What We’re Reading: The God of Small Things
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is a microcosm of gender issues that examines the foundations of post-colonial Indian society. This debut novel by Arundhati Roy, published in 1997, is the recipient of the Booker Prize and the Sydney Peace prize, as it challenges the injustices women faced and continue to face in India. The novel tells the story of Ammu, a divorcee, single mother, and educated woman living in Kerala, India during a time that predated Western Colonialism, a time in which the “Love Laws” were practiced and abided by. The Love Laws determined who a person can love, and how, and how much. Simply put, a person can only love and marry another person from their same caste and religion, and insurgents would be ostracized or even killed by the community. The basic concept of the Love Laws in which the novel is centered around was foreign and shocking to me, and at times it makes the story graphic and difficult to read. However, Roy’s character Ammu is a powerful representation of a person secondarily ranked in society, who challenges power structures to improve positions for women.
Ammu is a member of the middle class bourgeoisie, mother to fraternal twins Estha and Rahel. She initially married a man from a different caste and religion, divorced him, and consequently was not welcomed back into her father’s home after violating the Love Laws. Her children were even considered illegitimate due to her infringement. As the novel progresses, Ammu falls in love with Velutha, a Dalit, or Untouchable, a member of the lowest class. Their relationship is an illegal cross-caste liaison of revolutionary significance within the novel and shapes the struggle that Ammu copes with in her rebellion.
India is similar to the United States regarding gender issues because even in a post-fairness culture, the fight for gender equality continues. Ammu is a fictional pioneer who sought to alter the hierarchy of rights and power between men and women in her rejection of solely serving as a wife and mother to someone she was supposed to love under the law. She wasn’t satisfied with being subservient in her society and defiantly risked her life in the name of love and her children.
As a tragic love story with a distressing setting, this book is not for the light hearted. But Roy crafts beautiful relationships between Ammu, her children, her mother, and Velutha which all invigorate the compelling effect of her revolt. The novel shows special insight into a possibly unfamiliar culture and is a promised great read.