The God of Small Things
Essays and Book Reviews
Essays on Arundhati Roy’s first novel, The God of Small Things, illustrates the sense of India itself (or at least an impression of India that has been garnered from one who has never been there): sweeping, chaotic, complex, mundane, brilliant and confusing. The God of Small Things is all of these and more, a challenging novel that seems to tell a million tales in trying to tell one.
How to Write an Essay on The God of Small Things
Much like Faulkner’s novels, The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, The God of Small Things is often told from different perspectives. And like Faulkner, this technique is challenging. It is often difficult to tell what is going on where and with whom, as Roy’s novel jumps from past to present and from scene to scene. This attention to detail threatens to bog the novel down in a series of literary exercises, forcing the reader to plow through many parts of the work in order to see all the threads come together in the end. Any examination of a story as richly textured as the one presented in The God of Small Things must follow a specific path:
- First proceed with at least a cursory examination of the superficial workings of The God of Small Things.
- Illustrate an understanding of the logistical details of who, what, when, and where before why can even begin to be addressed.
- The plot in The God of Small Things is as circuitous and twisting as the Meenachal river so central to the story. Roy manipulates plot structure in order to focus attention away from the logistics of the story.
In response to the stock interview inquiry, “What is your novel about?”, Indian author Arundhati Roy tends to favor the terse reply, “Everything.” Some may choose to interpret this answer as revealing little more than Roy’s growing impatience with the endless rounds of similar questioning which have inevitably followed her fabulously-hyped, Booker-Prize-winning 1997 debut. However, when taken within the context achieved by the novel’s epigraph, a quotation from Marxist art critic John Berger (“Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one”), not to mention the compression of centuries-long conflicts which Roy affects, ‘everything’actually turns out to be a fairly accurate description of the spectrum of the themes presented in her work. In fact, the most common criticism leveled against the novel centers on the dizzying, all-encompassing scope of the piece. In this paper, you need to examine the plot, setting, characterization, style, tone, and themes of The God of Small Things. Through a demonstration of Roy’s adept command of innovative stylistic techniques, I will argue that in spite of minor shortcomings, the novel ultimately transcends its weaknesses and succeeds as a literary achievement worthy of careful critical scrutiny.
Any examination of a story as richly textured as the one presented in The God of Small Things must first proceed with at least a cursory examination of the superficial workings of the story. One must understand the logistical details of who, what, when, and where before why can even begin to be addressed. The plot in The God of Small Things is as circuitous and twisting as the Meenachal river so central to the story. Roy adroitly manipulates plot structure in order to focus attention away from the logistics of the story.
In keeping with the iconoclastic tone which prevails throughout the novel, Roy has completely re-imagined traditional plot structure. Quite literally, the end is in the beginning, and readers are caught “walking backwards” through the saga of the Ipes. Clearly, Roy feels free to experiment with the traditional notion of plot. Just as twin Estha and Rahel grow skillful at reading backwards, Roy forces us to read her story backwards. Readers are not presented with the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution in roughly the same chronological order in which the events actually occurred. Instead, by immediately making clear the fact that Sophie Mol’s death is the center around which the novel pivots, Roy allows the reader’s attention to be held by the subtle nuances of the unfolding drama. Rather than rushing through the pages to determine what eventually befalls the characters, we are allowed that information from the outset and are therefore more inclined to focus our attention on the intricacies of the work as a whole. Although slightly jarring at first, Roy’s use of flashback becomes more accessible as the story evolves. Roy’s choice of protagonists is obvious -- the twins -– whereas the identity of the antagonist is more ambiguous. Although most of the characters seem in some way or another to nullify the twins’ existence and stymie their path towards adulthood, it is not so much the actions of the characters themselves, but rather the culmination of thousands of years of resentment, envy, and malevolence moving through the characters which they seem scarcely able to suppress.