The God of Small Things Essay - Essays and Criticism

Arundhati Roy

Essays and Criticism

Roy's Poetic Language and Unique Writing Style

A Dalit (Untouchable) shouts anti-government slogans in New Delhi

Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things has many excellent qualities. The setting is exotic; the voice is unique; the characters are complex; and the plot line is mysterious. Any one of these, done as well as Roy’s skills have provided, might have been enough for the author to win the Booker Prize, one of the most distinguished literary awards; but with one more distinctive characteristic added to the mix—Roy’s poetic and imaginative writing style—there is no question that this book will long remain one of the most fascinating novels of the twentieth century.

Upon the first read of The God of Small Things, one cannot help but be drawn into the story that Roy has created, wondering, with each succeeding chapter, what could possibly happen next. There are questions about who these characters are; where the plot line is going; and what the missing details are that the author has purposefully left out, taunting the reader to hurriedly move forward. Even the setting of the story is alluring with its freshly conceived scenery, unusual town names, striking tropical flora and fauna, as well as the strange social customs. The storyline twists around unsuspecting corners, as the narrator takes readers into the dark depths of the characters’ souls. And even though, after reading this book, one might sense the quality of writing of this gifted novelist, it might take a second, and maybe even a third, reading before one can actually pay attention to the underlying style that makes this novel so invigorating to read. The purpose of this essay is to do just that: to examine not the story but Roy’s unique writing technique; and to point out the poetic qualities of her writing.

One of the first elements of the author’s writing that readers confront as they begin this novel is Roy’s creative vocabulary—creative in the sense that she makes up new words. In the first pages, for example, Roy uses the words “dustgreen trees” and later portrays a smell as “sicksweet.” Two things happen when she puts two words together like this (which she consistently does throughout the novel). First, she captures the attention of the reader. There are no such words as “dustgreen” and “sicksweet,” which her audience will immediately realize, and yet readers will know exactly what the author has intended by using such new words. Secondly, the words not only make sense, they describe the objects they are referring to with much greater depth than most single adjectives and metaphors could possibly do, and the author accomplishes this with minimum verbiage. “Dustgreen,” for instance, is used to describe both a color and a condition, and with this one inventive word, Roy gives her readers a fully sensual image. Dust is gritty and dry, like the weather she is trying to depict. So in using a word such as “dustgreen,” Roy helps readers not only to visualize the setting but also to feel it. A similar double sense is created with the word “sicksweet.” Readers not only can taste and smell it, they can feel it in the pit of their stomachs, just as Rahel and Estha feel when they think about the world that Roy has created for them in her novel. The sweetness of the odor has attracted these characters to explore their world; but the consequences and the reactions of their world have made them sick. Thus, these “double words” are more than the sum of their parts. They are not just two words haphazardly added together, but rather they are almost like short poems. They offer the reader vivid images through short expressive words.

Other examples of combining words appear when the narrator pulls readers into the funeral of Sophie Mol, a flashback that occurs at the beginning of the novel. When a baby bat climbs up Baby Kochamma’s sari, making the woman scream, Roy provides her readers with a sample of the noises of confusion in the congregation, which she represents with the words: “Whatisit? Whathappened?” and “a Furrywhirring and a Sariflapping.” With these new words, readers are given a complex picture of the bewilderment that is occurring inside the church. Not only do these words refer to sounds, they also provoke a sense of movement. People are turning their heads back and forth, searching for the source of the yelling and its cause as they try to figure out what is happening (“Whatisit? Whathappened?”); bats are beating their wings, trying to escape (“Furrywhirring”); and women are flapping the material of their costumes to make sure that there are no bats climbing on them (“Sariflapping”). Once again, Roy has created vibrant descriptions in using her newly conceived words. It is as if she has captured a whole movie scene, filled with motion and sound, with just a minimum use of syllables.

There is another form of creative vocabulary that Roy makes up. This one reflects children trying to make sense of the adult world through little bits of information that they receive. For instance, again at Sophie Mol’s funeral, the protagonist Rahel attempts to repeat words that she has heard during the religious ceremony. But in a child’s world, not only is it hard to grasp the full meaning of language; it is also sometimes difficult to take hold of the full...

(The entire section is 2139 words.)

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