992 as a 31 year old because she hears Estha has returned.
  • Estha:                       Rahel’s male fraternal twin, in 1969 after the death of Sophie Mol is sent to live with his alcoholic father Baba in Calcutta & stops speaking, due to his traumatic abuse in childhood, remains mute for rest of the novel. His reunion with Rahel after a 23 year long separation is a poignant event in the novel.
  • Velutha Paapen:                  Paravan/untouchable son of one-eyed father Vellya. Mutual love between him and the twins. Works as a handyman in the Paradise Pickles factory. Has a taboo sexual relationship with Ammu, is the God of Loss & Small Things. Member of the Communist Party. Tragic figure betrayed by everyone and dies as a result of being beaten by the police.
  • Vellya Paapen:                     is in debt to the Ipe family for providing a glass eye, putting his son in the Reverend John Ipe’s Paravan school and allowing his family to live on the land. Confesses to Baby Kochamma and Mammachi about seeing his son have sex with Ammu.
  • Sophie Mol:           daughter of Chacko and Margaret Kochamamma.  After Joe’s death she and her mother arrive in Ayemenem for a Christmas visit.  Dies because she is flipped off a boat with Rahel and Estha in the Meenachal River. Her death is the central traumatic event that leads to the disintegration of the Ipe family, separating the twins and her death is blamed on Velutha by Baby Kochamma, contributing to the climax of the story.
  • Kochu Maria:        Temperamental cook and housemaid at Ayemenem House, lives with Baby Kochamma until the twins return as adults, watches constant TV like her employer.
  • Comrade K.N.M Pillai:       Leader of the Communist Party who takes advantage of Velutha’s death by causing a strike that shuts down Chacko’s pickle factory. He is not interested in protecting Velutha when he is arrested by Inspector Mathew.

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