The Post – Colonial Character in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things


Before one moves on to analyse the impact of post-colonialism in Roy’s text, it is appropriate to present a survey on post-colonialism.


Post-colonial literature is a branch of post-modern literature concerned with the political and cultural independence of peoples formerly subjugated in colonial empires. Post-colonial literary critics re-examine classic literature with a particular focus on the social discos that shaped it. Post-colonial fictional writers interact with the traditional colonial discos, but modify and subvert it; for instance by retelling a familiar story from the perspective of an oppressed minor character in the story.

Post-colonial theory deals with the reading and writing of literature written in previously and currently colonized country or a literature written in colonizing country which deals with colonization or colonized peoples. It focuses particularly on the way in which literature by the colonizing culture distorts the experienced and realities, and inscribes the inferiority of the colonized people. It can also deal with the way in which literature in colonizing country appropriate the language, images, scenes, traditions and so forth of colonized country. Contemporary Indo-Anglian literature belongs to post-colonial literatures in the same way as Canadian, West-Indian or Australian writings do. Indo- Anglian literature became post-colonial in form and content when it dissociated itself from the King’s English and from respecting European canons. In the post-colonial situation English has been put too much creative use, so that there is no colonial complex associated with it. The contemporary Indian English writing bears testimony to this concern. Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is exception to this.

This chapter is an attempt to trace convergences between contemporary feminist thought and post-colonialism. The God of Small Things, similarities between the two movements are striking feminism and post colonialism are the only contemporary theories that submit a remarkably radical deconstruction of the male legacy of the so called colonialism. Post-colonial feminism emerges as a radical means of displacing and transforming the masculinity epistemology on the contemporary intellectual scene.

The discourse theory of post-colonial feminism serves as a means of decoding Roy’s text. The novel as perceived in a post-colonial feminist perspective begins to break too many of swan text, which ultimately paves way for a radical emergence of meanings.

One of the central arguments of this chapter is that the essential feminist philosophy as developed by Roy is all said to dismantle and thus deconstructed the feminine myth. The chapter further brings into consideration the mythical subversion that happens at many a place in the text. Roy’s text, as a perfect specimen of post-colonial feminism rejects outright not only the constituted male subject but also the dichotomy between the subject and the object. Though her language purely is post-colonialist, Roy invades the male subjugation and fashion and formulates a new mode of philosophy. Roy’s method of approach, as perceived in her novel, is the ultimate goal of post-colonial feminism which is the way of speaking about sexuality that is not oppositional are sexual but:

Beyond the binary differences that governs the decorum of all codes, beyond the opposition feminine/ masculine, beyond by sexuality as well, beyond homo-sexuality and heterosexuality which come to the same thing. (The Ear of the other, 76)

Barabara Sichtermann, a well-known German Feminist places the point quite clearly as she enunciates the principle of confidence in women. She posits the very argument that the women must be in strong possession of confidence, especially in the field of sexual intimacy. She demands that men be placed as fetishes object. She writes “as a sex we have become week at forming objects but that is the legacy of history. It will not be much longer: we will bring about a new form of objectification, by creating a new order of things”. (72)

As Susan J. Hekman writes Feminism has joined hands with post modernism, to wage a relentless battle against all disciplines that have centered ‘man’. Today in literary circles with the publication of Susan Hekman’s book “gender and knowledge: elements on postmodern feminism”, a radical outbreak has happened. A new term postmodern feminism was born. Though Hekman is rather unwilling to knowledge postmodernism and feminism as two terms having the same characteristics, she finds one similarity in that, both the terms have set out to dismantle the anthropocentric knowledge of man, She writes “feminist and postmodern critiques have converged in their attacks on this homocentric and consequently have devoted particular attention to the sciences of man”.

It is that questioning that stands pivotal in Roy’s text. Her challenging the priority of man is fundamental to her feminist programme. Roy’s novel comes as the perfect specimen of a postmodern feminist text in that; it involves a post-colonialist position in the discussion of women’s nature.

Arundhati Roy dismantles the great cathedral of feminine myth in which, she finds, the ‘man has taken shelter for Millena’. In The God of Small Things the protagonist Ammu acts and not acted upon. She is thinking, passionate and strong. In particular, she rebels against injustice and suffocation of sexual role, definition and double standard and dramatically leaves the safety of her husband for Ayemenem declaring her sufficiency. As a post-colonial feminist discourse, The God of Small Things makes a scheme for transforming sex into treatise.

