Below I adapted an essay of mind from a literature class at Grove City College. The book The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is poignant, and at times hard to read because there is so much trauma in it. What I focused on with my analysis is Anglophilia and the rules surrounding love in the novel.
In Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things, the small community of Ayemenem is caught between two worlds. One is the ever-receding India of the past, its fragile history subverted by the British, fading away because its “footprints had been swept away” (Roy 51). The other is one in which all power, wealth, and rank is attributed to anything affiliated with the English. Everything from the use of the English language (often indicating high status) to what the Kochamma family believes Englishmen and women should look like (white and tall) is deeply embedded in the mindset of the community. The amorphous identity of India shapes the love laws, which determine “who should be loved, and how. And how much” (Roy 33) The two characters that draw the most attention to this societal issue are Chacko, who deplores Anglophilic sentiments while simultaneously extrapolating them, and his daughter Sophie, who unconsciously benefits from the geographic location of her birth and upbringing.
Chacko, the twin’s idealistic and hypocritical uncle, laments the divisive state of the community and the broken system left behind by the British, shattered by “the war that has made us adore our conquerors and despise ourselves” (Roy 52). Lapsing into one of his “Oxford Moods”, Chacko explains to the twins that the Kochammas are “a family of Anglophiles” (Roy 53, 51). This assessment does not exclude him because he is aware of it; instead, he reveals himself as an Anglophile, with his habit of reciting pieces of Western literature, his British education, and his marriage to Margaret. This kind of adoration is pervasive in their society, further corrupting the love laws with a fierce partiality that disdains bonds of Indian culture and ethnicity in favor of perceived English superiority.
Chacko protests when the twins engage in any “extended exercise in Anglophilia,” openly disgusted by their compliance with societal norms. Ironically, he uses his highly esteemed Oxford knowledge to support these accusations, alluding to his superior British education and status. Though he jeers at others for their natural attraction to the British people, he observes the laws of love and turns his affection to Margaret. He discourages marriages between Indians as unhealthy instances of inbreeding and lauds Sophie, Estha, and Rahel as being “indecently healthy” from having ancestry outside of the town of Ayemenem (Roy 59). His acceptance of the love laws surfaces again when he claims with self-deprecating pride that Margaret “traded me in for a better man” (Roy 236). It is as if Chacko is resigned to the idea that marriages (at least in the Kochamma family) between Indian and British lovers are destined for failure, barely taking flight before crashing to earth like his model planes.
When Chacko hears of his usurper’s death, he invites Margaret and Sophie back without hesitation, and welcomes them with an enthusiasm and explicit adoration he never extends to members of his Indian family. The transformation from feigned gentility within his household to almost obeisant fondness of his ex-wife and daughter is abrupt and strange considering his resentment of the same tendency in others. Margaret and Sophie are judged before they ever meet the Kochammas, and the consensus is overwhelmingly in their favor. The exceptions appear in the form of Mammachi, Ammu, and the twins. Mammachi is jealous of Margaret and treats her as she would a whore, yet loves Sophie instinctively. Ammu and the twins feel threatened by their presence and the distinction that the love laws were set in place in part for the systemic advantage of the English.
Sophie Mol embodies the struggle of her father and all those who comply or resist the love laws. With her English and Indian heritage, she can be claimed like a prize as Ayemenem’s own, but carries all the traits of the English that society adores. Within her two worlds merge, her fractured childhood and the lost history of her Indian ancestors; the power of influence linked to her English lineage and the ability to use it as leverage to manipulate or oppress the subaltern. Her funeral propels the story from the first moments, and her death reflects the tragedy that comes with each instance of the transgressed love laws. Yet this is the incident in the center of the story’s progression, the one mulled upon and agonized over, the destruction of the little girl who had a part of India and of England inside her.
The structure of the novel reflects this obsession, orbiting the overwhelming loss of Sophie Mol, gravitating back to the trauma. The moment Sophie arrives in the Kochamma home, their family life revolves around sating her desires and winning her affection. Her frequent rejection of their advances does not offend them, and they attribute no fault to any of her actions. The love laws are reigns in her hands, but she places them aside haughtily. She does not use her authority to reap the rewards she has not earned, scorning what she could have simply because she was “Loved from the beginning” (Roy 129).
Sophie Mol redefines the love laws without repudiation, choosing which to follow and which to ignore. She automatically accepts that love, like a substance, is measured, limited and conditionally available. For example, she loves Joe more than Margaret because “he never hits,” choosing to love her mother less because she is less gentle (Roy 144). Her love is limited because she cannot imagine loving someone who is short, revealed by her careless comment about Rahel’s possibility of becoming a midget – “That’s taller than a dwarf and shorter than a…Human Being” (Roy 145). When she wants friends, she treats it as a transaction, and decides to “negotiate a friendship” (Roy 253). Yet in some ways she neglects her duty as outlined by the unspoken love laws. Rahel puts Sophie on her love list because it is appropriate due to their familial connection, but Sophie Mol rejects this almost instantly. This tendency is further emphasized as she clings to the memory of Joe while avoiding any close relationship with Margaret or Chacko. Chacko, as her real father and a patriarchal figure, should be able to puppeteer his daughter’s adherence to love laws in the context of Indian society, as Pappachi attempted to do with Ammu, but Sophie largely ignores his efforts.
Anglophilia remains deep-rooted in Ayemenem at the end of the story, intertwined with the rigid structure of the love laws. This is shown when Sophie is emphasized as at the core of the twin’s trauma even when time has passed, hauntingly alive in their memory. Chacko and Ammu each violate the love laws. Each are punished brutally, with the death of those they love: Sophie and Velutha. Yet it is the “white child’s body found floating downriver” that the story revolves around, even her tragedy taking precedence due to her status (Roy 239). Velutha’s death is torturous and hushed, Sophie’s is openly bewailed and lamented. The love laws adjusted to favor the English during the occupation remain tacked onto the society of Ayemenem. Only when love is not forbidden or limited because of race, status, caste, or appearance will the love laws and Anglophilia finally lose their power, and be replaced with a new sense of identity and freedom.
Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. Random House, 1997.
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