The God of Small Things

by Arundhati Roy
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How does the caste system relate to the ideals of the communist party, and are there any reference to it in The God of Small Things?

The God of Small Things is set in the Indian state of Kerala, which has a unique history of religious, cultural, and political diversity. Although originally a feature of the Hindu religion's influence, the caste system was adopted by minority religions like the Syrian Christians at the story's center. As a product of religious orthodoxy, the caste system is antithetical to communist principles, which condemn religion and class-based social divisions, and the book suggests that all such ideologies are hypocritical.

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The most important relationship that Roy suggests between the caste system and the ideals of the communist party is that both are equally hypocritical and corrupting. The story is set in the Indian state of Kerala, which, while having a Hindu majority, also has a sizable minority of non-native religions...

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The most important relationship that Roy suggests between the caste system and the ideals of the communist party is that both are equally hypocritical and corrupting. The story is set in the Indian state of Kerala, which, while having a Hindu majority, also has a sizable minority of non-native religions including India’s largest population of Christians.

One of Hinduism’s largest influences on Keralan society has been the absorption of the values and strictures of its caste system into the practice of the minority religions. The family at the center of the story is Syrian Christian; Baby and Mamma are the most class-conscious in the family, and, despite the teachings of their religion, are willing to lie and commit the sin of bearing false witness against the untouchable Velutha in order to protect their family’s reputation from being sullied by the truth.

Another defining feature of Kerala’s uniqueness is its regional tradition of Marxist governments. We know how powerful the Communists are in town because Thomas Mathew must first ask Comrade Pillai before arresting Velutha to make sure that Velutha isn’t too well-connected. Both the police inspector and the local communist leader are guilty of the same hypocrisy as Baby. Marxism was originally defined by class-based revolution to overturn the entrenched systems of economic, social and political power. Its appeal was in its spirit of brotherhood and egalitarianism, yet Pillai is more concerned about his own political career and standing with the authorities just as Thomas Mathew is willing to sanction Velutha’s framing and lynching to maintain the traditional social order.

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