The communications system of the twins in Arundhati Roy's "The God of small things": How they apply the English language in a postcolonial Indian setting

Seminar Paper, 2005

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. General Introduction
1.1 Introduction and problem identification
1.2 Approach of this term paper

2. English and other languages in India
2.1 General facts and figures
2.2 Indians in blood, English in taste and intellect
2.3 Enmeshment between religion and language
2.4 English as social indicator

3. Constellation in Roy: The God of Small Things
3.1 Social position and arrangement of the family
3.2 Anglophile Tradition

4. The twins and their communications system
4.1 Rahel and Estha – two egg misfits
4.2 Their way of using English
4.2.1 English as everyday language
4.2.2 English as a means of joking
4.2.3 language as a means of rebellion

5. Conclusion

6. Works Cited

1. General introduction

1.1 Introduction and problem identification

Chacko told the twins that though they hated to admit it, they were all Anglophiles. They were a family of Anglophiles.

(Roy 1997: 52)

In establishing the two-egg twins Rahel and Esthapen (Estha) as main characters in her 1997 masterpiece “The God of Small Things”, Arundhati Roy has set up postcolonial prototypes in the area of conflict between British and Indian identity and culture. The body of the story focuses on the childhood of the twins, playing in the late 1960s; they are born to an upper middle class family in Kerala, South-Western India, and grow up fatherless. Other family members besides the two-egg twins include their mother Ammu, their Uncle Chacko, grandparents Mammachi and Pappachi, their grandaunt Baby Kochamma, their cousin Sophie and her mother Margaret, the divorced wife of Chacko – she is an English native and lives with her daughter in London.

The family to a large extent cultivates a British attitude – mainly due to grandfather Pappachi alias John Ipe, an Entomologist and former government official under the British colonial administration, his sister Baby Kochamma, and his son Chacko, who used to be an Oxford Rhodes Scholar. Until his death in the first part of the book, John Ipe drives a big Plymouth, he wears stiff English suits and it is inconceivable to him that any Englishman could misbehave; Chacko assumes the air of a British intellectual, he almost exclusively speaks English and often indulges in citing from English and American classics. The family has a high reputation in their home town Ayemenem, most members of the family profit from their Anglophile air in one way or other. The rest of the family more or less adapts to their way of life or finds a way to deal with the situation.

The plot of the novel is balanced along cultural and social areas of friction within the Indian society, such as caste, class, religion, culture, clout, customs and traditions. It is one of the main tasks for the characters in the novel to find their place in this complex social structure. Though the twins are educated in English, their situation is particularly difficult and they receive some degree of alienation also from within the family. Of course, the twins mostly do not articulate these sorts of feelings and assessments explicitly; it has to be considered that they are children of the age of seven - but they are given a much more subtle means of communication by the author: language. Not the content of their sentences, but the way they apply the English language in various situations. It conveys a lot about how they assess their position and how they engage themselves in certain situations the novel fronts.

1.2 Approach of this term paper

To give the usage of the English language, as it is done by Rahel and Estha, a meaning, it is necessary to set up a scheme that clarifies the social standing of the twins and their family – some historic facts and postcolonial aspects will be highlighted to promote this in point two and three. This is especially vital to make clear why the twins and their family speak English at all, and not only Malayalam, which is the original vernacular in the Kottayam district of Kerala. The scheme serves as a theoretical fundament and it is also designed to highlight one of the main problems involved in this topic; namely that the concept of “identity” in postcolonial societies is a complex field that needs a careful approach for “westerners” who have not dealt with this topic before.

The theoretical scheme set up in point two will also support the finding that they way how Rahel and Estha use language involves some degree of systematisation. Indeed, often postcolonial statements circulating around “identity” are at play in this system – three functions of this “communications system” will be dealt with in part four. This term paper does not analyze major parts of the novel; it is neither a historical nor a linguistic work. Indeed, it deals with language, but it wants to establish language not in a linguistic sense but as a symbolic arrangement that serves functions in the plot of the book and in the fictional lives of the twins.

2. English and other languages in India

2.1 General facts and figures

“All South-Asian nation are marked by bi- and multilingualism, but there cannot be a more complex multilingual society/ nation than India” (Parasher 2001: 14). Indeed, even a mere overview into the linguistic diversity turns out complex. The VIII Schedule of the Constitution of India lists 95 percent of the Indian population speaking 15 languages in 1982, unto which another 3 languages were added by the Indian government in 1992. A census from the early sixties had provided more than 193 languages belonging to four major language families, Austric, Tibeto-Burman, Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. This incline in recognised languages within twenty years may seem odd, however it has to be taken into consideration, that census data is “subject to change depending on the speakers perception of their languages which depend on their real or imagined notions of language identity” (Parasher 2001: 19). In addition, it can be assumed that sub-dialects and related vernaculars were classified under these 18 languages, probably largely due to regional or local language policies. Official languages of the Nation are Hindi – about 40 percent of the Indian population speak it - and English.

As to English, estimates vary about the number of actual speakers in India. To ascertain a figure would of course require a precise definition of “speakers” – according to the scholars Krishnaswamy and Burde, language usage and capability is diverse; “sounds range from the most “pucca” Oxbridge accent to the bazaar variety” (1998: 12). According to Linguistics Professor S.V. Parasher, by the end of the 1980s about 233 000 Indians declared to be English native speakers (Parasher 2001: 19) – often the term Anglo-Indians is used for these people, who are, “like all Indians, bilingual or often multilingual” (Bayer 1986, cited in Phillipson 1992: 30). The scholars Krishnaswamy and Phillipson provide for the early 1980s a literacy rate for Indian languages of about 32 percent respectively 35 percent, literacy rate in English moved around 6,5 percent respectively two to three percent (Krishnaswamy 1998: 12, Phillipson 1992: 30). The figures are out-dated. The latest 2001 census provided a total literacy rate of about 65 percent, meaning that the percentage of literate Indians within 20 years has doubled. The Kottayam district of Kerala, where “the God of Small Things” takes place, is with about 94 percent the most literate area in whole India.

Based on the English literacy rate from the early 1980s Krishnaswamy cites in his book, a number of about 25 to 30 Million Indians who use English on an adequate level can be ascertained. This figure would outstrip most local Indian languages like for example Malayalam – the vernacular used in Kerala. However, Krishnaswamy and Burde concede the existence of guesstimates stipulating the number of people using English in one way or other higher “than in Britain” (Krishnaswamy/ Burde 1998: 12). If one assumes that English literacy has increased the same way literacy in Indian languages has, a total number of more than 1 00 000000 users of English is more than probable. Despite the “impressive spread of Hindi in many parts of the country since independence” and the “consolidation of the dominant languages in each state”, most scholars ascribe a pan-Indian function to the English language (Phillipson 1992: 29). However, the language is, as it is a major part of the colonial heritage, still caught between the binaries reverence and abhorrence (Krishnaswamy/ Burde 1998: 13).


Excerpt out of 15 pages


The communications system of the twins in Arundhati Roy's "The God of small things": How they apply the English language in a postcolonial Indian setting
University of Potsdam  (Philosophisches Institut)
Proseminar: Poetics, Politics and and Power in Contemporary American and Postcolonial Literature
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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492 KB
Arundhati, English, Indian, Proseminar, Poetics, Politics, Power, Contemporary, American, Postcolonial, Literature
Quote paper
Lars Dittmer (Author), 2005, The communications system of the twins in Arundhati Roy's "The God of small things": How they apply the English language in a postcolonial Indian setting, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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