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The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

by Litinbox

The God of Small Things‘ by Arundhati Roy is the debut novel by the writer, first published in 1997 by Indialnk Publications & Penguin Books in India. The novel was well-received worldwide and has sold around 6 million copies for it was translated into over 40 languages.

The novel is set in Ayemenem in Kerala, India. Roy wrote ‘The God of Small Things’ with John Berger’s quote as an epigraph : ‘Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one‘. It explores how small things can influence the behaviour, character and lives of people.

‘The God of Small Things’ won ‘Man Booker Prize‘ in 1997. It is written in non-linear style jumping back and forth between the years 1969 and 1993. Roy wrote her second novel ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness‘ in 2017, twenty years after her first novel.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

‘The God of Small Things’ is a family drama and its plot moves around the fraternal twins, Rahel and Estha, their bitter childhood experiences of ‘Love Laws’ which deteriorated their family. The title signifies how small and insignificant things or events influence people’s behaviour.

Roy started writing ‘The God of Small Things’ in 1992 and finished in the year 1996. It was first published in the next year 1997. Scholars find some autobiographical elements in the novel, but the novel is not entirely autobiographical.

At its publication, ‘The God of Small Things’ received many positive reviews worldwide. The New York Times lauded it as a “dazzling first novel, extraordinary, at once so morally strenuous and so imaginatively supple“. In India it was criticised for its unconstrained illustration of sexuality. The Daily Telegraph ranked it as one of the top 10 greatest of all time Asian novels.

The God of Small Things Summary

The plot of ‘The God of Small Things’ centres around Rahel and Esthappan, seven years old fraternal twins of Ammu Ipe and her alcoholic husband in Calcutta. The plot jumping back and forth between 1969, when the twins are 7 years old and 1993, when they are 31 years old.

Ammu Ipe escapes her bitter parents, Pappachi and Mammachi, persuading to let her spend the summer with her aunt in Calcutta. There she marries an alcoholic and gives birth to Rahel and Esthappan. Unable to tolerate physical tortures by her husband and when he tries to make her sleep with his boss, she escapes from him and comes back to Ayemenem.

In meantime Chacko, Ammu’s brother who lives in England, marries an English woman named Margaret and after his devorce from her and on the subsequent death of his father Pappachi, he also returns to Ayemenem.

Ammu’s aunt Navomi Ipe (Baby Kochamma) is an embittered, arrogant woman lives in the traditional family home in Ayemenem. She, as a young woman loved Father Mulligan, a young Irish priest in Ayemenem and converted to Roman Catholicism in order to come closer to Father Mulligan. But it didn’t make a difference and he never returned her love. Her father rescued her from the convent and sent her to America. Because of her unrequited love for Father Mulligan, she remained unmarried for the rest of her life. She acts as a driving force behind every major calamity in the novel.

After Margaret has lost her second husband in a car accident, she comes to spend Christmas with her first husband, Chacko in Ayemenem, along with her daughter Sophie Mol. The family goes to pick up Margaret and Sophie in the airport.

On the way to airport, they visit a theatre. They encounter a group of Communist protesters who surround the car and humiliate Baby Kochamma forcing her to pronounce Communist slogans and wave their flag. Rahel notices Velutha among the protesters, a lower caste and worker in the family’s pickle factory. At the theatre, Estha is sexually molested by Orangedrink Lemondrink Man, a vender in the theatre’s snack counter.

As Rahel is sure that she witnessed Velutha’s presence among the protesters, Baby Kochamma grows an enmity towards him. Unlike Baby Kochamma, Estha and Rahel form an intimate bond with Velutha though he belongs to a lower caste. Gradually Ammu also forms a relationship with him which grows into love at the end. She comes to love him by night and her children by day. This angers the family, particularly Baby Kochamma. Ammu is locked up in a room and Velutha is terminated. Consequently, Ammu accuses her children for her misfortunes.

Rahel and Estha are distraught and they decide to run away. Their cousin, Sophie also joins them. As they try to escape across the nearby river by boat, the boat collapses and Sophie drowns. Chacko and Margaret are infuriated when they see Sophie’s body laid on sofa.

