The God of Small Things Summary and Analysis
by Arundati Roy
Chapter 13 - The Pessimist and the Optimist
Sophie Mol awakens in the guest room of the Ayemenem house. For the first time, her first thought is not of her deceased father. She watches her mother sleep and looks at her divorced parents' framed wedding picture.
We turn to the story of Chacko and Margaret Kochamma. They met in Oxford, England, where he was a student on a Rhodes Scholarship and she was working as a waitress, saving up for teacher training. She told him a joke about "the Man with Twin Sons," Pete the Optimist and Stuart and Pessimist. On their birthday, the father gave Stuart expensive gifts, which he did not like. He filled Pete's room with horse dung. When he went into Pete's room he was met by frantic shoveling, and Pete said: "If there's so much shit around, there has to be a pony somewhere." Margaret Kochamma and Chacko shared a laughing fit. After that, they became lovers. Chacko entranced Margaret with his passionate eccentricity. Chacko loved Margaret's independence. Yet once they were married, their love began to dissolve. Chacko became fat, and Margaret could no longer stand his sloppiness at home and in his appearance. They moved from small apartment to small apartment. Just when Margaret found out she was pregnant, she met Joe and fell in love with him out of pure attraction mingled with desperation. When Sophie was born, Margaret asked Chacko for a divorce. Chacko returned to India while Margaret stayed in England. At Mammachi's house, Chacko's eccentricity and sloppiness embarrassed guests. Still, Mammachi adored her son, especially since he had defended her against Pappachi.
Back in England, Margaret was very happy with Joe and wrote Chacko letters telling him about her life and Sophie's life. The former husband and wife developed a friendship via writing. Joe's accidental death devastated Margaret and Sophie, so when Chacko invited them to India, they gladly accepted.
Back in the present, Margaret can never get the image of her daughter's corpse out of her mind. She cannot forgive herself for leaving Sophie in Ayemenem while she and Chacko went to Cochin to confirm her and her daughter's plane tickets.
A new sub-chapter begins. We finally hear the story of Sophie Mol's death. The morning Sophie's body was found floating in the river, she and the twins had not shown up for breakfast. As Ammu heard the news, she suddenly remembered what happened the night before. While locked in her room, she had shrieked at the twins: "If it wasn't for you I wouldn't be here! None of this would have happened! I wouldn't be here! I would have been free! I should have dumped you in an orphanage the day you were born! You're the millstones round my neck!"
The previous afternoon, it was raining nonstop, and Vellya Paapen arrived at the house drunk. When Mammachi finally let him in, he began to blabber about how grateful he was to her family. Then he told Mammachi that Ammu and Velutha, her daughter and his son, were having an affair. Mammachi shouted so loudly that she could not hear what she was saying. She pushed Vellya Paapen down the stairs. He offered to kill Velutha with his bare hands. Baby Kochamma felt vindicated when she heard the news, because she had always been jealous of Ammu. Mammachi, Baby Kochamma, and Kochu Maria locked Ammu up in her room and sent for Velutha.
The narrative shifts to a fisherman finding Sophie Mol's body in the river. Then it shifts to the police station, where Baby Kochamma recounted the discovery of Ammu and Velutha's affair to an officer. Equally to salvage the family's pride and to indulge her own love of melodrama, she said that Velutha had raped Ammu and made him out to be an ungrateful criminal. (We recall that later, Ammu tried to set the record straight to no avail.)
Back at the house, Margaret Kochamma saw Sophie's corpse for the first time. She was so traumatized that she could not remember the next few days. Margaret was furious at the twins for having survived. She instinctively knew that it was all Estha's idea to go out on the water, and before leaving India she sought him out and slapped him without knowing what she was doing. Years later she wrote an apology letter, but only the adult Rahel was there to claim it. Margaret never knew that Velutha had been arrested. In the last part of this sub-chapter, Roy names Velutha "The God of Loss" and "The God of Small Things," a being who "left no footprints in sand, no ripples in water, no image in mirrors."
A new sub-chapter begins. We return to Sophie Mol, who is waking up and looking at her parents' wedding picture. After watching Chacko leave, she sets off with presents for Estha and Rahel. We learn that "Sophie Mol became a Memory, while The Loss of Sophie Mol grew robust and alive. Like a fruit in season. Every season."
Chapter 14- Work is Struggle
After Sophie watches him leave the house, Chacko pays a visit to Comrade Pillai's house. Over the latter's doorway hangs a proclamation: "Work is struggle. Struggle is work." Comrade Pillai is out, so Chacko waits uncomfortably with the former's mother, his wife Kalyani, son Lenin, and niece Latha. Comrade Pillai arrives. He insists on speaking to Chacko in English. Chacko wants him to approve a new label for the factory's new product, Synthetic Cooking Vinegar. They discuss Velutha. Comrade Pillai tells Chacko that Velutha will cause him trouble because he is a Paravan. Chacko defends Velutha.
