The Inevitable Failure of Meta-narratives in "The God of Small Things"

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2008

12 Pages



Postmodern eye looks at human society from the vantage-point which is much criticized by the philosophers of a wide range of different disciplines. It is said that postmodernism fails to establish its own philosophy, own solution and, thereby, postmodern urge is kept aside all human endeavor looking at it with a suspicious eye. On the other hand, the postmodernists, addressing the all-inclusive-philosophies as meta-narratives, declare that the metanarratives have lost their power to convince and, therefore, advocate little narratives. However, this paper tries to respect the postmodern urges with the study of the novel The God of Small Things.

The Inevitable Failure ofMeta-narratives in The God ofSmall Things Meer Mushfique Mahmood Fahmida Haque


Rice and Waugh in the introductory section of the ‘Postmodernism’ in their Modern Literary Theory state “Postmodernism is a ‘mood’ expressed theoretically across a diverse range of theoretical discourses and involving: a focus on the collapse of grand narratives into local incommensurable language games or ‘little narratives’; a Foucauldian emphasis on the discontinuity and plurality of history as discursively produced and formulated, and a tendency to view the discourses of Enlightenment reason as complicit with the instrumental rationalization of modern life.”(Arnold, 325) Particularly, the ‘grand narratives’ [‘super-narratives’ (Barry, 86)] in other way are addressed as ‘meta-narratives’ (Barry, 86) which are abstract ideas that are thought to be a comprehensive explanation of historical experience or knowledge. (wikipedia). The examples of metanarratives are Christianity, Islam, Enlightenment theories, Freudian theory, feminism, Marxism or the myth of scientific progress etc. (Barry, 86) According to postmodern philosophers, meta-narratives have lost their power to convince - they are, literally, stories that are told in order to legitimise various versions of “the truth”. (wikipedia) With the transition from modern to postmodern, Lyotard proposes that metanarratives should give way to ‘petits récits’, or more modest and “localized” narratives. (wikipedia) Postmodernists attempt to replace metanarratives by focusing on specific local contexts as well as the diversity of human experience. (wikipedia) Based on the postmodernist view, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things esteems the postmodern urge for ‘little narratives’ which helps us to reveal the quicksand of the metanarratives in forms of “Love-Laws” [16], Christianity, feminism, Marxism and the so called social codes of the society.

Literature Review

It seems that the postmodern issues have been less discussed regarding The God of Small Things. But definitely some major works have already been done on this novel, which in other way carry the postmodernist endeavor. Of them, the most prominent and supporting discussion is of Ng Shing Yi’s “Peripheral Beings and Loss in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things” where Yi (2003) investigates how Roy’s invisible narratives dwells upon the small things, how the main protagonists of the story essentially occupy peripheral positions in their family or society. Yi (2003) again explains how The God of Small Things attempts to overturn their marginality, their absent histories, by recording the careful detail of their lives, each minute fantasy and idea, the small creeping emotions that culminate in passion or despair.

Ng Shing Yi (2003) exposes the novel as the corruption and inhumanity of socialist party politics (or more specifically, politicking) and capitalism, both of which are domains of power and of subtle colonial imperialism. As if to underline that their marginalized narratives constitute a hole in chronological history, time in the novel is synchronized: the traumatic events of loss and

Mahmood & Haque Explorer, Volume 1, Number 2, December 2008, ISSN 1998­ expulsion are told in brief, crystallized flashbacks. While “small things” may ironically connote triviality, the novel is ultimately concerned with marginality, absence and loss: in other words, the invisible narratives that are consumed by power, politics, or imperialism.

Another important work is Laura Carter’s “Critical Essay on The God of Small Things’’ where she (Thomson Gale, 2006) points out that Velutha is used as an example by the authorities of those who remain out of step with the new regime or the British way of life. Ultimately, it is the influence of outside political and social forces that kill Velutha both spiritually and physically, as well as permanently scar Estha and Rahel’s psyches. Carter also explains that Velutha’s excellence as a person illuminates the unfairness of the caste laws. When Velutha is seen marching in a Communist parade, it illustrates the changing structure of political power in the culture. Velutha’s grandfather had converted to Christianity, but even the new religion could not overcome the entrenched caste laws of the society, and the churches became segregated for the Untouchables. Later, many years after the incident, the culture protects the men who uphold its prejudices and injustices. When Rahel meets Comrade Pillai, she notices that he “didn’t hold himself in any way personally responsible for what had happened. He dismissed the whole business as the Inevitable Consequence ofNecessary Politics.” [8]

