The God of Small Things Summary and Analysis
by Arundati Roy
Chapter 10 - The River in the Boat
While the crowd celebrates Sophie Mol's arrival, Estha is by himself in the pickle factory. He stirs the illegal banana jam while thinking his Two Thoughts, to which Roy has previously alluded. The first is that "Anything can happen to anyone," and the second is that "It's best to be prepared." Estha is becoming lost in macabre thoughts, including his continuing fear of the Orangedrink Lemondrink man, when Rahel barges into the factory and interrupts him. Estha tells Rahel that he is going to visit the History House, where no one ever goes. The last person there was Vellya Paapen, who said that it was haunted by the ghost of Kari Saipu.
There in the factory, Rahel and Estha 'pickle, seal, and put away' a secret plan to visit the History House together. Rahel meets Estha on the riverbank. (For the first time, Roy states directly that Ammu and Velutha will have an affair.) When Estha and Rahel try to launch the boat, they sink into the river with it. They wash the boat and bring it ashore, then plant a Communist flag in the ground. They approach Velutha's hut, where his crippled brother, Kuttappen, is repeating obscenities. The twins bring him the boat and he gives them advice about how to fix it. He also warns them that the river "isn't always what she pretends to be."
Velutha arrives. The thought of Ammu's children being in his home excites him in a new way, but he banishes the thought guiltily. He promises to fix the boat for them. Having seen the Communist flag, Velutha tells Kuttappen he knows the twins saw him marching. Again he must try to suppress his growing attraction to Ammu.
Chapter 11 - The God of Small Things
Ammu dreams of wanting a one-armed man to make love to her. In the dream, the presence of others prevents this from happening. Ammu and the one-armed man swim together in a treacherous sea, not touching. The twins watch Ammu nap, thinking she is having a nightmare. They wake her up gently. Ammu tells them that she was having a good dream. Ammu senses that the children have been to see Veluth, so she scolds them. Then she lets them fondle the stretch marks on her belly from when she was pregnant with them. When she has had enough, she goes into the bathroom and examines her body in the mirror. She weeps for herself, the twins, and the God of Small Things.
From the adult Rahel's perspective, later, Rahel thinks about the family's dissolution. The scene switches back to Rahel watching fondly as Estha bathes silently in the moonlight.
Chapter 12 - Kochu Thomban
Rahel enters a temple, where she approaches the sleeping elephant, Kochu Thomban. Rahel watches traditional kathkali dancers act out a play. The novel's narrator explains (as has already been suggested) that the traditional, treasured art of kathkali has been cheapened since it was assimilated into the business of entertaining tourists. The kathkali dancer in the modern world "hawks the only thing he owns. The stories that his body can tell. He becomes a Regional Flavor." Rahel watches as the dancers reenact the story of Karna, a man born in poverty who dies at the hands of his own brother. It is a very violent story about family and betrayal. She is swept up in the performance when she senses Estha's arrival in the temple.
The performance goes on all through the night. Though the twins sit separately, they are bound together by the story and the way it makes them think of their own family. They are brought out of their trance only by the elephant's cracking open of the coconut that Rahel brought for it. Roy writes: "The Kathkali Men took off their makeup and went home to beat their wives. Even Kunti, the soft one with breasts."
We learn that it was Comrade Pillai who introduced Estha and Rahel to kathkali, along with his own son, Lenin. At that moment, Comrade Pillai walks into the temple. He says, "You are here! So still you are interested in your Indian culture? Goodgood. Very good." The twins say nothing and walk home in silence.
These chapters use fantasies to probe the sex-violence connection that Roy established early on. In the pickle factory, Estha dwells on his fear of the Orangedrink Lemondrink man. Like the banana jam he stirs, the fact of his molestation is both illicit and skillfully hidden away. The sexual violence becomes a "Small Thing" in Estha's life, relegated to private thoughts in private places. Estha's fantasies are, therefore, as anxious and sad as the feelings he carries with him silently.
Ammu's dream about the one-armed man is both sexual and violent. Although she and her dream lover never touch, it is as though they are making love through their deep connection to one another. This sex is connected to violence in several ways. First, the dream actualized (Ammu's and Velutha's affair) leads to Velutha's death. There is violence implicit in the fact that Ammu's dream lover has only one arm, since he must have lost the other. Because of his disability, he perhaps can only do one thing to or for her at a time. The dream lover's disability represents the fact that Velutha can be only one thing to Ammu, a secret lover. The fantasy played out by the kathkali dancers in the temple also fuses sex and violence. The story itself is macabre, but it has a certain beauty, like the blood spilling poetically from the fallen painter's skull in chapter 1. As soon as the play ends, all beauty disappears and the violence is pure; the actors go "home to beat their wives." In Roy's world, fantasy is safer than reality, but always infiltrated by it. Even pleasant dreams like Ammu's are full of implicit violence, danger, and grief. Roy draws our attention to the fact that even while the twins were fetuses suspended in Ammu's belly, they caused her a type of violence, kicking her and leaving stretch marks.
The kathkali dancers and Comrade Pillai are examples of the strange cultural fusion we saw in Sophie Mol's welcome party. The dancers practice a traditional and very nuanced cultural art, but they are forced to cheapen it by making it attractive to tourists; spaces like the temple are the only ones where the kathkali dancers can really act in their element, performing stories as they are intended. Comrade Pillai is a paradox in himself. He is pleased that the twins are still interested in their native culture and visiting the temple, but he also invests himself almost wholly in the Communist cause, one very much outside his culture's political, social, and economic caste system.
The God of Small Things Essays and Related Content
- The God of Small Things: Major Themes
- The God of Small Things: Essays
- The God of Small Things: Questions
- The God of Small Things: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Arundati Roy: Biography
- The God of Small Things Summary
- About The God of Small Things
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-3
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-9
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10-12
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-15
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-18
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19-21
- Kerala, India
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- Suggested Essay Questions
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