Eventually, Paradise Pickles & Preserves folded. Comrade Pillai was the last person to see Velutha before "The last betrayal that sent [him] across the river, swimming against the current, in the dark and rain, well in time for his blind date with history."
Another new sub-chapter begins. Mammachi summons Velutha to her house. As soon as he arrives, she lays into him with yelling and insults. She banishes him from her property and says that if she ever finds him there, she will have him killed. She spits in his face. Velutha says simply, "We'll see about that," before leaving. Sapped and revolted, he heads straight to Comrade Pillai's house. He asks for the Party's help, but Comrade Pillai refuses and sends him away. After he shuts the door on Velutha, Comrade Pillai remarks that Velutha is wearing red nail polish, which the children painted on earlier. Velutha feels as though he has no control over his body or actions--as though he is a slave to history and destiny.
Chapter 15 - The Crossing
It is after midnight. Velutha strips naked and swims across the river to the History House, completely undetected and undetectable. He is sad and beautiful in the moonlight as he moves deliberately but unconsciously. Again Roy refers to him as "The God of Loss" and "The God of Small Things."
We finally hear the story of the events surrounding Sophie Mol's death, which have remained tantalizing allusions throughout the novel. Using the terms Roy has established, the "Small Things" begin to creep out into the world of "Big Things" and wreak social havoc. This process is symbolized by Vellya Paapen's coming to Mammachi's house. Although the two families have a generations-long understanding, suddenly instead of being welcome, Vellya Paapen is an intruder from the riverbank world of "Small Things" and the correspondingly unattractive history. Mammachi wants to squash him like one of Rahel's ants; for the first time in many years, she wields her power over him in a destructive way. Once power is in the hands of the furious Mammachi and the petty Baby Kochamma, the "Small Things" are no longer safe. Without realizing what she is doing, Ammu turns to the destructive cause by screaming her insult at the twins. Instinctively, they retreat to the riverbank, to the world of "Small Things." The twins would rather dwell in the shadows with the truth than in the comfort of the Ayemenem House with lies and pretentiousness.
Velutha echoes his father's intrusion into the world of "Big Things" when he arrives at Comrade Pillai's door. The latter does not want to acknowledge him as a human being worthy of his assistance, even though he is a card-carrying Communist Party member. Like Mammachi and Baby Kochamma, Comrade Pillai will do whatever it takes-even mistreating another human being-in order to maintain their honor and prevent themselves from slipping into the world of notoriety and "Small Things." Society, the world of "Big Things," instinctively protects itself when presented with reality.
Because Estha and Rahel are lovers of the truth, unlike their families, Sophie's death stays with them right up until we meet them as adults, as present as the day it happened. Roy writes, "The Loss of Sophie Mol grew robust and alive. Like a fruit in season. Every season." If we think back to the opening of the novel, we can see how the 'ripeness' of Sophie's death connects to the atmosphere of Ayemenem. Her death is not only a central trauma for the twins, but it also occurs amidst a culmination of the overly lush, overly sensuous nature that overruns Ayemenem in the warm months. Sophie's death may not be a "Big Thing" but may be the ultimate "Small Thing," hidden in shadows in the river and on the riverbank, locked away in the ugly realm of history for being too scandalous, too horrifyingly delicious.
In the Harper Perennial edition of the novel, the sub-chapters are separated by small graphics of fish. When Sophie's body is pulled from the river, her eyelids are partially eaten away by fish-she has succumbed once and for all to the world of "Small Things." These fish graphics appear as though in defiance of the social outrage surrounding Sophie's death, forcing us to confront physical images of a "Small Thing" even as the family tries to suppress that world of truth, what really happened. There are aspects of reality that cannot be changed by socially deconstructing them out of existence.
In these chapters, Roy begins to refer to Velutha as "The God of Small Things." Suddenly, he takes on a much greater importance, since now he is not only a divine being but the title character of the story. Until this time there has been no main character, except perhaps the twins as a leading duo. Now, however, Roy asserts that the story is really Velutha's. He is "The God of Loss," who "[leaves] no footprints in sand, no ripples in water, no image in mirrors." He is the bastion of the world of sacred, "untouchable" secrets, whispers, and overlooked pieces of reality. In appropriate fashion, until Roy names Velutha, we are unaware that his role in the novel is so central-it seems like a subplot. But this is appropriate to his quiet, barely detectable nature. He moves through and eventually leaves the world quietly and without incident.
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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