Contemporary Social Issues in Arundathi Roy's God of Small Things

    One of the best things that we got from the British is the English language. Literature had its beginning from the Indians who attempted to write poetry, drama or fiction in English language. It is because of the pioneering efforts of scholars like Prof. P. Seshadri, Dr. Bhupal Singh and Prof .K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar. Indian Writing in English came to be recognized as a genre by itself. As the term ‘Anglo-Indian’ seems to have racial connotation, many now prefer to use the term, ‘Indo-Anglian’ to describe the writings by Indians in English. ‘Indo-Anglian’ has now been accepted as a fairly comprehensive term to include all Indian Writing in English.

     Derozio (1809-1831) was considered to be the beginner of the ‘Indo-Anglian’ poetry. He was half-Indian and half- Portuguese. It was Derozio who served as the moving spirit in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. His famous poem The Fakir of Jungheera depicts the life of a Brahmin widow Nuleeni.Apart from Ram Mohan Roy the founder of Brahmo Samaj, the major instrument of social change was influenced by Gandhi. Hence in the novel Kanthapur Raja Rao prefers to deal with Gandhi through a local figure who appears to be his representative. The novel is appropriately named after the village Kanthapura, which is said to be the hero of the novel.

    Raja Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope won the Sahitya Academy award and is often described as the best Indo-Anglian novel ever written. He was honoured with the title Padma Shri. R.K.Narayan is simply a novelist concerned with individual. In The Man Eater of Malgudi, he has used myths consciously as a symbol for some situations suitable to the modern text. Indians who are ignorant of many facts about their own country are deeply influenced by his literary works. His writings are always welcomed by the Western readers to whom India is a strange land. His Swami and Friends is a story of the boy named Swaminathan. Swaminathan’s adventures with his friends are presented in the novel. R.K. Narayan has carved the feelings of a young boy well in the novel.

     The Financial Expert which is said to be his master piece deals with the story of a money lender called Margayya. He is quite crazy about money. He meets a lot of ups and downs in his life. But the changes in life did not change his mind which always has a passion for money. He won the Sahitya Academy award for The Guide.Amon the poets in Indian writting in English, SarojiniNaidu (1879-1949) is an outstanding English poet. The introduction of Indian themes provides a new vitality to her poetry. Now she is identified as a poet, a politician, an orator, a social reformer and a champion of women’s cause. She never bothers to express the burning problems of her day. Her poem Village Song is built on the theme of Radha’s quest for the recognition of the cosmic being. The Golden Thershold, the Broken Wing and The Soul’s Prayers are some of her poems. 

     Kamala Markandaya is one of the most notable women novelists in English. She shows her concern with the urban setup. Language is the real forte of Kamala Markandaya. Most of her novels deal with casteism, poverty, dowry system and the evils of money lenders. Her novels seem to tell that the poor are born to suffer. In some of her novels she has portrayed English characters as rulers or patrons or individuals. Her novel Nector in a Sieve is the story about Indian peasants who struggle for rice To Virgins (1973), A Handful of Rice (1966) and Possession (1963) are some of her novels.

     In the twentieth century, many women writers produced plenty of literary outputs. Here is the brief introduction of some of the outstanding literary scholars.Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is a notable Indian women novelist as well as a short story writer in English. In her novels, wife-hunting fills an important almost a dominant place in the action. In some of her short stories such as The Window and The Man with the Dog one can see Jhabvala’s propping into the agitated heart of the lonely and trapped woman. Her fictions are the exposure of follies, foibles and self-deceptions. In her fictional world human beings appear always a little bit of ludicrous. Some of her novels are To Whom She Will (1955), Esmond in India (1958) and Get Ready for Battle (1962).

     Nayantara Sahgal is popularly known as a socio-feminist. Most probably her themes are like feminist concept of freedom. Her women characters stand at the cross roads of life. Her women characters suffer injustice more in the hands of society then in the hands of any particular individual. The spirit of freedom to choose one’s identity is to be found in her women characters. Nayantara Sahgal’s novels reveal the pain, trauma and struggle and beautiful daring women trapped under the brutal diverse settlement in the threshold of new love. A Time To Be Happy (1951), This Time of Morning (1965) and Storm in Chandigarh (1969) are some of her famous novels.

    Gita Hariharan is a modern novelist as well as short story writer. She shot into lime light by her bestselling novel The Thousand Faces of Night. Devi who is the central woman character in The Thousand Faces of Night suffers injustice in the hands of the patriarchal society. Her literary works reveal her quest for women’s liberation from the bondage of male domination. Her short story collection, The Art of Dying (1993) has projected the post-feminist ethos with perfection like Arundhati Roy. Gita Hariharan writes about woman’s body and is not shy of any discourse on sexuality. 