Velutha is severely beaten up and arrested by police as Baby Kochamma asserted that he is responsible for Sophie’s death. But Estha and Rahel have reported to the chief police that Velutha is innocent and he has no hand in Sophie’s death. The chief police is afraid because Velutha is a Communist and if the news of his wrongful arrest spreads, it will surely cause unrest among the Communists. He threatens to imprison Baby Kochamma for wrongly accusing Velutha. To escape the imprisonment, she threatens the twins for a sure imprisonment for killing Sophie out of jealousy and convinces them to lie to the police that Velutha has kidnapped them and killed Sophie. Velutha dies of injuries in police custody.

Ammu goes to police station to tell the truth about the relationship she had with Velutha. Afraid of being exposed, Baby Kochamma traps Ammu into Sophie’s murder issue telling Chacko that Ammu and her children are responsible for his daughter’s death. Chacko kicks Ammu out of the house. Estha comes to live with his father in Calcutta. Rahel later marries and gets settled in America. Ammu dies at 31.

After getting divorced from her husband, Rahel returns to Ayemenem at the age of 31. Estha also comes to Ayemenem and the twins are reunited at 31 after long years of separation since their turbulent childhood. Apparently no one could understand them the way they understand each other. Towards the end of the novel, the twins have sex. Then they recount their childhood nostalgically and the love affair between Velutha and Ammu.

The God of Small Things Characters


Rahel is one of the two protagonists in ‘The God of Small Things’. At the opening of the play she goes back to her childhood house in Ayemenem when she is 31 years old. She has a twin brother named Esthappan with whom she shares a close bondage even during their long separation.

Rahel and Estha are more like friends than twins. At times, they communicate with each other even without speaking a word. The unbreakable bond between them make the most emotional parts of the novel. Rahel’s feelings of guilt as a result of Sophie Mol’s death and their separation as a consequence lead to a great transformation in her. Ultimately, she becomes a reserved person.


Estha or Esthappan Yako, another protagonist in ‘The God of Small Things’, is the twin brother of Rahel. He forms a close bond with his sister. The traumatic incidents that took place in his childhood at the age of 7 affected him deeply and lead to the development of negative perspective of life.

After the tragic event of Sophie Mol’s death, he experiences more internal suffering. After 24 years of long separation, the twins reunite again when they are 31 years old. At this point, Rahel is back from a failed marriage life. They speak no words and silence prevails for long time. Their eyes speak with tears. It seems no one else in the world could understand them as deeply as they understand each other.


Ammu is one of the important characters of ‘The God of Small Things’. She is the mother of the twins Rahel and Estha. She has experienced a lot of hardships in her life. She longs for love and affection which she neither gets from her family nor from her husband. She is the victim “love laws,” forbidden love.

Ammu can be considered as the third protagonist of the novel, because this character contributes to the development of the plot as much as the twins do. Ammu’s appetite for love leads to chaos and suffering that result in various unpleasant and traumatic events in the novel. Her life is full of loss and sufferings. Her marriage is not a happy one.

The stereotype of being a divorced woman further marginalises her in society. Ammu is a loving mother who loves her children very much. Her love for Velutha, an untouchable, is partly because of his caring love for her children. She dares to break the social norms by loving an untouchable that finally results in Velutha’s death and subsequent suffering of her. She has a lot of guilt and blame herself for all the calamities and the tragic occurrences within her family.


Velutha, an important character in ‘The God of Small Things’, is an active contributor of the tragic events of the novel. He is a paravan, an untouchable, who is a representation of the caste system and the oppression of the paravans in Kerala at that time.

Velutha is a skilled carpenter who is employed in the Ipe house. He develops an intimate relationship with Ammu and her children which goes against the norms of the society. He daringly stood against the oppression that leads to his cruel death.

Baby Kochamma

Baby Kochamma is another important character of ‘The God of Small Things’. She is the grandaunt of the twins, Rahel and Estha. She represents authoritativeness and bigoted attitude of the older generation.

She is cunningly using her authoritative position in the family and torments others, particularly Ammu in the family. She seems to possess an indomitable spirit and unquenchable thirst for authority, power and control.

When she was young woman, she seriously falls in love with a young Irish priest named Father Mulligan. She tried various ways and means to attract his attention. She even dares to convert herself to Roman Catholicism in order to attract him.

Inspite of her all her attempts, Father Mulligan never returns her love. It seems this failure makes her to develop an aversion against love and lovers. When she discovers that Ammu is in love with Velutha, she locks her up in her bedroom and torments her at every chance.