Similarly, Prasad (2006) suggests that in the case of Roy’s corpus, the discourse of marginality must be considered in conjunction with the representation of resistance. Prasad pleads that the title of Roy’s celebrated novel must not be applied to Velutha exclusively. The God of Small Things is the spirit of powerlessness and social exclusion that pervades the lives of the unfortunate of the world. In this connection Chapter Eleven of the novel must be re-read and re­interpreted. The God of Small Things takes in his embrace Velutha, Ammu, Rahel, Estha, labourers and women in the factory — indeed all those who area, in one way or another, marginalized. Prasad (2006) explains by what stylistic means Roy has given voice and expression to the sufferings of these people; their oppression at the hands of those who wield power and the machinery that dispenses injustice. Roy states, “misfortune is always relative,” (Kirkus Review, 2009) a country in which personal turmoil is dwarfed by the “vast, violent, insane public turmoil of a nation.” [10]

Besides these discussions, the theme of love is obviously a vital issue of the novel The God of Small Things. Scott Trudell’s (Thomson Gale, 2006) “Critical Essay on The God of Small Things” discusses why the two forbidden sexual episodes in the final two chapters of The God of Small Things are so crucial to the history of the Kochamma family and emblematic to the meaning of the novel. He also explains how cultural forces guide an individual to break the social rules. In the end, the novel shifts and the cultural forces begin to exert their power over the individuals. Baby Kochamma performs her machinations “not for Ammu,” [119] but to “contain the scandal” [119] that has occurred when the Love Laws were broken. Trudell’s (2006) essay observes that all the tension, desire, and desperation beneath the surface of the narrative meet the expressions oflove, which are examples of perhaps the greatest, most unthinkable taboos of all.

Discussion and Analysis

The novel precisely deals with the disasters in life of Ammu, Velutha, Rahel, Estha. The points which strike most in the text might be - Ammu’s divorce, Rahel’s marriage, Rahel’s divorce, affair and relation between Ammn and Velutha, relation between Rahel and Estha. All these issues can be taken as the violation of social codes. But if we study the novel with a keen eye, we would see that these violations of social codes are inevitable incidents in the lives of these characters. In fact, what is brought under criticism is the meta-narratives which guide their society in which they live in.

Throughout the novel, we see Ammu, Estha, Rahel, and Velutha are not typical characters among all other typed members of Kochamma Family. This is a story of dream, desire to be loved and to love, desire to remain in touch with near and dear ones. The narrative shows how all small beautiful desires of life are just smashed. The novel exclaims why the dreams are not fulfilled, desires are not satisfied and life is either to be worn-out or, inevitably, to enter that corner of life which forms its own senses, own rules contrary to the social codes of the civilized society; and its own explanation of life which will help us to understand the quicksand of the civilized world. Throughout the whole novel, we see almost a ghetto is created and Rahel, Estha, Ammu and Velutha are just thrown inside it mercilessly. Sophie Mol’s death, marked as the point to enter the life of ultimate disaster in the life of Ammu, Estha, Rahel, and Velutha, is mirrored in the mind of Rahel as “Sophie Mol died because she could not breathe.” [4] This utterance shows not only the immature line of thought of a minor child, but also connotative to the meaning of the whole novel. All characters mentioned above are turned into speechless and breathless state of existence.

Rahel returns to Ayemenem not only to see her twin Estha but also to see her loving one, to feel the touch of her loving one, to fulfill the ultimate taste of life. In the writer’s words — “‘Rahel gave up herjob at the gas station and left America gladly’. ‘To return to Ayemenem’. ‘To Estha in the rain’”. [10] The image ‘rain’ signifies one’s sophisticated taste, one’s desire from the inner most part of one’s heart — both mental and physical. And here arises the conflict — conflict with the social code, conflict with the teachings of meta-narratives.

The theme of love is a conspicuous issue of the novel The God of Small Things and also a much discussed and debated issue by the critics. The writer is accused of discussing the points which are conflicting with the social codes like “Love Laws” [16]. And all romantic love in the novel relates closely to politics, history and social circumstances. If the novel is studied carefully, we can find out that ‘Love’ is not a mere emotion but a motivating force that can be explained in terms of two peoples’ (Ammu and Velutha) cultural backgrounds, political identities and other factors which ultimately become the quicksand of all existent meta-narratives.

We see, in Kochamma Family, both the Children — Rahel and Estha — were the objects of negligence. They were bound to feel that they were just the burdens to the family. Several times it is stated that Ammu was being neglected in the Kochamma Family — her parents’ family. The children were neglected and were suffering from inferior complexity at every step. We see, in Sophie Mol’s funeral, Estha, Rahel and Ammu stood separately. Rahel, a child who was upset because of ‘little less’ [52] loved by her mother wanted to sacrifice her dinner in exchange of her mother’s complete love. But, disastrously she encountered the most tragic death of her mother and the refusal of the church for her mother’s burial. All of these instances may be seen as the possible causes of any type of disorder.


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The Inevitable Failure of Meta-narratives in "The God of Small Things"
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Cultural Studies, Postmodernism, Postmodern Indian English Fiction, English Language and Literature Studies, Literature
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Mushfique Mahmood (Author), 2008, The Inevitable Failure of Meta-narratives in "The God of Small Things", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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