The God of Small Things

The God of Small Things Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19-21

Chapter 19 - Saving Ammu

At the police station, Inspector Thomas Mathew gives Estha and Rahel some Cokes. He sends for Baby Kochamma, whom he tells that Velutha will probably not live through the night. He then tells her that the children say they went with Velutha of their own volition and that Sophie drowned accidentally; therefore the police are about to have an innocent man's death on their hands. If someone does not substantiate Baby Kochamma's claim that Velutha is a criminal in this case, she will be charged with filing a false account. Alone with the twins, Baby Kochamma tells them they have murdered Sophie. She terrorizes the children with thoughts of being alone in jail for the rest of their lives in order to pressure them into substantiating her claim. She gives them the option of saving Ammu or sending her to jail. The children, of course, choose to save her.

Inspector Thomas Mathew takes Estha in to identify Velutha. He is naked and near death. Roy tells us that "blood spilled from his skull like a secret." Estha does as Baby Kochamma told him and identifies Velutha as the man who abducted the children. All he knows is that he answers "yes" to the policeman's question. Velutha dies that night. In fear of her dishonesty being exposed, Baby Kochamma coerces Chacko into forcefully evicting Ammu from the house and sending Estha away to live with Babu.

Chapter 20 - The Madras Mail

Estha sits on the train carrying him away from Ayemenem. The woman sitting next to him offers him sweets and makes him an example for her children since he speaks such good English. We learn that only as adults do the children understand Ammu's role in Velutha's death. The twins and Ammu had "loved [Velutha] to death." Estha himself bears the weight of having killed Ammu, since out of fear he said he would never see her again. As we know, both the twins bear the weight of Sophie's death well into adulthood. As Estha's train pulls out of the station, Rahel doubles over and screams as though in terrible pain.

A new sub-chapter begins. We are back in the present. The adult Rahel calls Estha by his fond childhood name, "Esthapappychachen Kuttappen Peter Mon." He traces her mouth with his fingers, and then they lie holding each other on the bed. Then the twins make love. Although "there is very little that anyone could say to clarify what happened," it is sure that they act more out of "hideous grief" than anything else. Rahel remembers that Ammu tucked her into bed on the night of Sophie Mol's arrival. As Ammu left the room, she "longed for him. Ached for him with the whole of her body."

Chapter 21 - The Cost of Living

After everyone is asleep, Ammu listens to her radio on the veranda. She runs to the riverbank sobbing, hoping that Velutha will meet her there. He does not come; he is floating in the river, stargazing. He too is disappointed, having been so sure that Ammu would meet him on this night. Suddenly he sees her and swims over to where she sits. They embrace, and Ammu kisses him. They make love there on the riverbank. The experience is profound and somehow removed from time, even though it is the catalyst for the events leading up to Velutha's own violent death. During all of their clandestine meetings after that, Ammu and Velutha focus on the "Small Things," small and present pleasures, insects, the details of one another's bodies. In particular, they keep watch over a spider, which Velutha names "Lord Rubbish." They leave the "Big Things," the realities of daily life, behind. Sadly, even "Lord Rubbish" lives longer than Velutha. When Ammu and Velutha part at the end of each night, they say simply: "Tomorrow? Tomorrow." After they make love on the night of Sophie Mol's arrival, Ammu turns back to repeat "Tomorrow" one more time before heading back to the house.


In the final three chapters, Baby Kochamma emerges as a villain. In her old age she seems mundane and harmless, but in fact she is behind much of the family's scandal. Her nervousness at the twins' return to Ayemenem is not unsubstantiated; after all, she is the one who pressured Estha into identifying Velutha as guilty, she who made Ammu and Estha leave Ayemenem. Baby Kochamma sees herself as the ultimate protector of the "Big Things," most importantly the family's honor. Finding her own life uninteresting, she meddles with others' lives in order to make sure that she looks reputable.

Roy's use of the grotesque crescendos in the final three chapters as Velutha is beaten by the police and left to suffer a somewhat slow and agonizing death. At Sophie Mol's funeral, Rahel imagines blood spilling from the ceiling-painter's skull "like a secret." Hers is a violent but somehow beautiful image of death. Roy uses the exact same phrase, "blood spilling from his skull like a secret," to describe Velutha as Estha sees him, on the brink of death. Although Velutha is "The God of Small Things," he is not invincible; he dies like something small, crushed and beaten like an insect. Yet his death is also somehow romantic and beautiful like the ceiling-painter's; he dies as a result of taking a risk for his passion (for Ammu as opposed to painting ceilings). Despite his body's crumpled, oozing condition when he dies, Velutha's nails are still painted red (the twins' handiwork). Even in a most decrepit state and near death, the best, most human part of Velutha still exists. He has always been the type of person who puts children and their desires, however trivial or silly, first.

The twins' incest also falls under the categories of the grotesque and of "Small Things." It is an act that must be hidden away, if not by the river like Ammu's and Velutha's affair, then in the silence behind closed doors. The twins make love not out of passion but "hideous grief." Estha is so traumatized that he cannot communicate through words, so the twins use their bodies to express their deepest sorrows--for the deaths of Ammu, Velutha, and Sophie.

Finally the Freudian undercurrent of the novel is revealed. When distressing memories are repressed, they can begin to take over one's personality until they become central even as they are ignored. Eventually, these hidden things begin to reveal themselves, sometimes in small ways as in a dream, sometimes in big ways as in this consummatory incest.

Roy leaves us with a hopeful view of life despite the horrors that are exposed in the final chapters. The last chapter is entitled "The Cost of Living," which can be paraphrased as "Death." The author suggests that like Homer's Achilles, one can either live well at the risk of dying early, or live a long life that is unfulfilled. Baby Kochamma never got her torrid love affair with Father Mulligan, so she lives vicariously through her diary and television. But Ammu and Velutha live a most vibrant, rich life together in secret before dying prematurely. Instead of being so concerned with the "Big Things" that they are trapped in unhappiness, they relish the "Small Things" and each other, eternally hopeful for "Tomorrow."