Uncle Chacko

Chacko is the uncle of the twins and brother of Ammu. He is a revolutionary in words but his actions often contradict his words. He is a Marxist who completed his degree in Oxford. As a revolutionary, he has strong belief in the equality of human and justice for all. However, he struggles to go behind his beliefs because of his inner struggle that still not dares to go against the beliefs of his society.

Chacko is the father of Sophie Mol. Despite being a revolutionary, his privileged upbringing makes him enjoy a luxurious life with big house and fancy car. He is internally biased against the weaker section of the society which doesn’t differentiate him from his family as a revolutionary and Marxist. He represents duality of mind in the novel.

Sophie Mol

Sophie Mol is the cousin of the twins and daughter of Uncle Chacko. She comes to Ayemenem along with her mother, Margaret Kochamma. She doesn’t have much roles in ‘The God of Small Things’ but contributes to the development of the plot.

Sophie Mol’s death by drowning in the river is a tragic part of the novel that brings further tragedy in the family. It deteriorates the family and becomes one of the main reasons for the separation of the twins. It also breaks down the family structure and worsens the torments that Ammu experiences.

The God of Small Things Analysis


Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’ explores several significant themes; untouchability and caste system, love laws, family dysfunction and so on. Let’s see the themes in detail:

• Forbidden Love and Love Laws

‘The God of Small Things’ mainly explores the themes of “forbidden love” and “Love Laws” that governs Ayemenem. It dares to capture the dire consequences of the forbidden love breaking social norms and caste system.

The love of a divorced woman is against the norms of the society and loving an untouchable is considered even worse. Ammu’s longing for love leads her to form an intimate relationship with Velutha, an untouchable. The tragic events that follow illustrate the “Love Laws” prevailing in the Indian society.

• Oppression and Caste System

The characters Velutha and his father, Vellya Paapen, symbolise the oppression faced by the lower castes in Kerala in the name of untouchability. Velutha’s love relationship with Ammu violates caste boundaries, infuriating her family that tears apart the whole family and his own brutal death.

Though Velutha is employed in the Ipe house, he is not allowed to touch certain things in the house. This shows how cruel has been the caste system in the Indian society. He becomes the victim of caste and oppression in the novel.

• Strained Family Relationships

The familial relationships are strained and marked by betrayal in ‘The God of Small Things’. From Chacko and his wife to Ammu and her husband, the familial relationships are strained. Chacko is a failed father and husband. Ammu’s relationship with her husband is also strained and she is now a divorced woman taking in her own hand the responsibility of the twins.

Baby Kochamma’s manipulation of Chacko as well as Ammu is because of their failure in their respective family affairs. This strained family relations ultimately proves to be destructive.

• Nostalgia

Nostalgia is an important theme in ‘The God of Small Things’. Arundhati Roy employs non-linear narrative style primarily to picturise the nostalgic feelings of the twins.

Rahel and Estha’s reunion as adults at the age of 31 after 24 long years of separation proves to be a very emotional point where they recollect their shared past, reflecting the traumatic experiences of their childhood.

• Gender Roles

Gender roles play an important role in ‘The God of Small Things’. Ammu’s denial to follow traditional gender roles results in her rejection in the family, while Baby Kochamma’s authoritarian attitude continues to suppress and cause suffering within the family.

Men and women have had typical roles to play in the Indian society those days. Women couldn’t do all which men could. On contrary, Baby Kochamma is able to ostracise both men and women. She dominates Chacko as equally as Ammu.

Non-linear Narrative

The non-linear narrative of ‘The God of Small Things’ is little bit confusing still it is interesting. Arundhati Roy cleverly handles it by choosing the two important years in the life of the twins. The novel frequently jumps back and forth between 1969 and 1993. The twins are separated at the age of 7 and reunite when they are 31.

This unique style of narrative helps Roy to convey the suppressed emotions and nostalgia of the twins effectively. The narrative style is also helpful for Roy to describe the events from different periods of time intermixing with each other, and jumping between different perspectives easily.

The perspectives shifts among Ammu, the twins, uncle Chacko and Sophie Mol, Chacko’s daughter. Interestingly the novel begins at the end when Rahel returns to Ayemenem after long years of absence. She reflects on her childhood with her twin brother Esthappan. Then the shifts back and forth with the help of this nonlinear style.

Tags: The God of Small Things, The God of Small Things Summary, The God of Small Things Characters, The God of Small Things Themes

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