Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The God of Small Things - Ammu’s Dream and Details of Death

Was just leafing through Roy's novel once again the other day, and it appeared more meaningful now, rather than the first time...

I know that only reading it once is not nearly enough to grasp the importance and understanding of everything. I would like to discuss two things that really stuck out to me.

Ammu’s Dream

The chapter highlights Ammu and the relationship between her body and her cremation. Roy delves further into analyzing Ammu’s body during Chapter 11. She dreams of the one armed man (Velutha) that she cannot touch. The ultimate struggle in her dream is that “If he touched her he couldn’t talk to her, if he loved her he couldn’t leave; if he spoke he couldn’t listen, if he fought he couldn’t win” (p. 207).  The first problem with their desire was that they could not touch each other. This brings in the obvious caste difference because of Velutha being a dalit. The other aspects of their relationship presented in this quote (love, communication, future success of the relationship) are not given much attention. The physical barrier is too strong to overcome. Also at this point in the novel, the most interaction that we have seen between Ammu and Velutha was eye connect and unvoiced desire.

Ammu’s dream is interrupted by the twins. But they are afraid to directly wake her up because “she says you should never wake dreaming people suddenly…she says they could easily have a Heart Attack” (p. 207). She is dreaming about her physical reaction to Velutha while the twins are concerned about her physical reaction to them. I believe that Roy brought extra attention to Heart Attack because of it would be a physical death to her being as well as a romantic death to her dream of Velutha.  *Pappachi died of a heart attack (p. 49).

The twin’s reaction to their mother’s dream is also important. Estha thought that she looked like she was dying but Rahel was certain that she was having an “afternoon-mare” (p. 208).  To her children, she appeared sad and distressed during her dream even though she felt happy.  I felt like this was an accurate description of pending relationship with Velutha. Love should bring happiness but between Velutha and Ammu it is bound to bring death and sadness.

The question is that after the dream she recognizes that the one armed man, Velutha, was “the God of Loss, the God of Small Things” (p. 210). Why are loss and Ammu and Velutha’s affair classified as a “small things” in this novel?

The details of the deaths in the novel

All of the deaths in this novel involved destruction or dis-figuration of the body. As I previously noted, Pappachi died of a heart attack. The physical demolition surrounding his death was that which he inflicted on other bodies, not his own. He beat Mammachi and when he could no longer do that he destroyed his favorite rocking chair. As the novel continues, the family does not escape the trend of deadly destruction that he started. We have already spent a decent amount of time discussing Ammu’s death and cremation. Not only is her body decimated but so is her capability to invoke desire and lust. Sins of the body paid for by erasing her body.

But in Chapter 13, we finally learn the details of Sophie Mol’s death, the most central one to the narrative. When her body was laid out, “it was obvious that she was dead” and did not look like her living self (p. 238).  She had weeds in her hair, her face had been nibbled on by the fish, and she was wrinkled. She was completely disfigured. Her drowning had transformed her into a “spongy mermaid who had forgotten how to swim” (p. 238). The body that was hers now belonged to death.

I don't know about you, but if one had to pick the character that most people dislike in the novel, it would probably be Baby Kochamma. She's selfish, self-centered, snippy, and just downright mean. Still, a novel without an antagonist would be like chocolate chip cookies without the milk, or karaoke without a Kelly Clarkson song: it just doesn't seem to work as well if that key piece is missing. As much as we want to tell Baby Kochamma to get over herself and take a hike, we actually need her. In a novel that covers such a big stretch of time, Baby Kochamma's history is the longest of any other character.

But then, who is Baby Kochamma?

First, a little back-story: Baby Kochamma is not a baby, and her last name is not really Kochamma. We never find out exactly why she takes on the name Baby, but it's how everyone knows her. Her real name is Navomi Ipe, and Kochamma is just a title of respect and honor for a woman. Baby Kochamma's acts of getting Velutha and Ammu in trouble and manipulating Estha and Rahel after Sophie Mol's death are key moments that show us just how insecure she is when it comes to social status. Here's a woman who knows exactly what she's doing: she's a total snake in the grass, even if she acts like she truly cares about everyone else.

The Baby Kochamma of 1993 lives a pretty simple life in comparison. There's not really anyone left to manipulate. Ammu and Mammachi are both dead, and Chacko has moved to Canada. She's totally addicted to satellite TV, and as a result she's let the house fall to pieces around her. She sits around wearing all of Mammachi's old jewelry as though she's playing dress-up. Rahel observes that it's like Baby Kochamma is "living her life backwards" (1.136). All in all, Baby Kochamma is hard to like, but all in all, she's a complex and interesting character.

Who is Estha ?

Estha, short for Esthappen Yako, is the other half of our dynamic twin duo. He was born eighteen minutes before his twin, Rahel, which is sort of fitting since in many ways he seems like he's her older brother. Even as a child, Estha is almost painfully earnest and sincere. He loves his mother and Velutha, and he's protective of Rahel. Because he's such a sweet boy, it can be hard to watch what happens to him throughout the novel.