Post-colonial feminism draws it material from Foucault, Simone De Beauvoir and Derrida and Lacan, as well. Post-colonial feminists hold the basic view of male/female as binary opposites, as very much responsible for pushing the female, in Simon de Beauvior’s words into the other. They are not happy with the structure of the society and also with the conservative feminist. Post-colonial feminism, with accepting diversity, keeps in its focal point, the multiple truths, notes and realities.

Post-colonial feminism aggressively brings out the deeply entranced male and female divisions in society. In such a society women have been appended and discriminated against in an all-male, female ambience. The male normative order has categorized women as a fixed body, used only for male profit.

Ammu, most clearly differs from other women characters of many Roy’s contemporaries in that she acts. She knows for certain that she has to take care of her twins, Rahel and Estha, “who ….. seemed like a pair of small bewildered frogs engrossed in each other’s company, Lapping arm down a highway full of hurtling traffic”(ROY 43). She does not wait passively for prince charming embrace her. She acts in such a way that she invites the wrath of Baby Kochamma. Ammu, however, is least bothered about that, she is happy when her little daughter is at “Physical ease with him” (ROY 176). This is how Roy records the moment of Rahel’s physical ease with velutha:

See, you’re smiling” Rahel said ` That means it was you. Smiling means “It was you”

`That’s only in English! Velutha said `in Malayalm my teacher always said, “smiling means it was me”.

It took Rahel a moment to short that one out: she laughed at him once again.

Ickilee ickilee ickilee! (ROY 177- 78)

Ayemenem community offers no production to Ammu and her children. She, along with her children, is obviously thrust into a world hostile to their very existence and but burning need of the hour is a strategic survival.

Ammu clearly recognize that her choice of a Velutha is an attempt to invest her life with meaning. She realizes that “seven years of oblivion lifted off her and flew” (ROY 337), the moment “she guided him into her” (ROY 336). Yet within this feminine mystique, one watches Ammu’s mind flowing with Velutha “into the shadows on weighty, quaking wings. Like a dull, steel peahen” (ROY 337). He discovers that her love for Velutha has more intensity that she has really left and that such a forceful passion makes her see “ copper grass spangled with the blue butterflies”.(ROY 337)

One of the curious aspects of post - colonial feminism is to define women’s nature as a radically fixed in opposition with biological determined capabilities. It is also the tie that speaks of the nexus between women and natures as deep root. The quintessence of post-colonial feminist perception is the evidence of a positive link with the nature many women still retain. Hence ecofeminism may be fixed as a crucial component of post-colonial feminism. That is why Ammu’s final mission of sexual encounter with Velutha happens by the river side. Roy writes,

That made her arrives on the banks of the meenachal breathless sobbing as though she was late for something. As though her life depended on getting there in home. As though she knew he would be there waiting. As though he knew she would come. (ROY 332)

One of the themes of Roy is that she redefines a women’s body, with her physical intimacy with Velutha, in which she acts rather than acted upon. It is a clear indication of the quintessential post–colonial feminism in which women are to be aware of their body. Ammu redefines her role as one who finds Velutha’s body fixed, invaded, set at naught and then possessed.

Ammu is able to capture her feminine potential and her resonance of her physicality by putting to performance on male sites. Here Velutha’s body becomes her site of liberation, the moment she understands her erotic knowledge. Hence, in Roy’s text, body is deconstructed… the feminine body as a performativity one and the male body as a passive site of performance.

Ammu, in order to subvert the mythical order, has to be aware of her material role. Deconstruction happens with her responsibilities as a mother as she watches her twins. “Sleeping the way they did when they were exhausted with her eyes half open, two small monsters” (ROY 331). Before Ammu begins to deconstruct her famine mystique, she initially constructs “an image of material power that is benign, accurate, steady and sane”.

Ammu’s maternal thinking reinforces her ideology of radical feminism which transcends castes, colour and greed and serves as the as a basic for a post-colonial feminist politics in a specifically feminist context. Ammu sees the means nourished her children. Before the reader’s eyes, she enters womanhood in a most profound sense. This is the quintessence of post–colonial feminism. Few such moments of self-realization have occurred in literature; and fewer moments have involved women.

Just as Ammu grows and metamorphosing into a level of deeper insight, so does a woman like Rahel change. In the novel, Rahel is the sheltered radical who has come from somewhat good background and marries the first man she encounters. Roy here presents the readers initially with a rare phenomenon in the Indo-Anglian fiction woman as child.

