Right from the beginning Arundhati Roy bombards the reader with colorful and dazzling descriptions that lay out the story. Through the narration, Roy painstakingly describes each and every detail of the environment and also what the characters think (at times to the point of annoyance). At first glance this can been seen as verbose throat-clearing ,but after shaking my head at reading about the quiet in Estha’s head being like “shade and light” and “light and shade” (and also the weird pages talking about balls) I realized that Roy was using these extremely meticulous descriptions in order to draw out phenomenons that reflects the characters themselves.
Estha and Rahel and are fraternal twins that have a unique connection. At a young age they both shared experiences that they individually and separately had.
In those early amorphous years when memory had only just begun, when life was full
of Beginnings and no Ends, and Everything was Forever, Esthappen and Rahel thought
of themselves together as Me, and separately, individually, as We or Us. As though they
were a rare breed of Siamese twins, physically separate, but with joint identities. (2)
It’s clear that Roy wants the reader to look at Estha and Rahel and immediately distinguish that their relationship is peculiar (and a bit west-virginian like by the end of chapter 3, just kidding). I also strongly believe that after the two spent quite some time apart, Roy wanted to show that neither one of them are quite “whole” people. Whole people in the sense that because they are apart they have lost half of themselves. That Rahel’s marriage with Larry was a sham and even though he wanted to love her, he wouldn’t be able to fill the void that her twin Estha had created when he was forced to move out and live with Baba.
What Larry McCaslin saw in Rahel’s eyes was not despair at all, but a sort of enforced
optimism. And a hollow where Estha’s words had been. He couldn’t be expected to
understand that. That the emptiness in one twin was only a version of the quietness in
the other. That the two things fitted together. Like stacked spoons. Like familiar lovers’
The story then continues on with describing various background of characters such as Baby Kochamma and her interest with the Irish monk, Father Mulligan and also with Ammu and Velathu. All of these stories are supposed to be viewed in relation to the twins. There isn’t enough space or time to discuss each of these stories individually (while doing it justice). I believe that Roy is giving the reader lenses to view the twins through. For instance, after Rahel and Estha come home Baby Kochamma is worried that they’ll take the house from her and she is extremely wary of Rahel.
Another thing that I wanted to analyze was Sophie Mol. These first three chapters circulate around Sophie Mol and her death. One of the most disturbing scenes in this book is in the beginning where Rahel thinks that Sophie is showing her two things during the funeral. The first thing was that Sophie showed Rahel the painted ceiling in the church. Rahel must have thought because Sophie’s dead body was facing the ceiling that she was “showing” her it. She then describes thing two which was the small bat that clung up Baby Kochamma’s funeral san.
This scene is especially disturbing because it shows Rahel’s disconnect from reality which could or could not attribute to her young age however, I believe it isn’t. She then goes on to describe them lowering Sophie into her grave and how she could hear her scream and that the funeral itself killed Sophie since she could not breathe. Rahel’s thought pattern is disturbing and it is evident that the death and funeral of Sophie weighed heavily on her and everyone in the family.
The Loss of Sophie Mol stepped softly around the Ayemenem House like a quiet thing
in socks. It hid in books and food. In Mammachi’s violin case. In the scabs of the sores
on Chacko’s shins that he constantly worried. (17)
Over the years, as the memory of Sophie Mol (the
seeker of small wisdoms: Where do old birds go to die? Why don’t dead ones fall like
stones from the sky? The harbinger of harsh reality: You’re both whole wogs and I’m a
half one. The guru of gore: I’ve seen a man in an accident with his eyeball twinging on
the end of a nerve, like a yo-yo) slowly faded, the Loss of Sophie Mol grew robust and
alive. It was always there. Like a fruit in season. Every season. As permanent as a
government job. It ushered Rahel through childhood (from school to school to school)
into womanhood. (17)
The second quote in particular briefly brushes upon an tense discussion on race. Wog is slang for dark-skinned and Sophie distinguishes that she is only half-wog compared to the twins being all wog. Being that we are in Roy’s culture of looking at the small things, I believe that this quote is telling of the emotional damage that Sophie has rifted in their identities, which already are erratic.
The way Roy has written this novel forces the reader to look at each and every detail painstakingly. She has already pointed towards the title of the book several times and has created this erratic timeline by showing and withholding certain perspectives in order to construct the characters in an abstract layers instead of them being flat and predictable.
- What effect does Roy make when she points out the details of small peculiar things?
- What is Sophie’s importance in relation to the twins?