A middle-class Syrian Christian family lives in Ayemenem in the southern Indian state of Kerala. In the Ayemenem house are Ammu, her twin children (Estha and Rahel), her brother (Chacko), her mother (Mammachi), and her aunt (Baby Kochamma). Also living in the house is the patriarch of the family, Pappachi, who is a disgruntled, retired entomologist.
Chacko, who has returned home from Oxford, where he had been a Rhodes scholar, can no longer tolerate his father’s abusive behavior toward his mother, and one night he intervenes, demanding that he stop beating her. Pappachi stops, but he also stops speaking to Mammachi for the remainder of his life. Pappachi also forces Ammu, his daughter, to discontinue her college education.
Ammu returns home from college and then leaves for Calcutta to visit an aunt. In Calcutta she also meets Baba, a Hindu who works for a tea plantation owned by an Englishman. Ammu marries Baba to avoid having to return to her parents’ home in Ayemenem. The couple have twins, Estha and Rahel. Ammu divorces Baba, who, it turns out, is an alcoholic and a wife beater.
Ammu, Estha, and Rahel return to Ayemenem to live with Mammachi, Baby Kochamma, and Chacko. Pappachi dies and, after his death, Mammachi starts a pickle factory called Paradise Pickles and Preserves.
As a young girl, Baby had been infatuated with an Irish priest. To be close to him, she had become a nun. The priest, however, did not return the love and left for the United States. Broken-hearted, Baby leaves the convent and returns to Ayemenem. She remains unmarried.
Velutha is a talented and good-looking paravan (an untouchable) and an employee of Paradise Pickles and Preserves. With his ability to fix almost anything, he makes himself invaluable to the enterprise. He befriends Rahel and Estha and thus gets closer to Ammu, although they maintain their caste-prescribed distance.
Chacko had married Margaret Kochamma, an English waitress, whom he had known during his studies at Oxford. Together, they have one child, Sophie Mol, but the marriage fails because of Chacko’s inability to find a job and provide for the family....
(The entire section is 887 words.)
The God of Small Things opens at the chronological end of the story. In the early 1990’s, Rahel visits her family home in Ayemenem, in the Indian state of Kerala. She has come home to see her twin brother, Estha, who had unexpectedly returned. The twins, who were inseparable as children, have not seen each other for twenty-three years, ever since their English cousin, Sophie Mol, drowned in the river after their boat capsized during a Christmas visit. The precocious and indefatigable twins are at the Ayemenem home because their beautiful, sensuous mother, Ammu, married a weak and abusive man whom she later left to return to her family. The twins live in a fantasy world of their own making, trying to hide the more painful events of the novel in denial. For example, Rahel, described as “fiercely vigilant and brittle with exhaustion from her battle against Real Life,” is convinced that Sophie Mol is awake for her own funeral. Although the novel is told by a third-person narrator, the events are seen largely through the eyes of Estha and Rahel.
Ammu is merely tolerated at the Ayemenem house because of her shameful, unwise marriage, but the other residents also have an air of disgrace and eccentricity, as if the house were a retreat for those who could not quite make it in the larger world. Uncle Chacko, Ammu’s brother and Sophie Mol’s father, is an Oxford scholar and Marxist who returned home from his own failed marriage in England. He has taken over the Kochamma family business, Paradise Pickles and Preserves, from Mammachi, the matriarch of the family, whose skull still bears scars from the beatings that her husband gave her. Also living in the house are Baby Kochamma, a great-aunt who fell in love with a priest, converted to Catholicism, and became a nun to be near him. When this proved futile, she returned to the family home and eventually became addicted to television, which brings the greater world she had missed right to her sitting room. She is, however, a fearful person who is frightened by the Marxist-Leninist menace which she heard about on a British Broadcasting...
(The entire section is 862 words.)