Ammu and her daughter Rahel by demystifying male centeredness, through the conquest of the male bodies, emerge as the specimen of post –colonial feminism which has imbibed in itself, the quintessential paradigm of brining women to their senses. They rewrite history by defining their bodies by themselves and by not allowing any male it defines. They refused to be fixed as a fetishes commodity. They break open the shell of the enormous repression that has kept women kind in the dark, and the darkness which male chauvinism has kept them accepts their biological status.

To proclaim post–colonial feminist stance, Roy uses her language, she shatters her language and writes another language.

Post-colonial feminist holds language as too pivotal in demystifying the male normative myths. Hence, language comes as an aggressive rejoinder to what one conceives of famine literature in the traditional sense of the world that is flowers, sweetness, children, tenderness, submission and acceptance etc… (Gauther 161)

A passage from the text can be had as an example

“Pa pera- pera- pera-perakka

(mr.gugga-gugg-gugg- guava)

Endeparambilthooralley

(Don’t sit here in my compound)

Chetende parambil thoorikko

(You can sit next door in my brother’s compound,)

Pa- pera- pera- pera-perakka

(Mr.gugga-gugg-gugg- guava)” (ROY 206).

Arundhati Roy, here resorts to a negative non-linear presentation of language and she rejects everything that makes of a structured and dignified language.

Arundhati Roy comes at a moment of a literary history, in which, one witnesses a sea change in attitudes owing to the post – colonial, and postmodern feminist impact. Hence Roy’s text must be encounterd as a result of a great literary history rewritten, for it should be noted that “social change creates language change … (and) language change influences changes in attitudes slowly and indirectly” (Lakoff 47)

Post-colonial feminism also centers on issues involving women’s bodies strongly. It also conceptualizes body as playing a pivotal role in the enunciation of crisis and oppression. Eventually, body becomes the site of self- knowledge and liberation. Post-colonial feminism does the challenge the concept of women’s body either maligned or condemned. It subverts the patriarchal reductions of women’s body as a symbol of passivity, maternity and independence. In a post-colonial feminist perspective, body emerges as having gained a socio-cultural signification.

In The God of small things the body has been and still is closely associated with women and the feminine search for knowledge, reason and truth. Body emerges as to have broken sexual differences like class and castes differences. Roy places the feminine body through the women’s experiences and social status.

Post-colonial feminism attempts to erase this surface level body which comes as a canvas on which social law, morality and male norms are inscribed. And then it attempts to inscribe the experiences of the body, is internal or physic engravings. The body schema as enunciated by Roy renders meaning to the lived interiority.

Rahel at school has been problematic child. She is expelled from school for “she was accused (quite rightly) of hiding behind th4e door and deliberately colliding with her seniors” (ROY 16). Rahel admits that she was done it … “to find out whether breast hurt” (ROY 16) a clear indicator of a woman’s body in Rahel breaks the anatomical proposition of the Christian institutions in which the very talk of it is masculine act of something and the by”… “False hair bun… which, under duress, Rahel confessed to having stolen (ROY 17).

Rahel construct a soul for herself who transforms her body into a text, a system of signs to be read into this is why when her husband Larry Mc Caslin makes love to her, she offends him with her eyes as Roy writes, “But when they made love, he was offended by her eyes. They behaved as though they belonged to someone else… he put it somewhere between indifference and despair” (ROY 19). The same eye lathe in the novel”… searched her brother’s nakedness for signs of herself” (ROY 92).

Today’s feminism comes down as an eventuating factor of rebellion against the old mythical order. Today’s feminism which could be labeled, more conveniently, contemporary feminism, is one of the most important, a radical phenomenon of the late twentieth century. It occupies a prominent position as equal as that of post modernism and post structuralism. Like post-colonialism and post modernism, contemporary feminism, sets out to doubt and contest old mythical norms as prescribed by a male normative order. It has slowly begun to dismantle the old mythical assumptions and pre-suppositions and as a result, it stands on an equal stature with Niethzche’s questing of the humanist- reason legacy. Thus the post-colonial feminism calls for re-written concepts on the old mythical misconceptions.

Every writer has one’s own style and technics to express one’s views. It is unique, invincible and peculiar. Here, Arundhati Roy’s style and technics have helped her to find a special place among the other writers who experiment in English in India. The next chapter deals with the style and technics of the writer.

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
Palayamkottai

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