First, a look at Estha in 1969. He is a seven-year-old who loves Elvis Presley (he wears his hair in a puffed-up style to imitate him) and has a very childlike view of the world. He loves The Sound of Music, and one of the book's most heartwarming moments is when he sings so happily from the top of his lungs that he has to leave the movie theater.

fast forwarding... Estha's reunion with Rahel brings back a number of painful memories that up until this moment he has kept packed away. Estha and Rahel end up delving through many memories of their childhood, and he notices how much she looks like their mother. At the end of the novel, he and Rahel have sex – though it happens so quickly and quietly that we barely notice it – and grieve together for all that they've lost...

Who is Reverend E. John Ipe/ Punnyan Kunju ?

He's Baby Kochamma and Pappachi's father. He was a well-regarded priest in the Mar Thoma Church. He became known as Punnyan Kunju (Little Blessed One) after the Patriarch of Antioch, who is the head of the Syrian Christian Church, personally blessed him. His portrait hangs in the Ayemenem House.

Who is Urumban ?

Urumban is not a real person. He is the fake "twin" that Velutha makes up when Rahel claims she saw him in the Communist march.

Does the details of these deaths classify as small things? Why does Roy primarily use tragic and non-normative deaths?

We know Ammu best as Estha and Rahel's mother, but it's important to look at her early life when we examine her character. Ammu isn't just a mom; she's also Pappachi and Mammachi's daughter and Chacko's younger sister. Through a number of flashbacks in the novel, we get a good sense of how her past helped shape who she is as an adult.

While Chacko, as the son of the family, is proudly sent off to school and eventually to Oxford to study as a Rhodes Scholar, Ammu doesn't get the same kind of treatment. In fact, it seems like she doesn't have all that many options. Life at her parents' house is tough. Pappachi is kind of a drunk jerk, terrorizing Mammachi and Ammu. Feeling like there's nothing left for her in Ayemenem but to wait around for a husband, Ammu gets permission to go to Calcutta for a summer. She meets and marries Baba, which turns out to be a bad choice.

Ammu divorces Baba and moves back to Ayemenem when the twins are toddlers. Ammu is both a strict and loving mother. What's interesting about her is her resistance to social norms. She doesn't feel like she needs to be ashamed of her divorce. Instead, she feels like she wasted her best years. This quality sets her apart from the other women of the household, who are totally preoccupied with looking better than others in society.

Ammu doesn't think too much of social rank. In fact, she's kind of proud that Velutha was spotted at the communist march, figuring that they both find society's norms oppressive and wrong. This doesn't mean Ammu doesn't care about appearances altogether; she wants her kids to behave well so that everyone can see that a woman on her own can be both independent and a good mother.

Ammu's affair with Velutha is a great escape for her, and we can tell that she has really strong feelings for him, even though she knows their love can never be public. In a way, it's their love that brings about both of their downfalls. Baby Kochamma wouldn't have had to make up stories about Velutha to the police if they hadn't had an affair. Ammu's life after Velutha's death is unimaginably bad. She's lost the only man she ever loved, and she's separated from her kids. She dies alone, likely of tuberculosis, in a dirty hotel room. Still, when she is cremated, Rahel doesn't remember her as the disgusting, hacking, slightly loony woman that she ultimately becomes.


  • Ammu has kind of a rough upbringing.
  • Pappachi runs Ammu and Mammachi out of the house from time to time.
  • One night, he tears up her rubber boots, her most prized possession.
  • Ammu's parents don't think it's necessary to send a woman to college, so she spends her young adulthood living at home and waiting for marriage proposals.
  • One summer, Ammu's parents allow her to move to Calcutta. She meets Baba, who proposes to her five days after they meet. She accepts.
  • Ammu gives birth to Estha and Rahel in 1962.
  • When the twins are 2 years old, Baba loses his job. He tells Ammu he can keep his job if she agrees to sleep with his boss. He punches her when she says no. After this happens a few times, she takes the kids and moves back to Ayemenem.
  • Ammu gets mad at the twins for misbehaving when Sophie Mol comes to visit. She thinks they make a bad first impression.
  • Ammu sees Rahel run off to talk to Velutha.
  • When Margaret Kochamma makes an ignorant comment about the local culture, Ammu gets angry and storms off.
  • Ammu falls asleep and has a dream about a man she calls "The God of Small Things" (actually Velutha).
  • That night, Ammu goes out for a walk in the dark. She encounters Velutha, and they make love.
  • Ammu and Velutha meet every night for the next thirteen nights.
  • After Vellya Paapen rats Velutha and Ammu out, Baby Kochamma locks Ammu in her bedroom.
  • Ammu yells through the door at Estha and Rahel that it's their fault she's locked in.
  • After Sophie Mol's funeral, Ammu goes to see Inspector Thomas Mathew to clear Velutha's name. He tells Ammu that Velutha is already dead.
  • Ammu is forced to leave Ayemenem. She becomes severely ill.
  • Ammu dies alone in a hotel room. Chacko and Rahel take her to be cremated.

Basically... Ammu is remembered as lovely and, most importantly, loving....

Quotes from Arundhati Roy...The God of Small Things....

“Perhaps it's true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house---the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture---must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.”

“Ammu said that human beings were creatures of habit, and it was amazing the kind of things one could get used to.” Besides, careless words make people love you a little less.”

The trouble with families is that like invidious doctors, they know just where it hurts.......