    Bharati Mukherjee has been regarded as one of the promising writers of Diaspora. Imagination and cultural alienation are global phenomena in today’s modern world. She chooses her themes from the problems and experiences faced by the Indian immigrants in the U.S or the Western World. Her The Holder of the World deals with the theme of transformation and migration which have been the two major themes in her novels. She won the National Book Critic Award for her The Middle Man and Other Stories. Though Bharati Mukherjee lives in a foreign country, she never serves her familial ties with her mother land. She continues to write about India and Indian immigrants in the west.

The prominent post-colonial women writers are a legion: Shashi Deshpande, Anita Desai, Kiran Desai, Arundhati Roy and others.Shashi Deshpande’s writings brand her as a post-colonial writer who always deals with Indian women with her different sexual, cultural and social roles. Most of the Indian writers celebrate Indian woman’s chastity and devotion. But Shashi Deshpande explodes the myth of man’s superiority and the myth of women being a paragon of all virtues. The Dark Holds No Terrors, the Binding Vine and Intrusion and Other Stories are her prominent literary works based on this kind of presentation.

Anita Desai stands as an outstanding feminist writer of English fiction. She is preoccupied with the inner world of sensibility rather than the outer world of action. She very well uses the language, syntax and imagery as a tool to convey thoughts, feelings and emotions of her characters. Myths have also been developed by Anita Desai. She is very skilful in portraying the psyche of her sensitive, emotional and sensuous characters. Majority of the critic often see the protagonists of Anita Desai’s novels as neurotic, psychotic or abnormal. Some of her significant novels are Cry, the Peacock (1963), Voices in the City (1965) and Bye-Bye, Blackbird (1971).

Kiran Desai made her debut with the publication of her novel Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard in 1988. The novel can best be described as a catechizing process for the Indian reader. Her literary style and themes are totally different from her mother Anita Desai. Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard stands as a satirical novel. Her irony in her writings is based on the common illogical ways of India.

Arundhati Roy is a popular Indian woman novelist who has captivated millions of readers in India and abroad, as well she has gained great global visibility after winning the prestigious Booker Prize for her first novel The God of Small Things.

Arundhati Roy was born in November 24, 1961 in Shilling, Meghalaya in India, to Ranjit Roy, a Bengali Hindu tea planter by profession and Mary Roy, a Malayali Syrian Christian Women’s Rights activist. She spent her childhood in Aymanam in Kerala and went to school at Corpus Christi, Kottayam followed by the Lawrence school, Lovedale in Nilgiris in TamilNadu. She left Kerala for Delhi at the age of sixteen and embarked on a homeless style. Arundhathi Roy was staying in a small hut with a tin roof within the walls of Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla and living her life by selling empty bottles. She then proceeded to study Architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi. 

The God of Small Things has sold more than four million copies in two dozen languages. It was published in May and the book was sold in eighteen countries by the end of June. Arundhathi Roy worked as a Research Assistant at the National Institute of Urban Affairs after getting the degree of Architecture. Early in her career Arundhati Roy worked for television and movies. She wrote the screenplays for In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (1989) a movie based on her experiences as a student of architecture and she also appeared as a performer in the movie and it was directed by her second husband Pradip Krishnan. Her first husband Gerard De Cunha was an architect.

Roy attracted the attention of readers in 1994 when she criticized Shekher Kapur’s Bundit Queen based on the life of Phoolan Devi. Roy was awarded Sidney Peace Prize in May 2004 for her social work campaigns and advocacy of non-violence. In 2006 she was awarded the Sahitya Academy Award for her collection of essays The Algebra of Infinite Justice but declined to accept it.

She played a brief role of a ‘tribal bimbo’ in Pradip Krishen’s film Massey Saab. The film was box office hit. Roy has also written screen plays for a TV serial entitled Bargad (The Banyan Tree). Her screenplay for the film “The Electronic Moon” (1992) however was not a success. Written in an anti-minimalist lyrical style in which colonial heritage, local history, post-colonial issues and literary realism overlap, The God of Small Things is grounded in historical reality. After finishing the novel she was not very confident about her book. Now the book turned to be her wondrous magnum opus. There is a wonderful description of beautiful Kerala, in India, through her provocative narrative style, that is quite forceful. The book is powerful and creative.

