The God of Small Things Critical Evaluation - Essay

Arundhati Roy

Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The 1997 Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy’s first novel, is partially autobiographical. Similar to Rahel, Roy was born in a northeastern Indian state to a Syrian Christian mother from Kerala and a Bengali Hindu father who worked at a tea plantation. Roy’s childhood, like that of Rahel, was spent in Ayemenem (the correct spelling is Aymanam, which is a corrupted form of Ayavanam, meaning “the land of five forests”), where she witnessed cultural diversity, divisions along caste and religious lines, Marxist activism, and political corruption, all of which are reflected in the novel. While all the major characters in the novel are flawed, it is Rahel, with whom the author sympathizes the most, who seems to be the only one representing any sense of hope.

The narrative focuses on the details of life, the small things. It uses shockingly new idioms, foreboding imagery, and deceptively simple sentences to express big ideas. It liberally sprinkles Malayalam words and sentences, signifying the cultural hybridity of the characters, and employs repetitious phrases and neologisms. Events unfold in unpredictable ways. Time flows forward and backward, and it does so virtually in any direction. This is accomplished through a confusing use of flashbacks and flash forwards. One could read the book beginning with any chapter at random and follow the story with equal ease, or equal difficulty.

Some have compared Roy’s style to that of William Faulkner, but Roy claims that she had never read Faulkner before writing the novel. Those familiar with Malayalam literature might notice that her style, idioms, plot, techniques, and a preference for the tragic bear more resemblance to some Malayalam novels, such as Indian novelist Thakazhi’s Chemmeen (1956), than to any particular work in English literature. However, character Sophie Mol’s visit from England and the disasters that follow are reminiscent of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924). Roy’s seeming play on the Western construction of India as a strange and mysterious place full of dangers has led some critics to believe that this device of reframing Western beliefs contributes to the novel’s enthusiastic reception by Western readers.

Some have characterized The God of Small Things as...

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