Arundhati Roy began witting her first novel The God of Small Things in 1992 and completed it in 1996. The book is semi- autobiographical and a major part captures her childhood experiences in Aymanam in Kerala. The publication of The God of Small Things catapulted Roy to international fame. It received the 1997, The Man Booker Prize in 1997 for fiction. The God of Small Things has sold more than two dozen of languages.

Arundhati Roy’s other works are “ An ordinary person’s Guide To Empire”, “War Talk”, “Power Politics”, “The Cost of Living”, “The Algebra Of Infinite Justice”, “Listening To Grasshoppers”, “Public Power”,“ In the age of Empire” ,“Filed Notes On democracy”, “Der Gott Der Kleinen Dinge”,“The Shape of the Beast” and “Thirteenth December-A Reader”.The Novel core issue is identified with the conflated sexual transgressions of the protagonist Ammu, Chacko’s young sister who has come back to Ayemenem after a failed intercommunity marriage and with her daughter Rahel. The social conventions reified in history, offer a vantage point from which to contemplate love a fresh and trespass the sanctioned limits of mutual alliance. 

Arundhati Roy‘s The God Of Small Things is a post-colonial novel for it deals with marginality, feminine gender identity, social and cultural issues, and a ew common themes of Post-colonial genre. The God of Small Things comes under the category of feminist literature. In the novel, Ammu represents Arundhati Roy’s mother Mary Roy and Rahel represents Arundhati Roy herself. In the novel, Ammu had been a victim of male dominated patriarchal society where she was not allowed to continue her studies. The story shows the suppression of The God of Small Things (Ammu, Velutha and Rahel) by The God of Big Things (pappachi, Baby Kochamma, Chacko, Thomas Mathew and Comrade Pillai). It clearly tells about the biased attitude of Pappachi and Mammachi. In the novel Roy, severely attacks the male chauvinism through the characters of Pappachi, Chacko and comrade Pillai. The God of Small Things as a post-colonial novel attacks the problem of untouchability. Velutha’s father Vellya Pappan along with untouchable embraced Christianity to get rid of the problem surrounded to them. But untouchability was even there itself, for they had to go to a separate church. Roy’s satire on the police Mathew Arnold is very severe. She says police should stand for politeness, loyalty, intelligence, courtesy and efficiency. But most of the police people do not have all these qualities. And therefore, The God of Small Things could be called as a ` protest novel` for it protests atrocities against women and untouchable. 

The novel clearly expresses the novelist’s valorization of the women in Indian society. The predicament of women is presented by Arundhati Roy through her female characters. These characters represent Indian women belonging to three generation namely Mammachi, Ammu and Rahel. They are all exploited in the novel The God of Small Things. There are many themes in the novel which are interesting and popular. The readers wonder and appreciate the novel for its themes such as Indian history and politics, class relations and cultural tensions in the state of Kerala, forbidden love, love, social discrimination, betrayal, scandal and cultural loyalty. Arundhati Roy deals with such themes openly in this novel. 

The novel explores the consciousness of cultural shock mainly experienced by her twins. It is a vibrant manifestation of the caste ridden society surpassing the threshold of religion, race and nationality, outshining as a stalwart paradigm, studded to the fabulous crown of Indian fiction.This project consists of five chapters. Chapter I makes a survey of the position of Indian women writers in various contexts, besides providing a bio-sketch of the novelist Arundhati Roy and also an outline summary of the novel.

Chapter II deals with the female characters Ammu and Rahel from feminist as well as post-colonial point of view; And Arundhati Roy’s feminist thoughts are also analyzed.Chapter III deals with the style and techniques employed by Arundhati Roy in this novel The God of Small Things. Chapter IV deals with the contemporary social problems which have been already dealt by Arundhati Roy in her novel The God of Small Things.Chapter V is the Summation and findings. This chapter also shows that Arundhati Roy is fit to be called as a post-colonial feminist author. It also suggests that further studies can be done on culture and language aspects.

Works cited

Primary sources

Roy,Arundhati. The God of Small Things.New Delhi: penguin Books, 2002.

Secondary sources

Agarwal KA. Indian English fiction. Jaipur: Book Enclave, zooz.

Ashcroft, Bill Gareth grittiths Helen Tiffin. The Empire writes Back : Theory and practice in post – colonial literature. London: Routledge. 1989.

Derrida,Jacques, The Ear of the other.Trans Alla, Chicago University of Chicago Press,1982.

Hekman, Susan J.Gender and Knowledge Elements of Postmodern Feminism. Cambridge: Polity Pres 1992.

Lakoff, Robin. Language and Women’s Place. New York : Harper & Row, 1975

Sabapathy A

MA English Literature

St. John's College


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