Day 3 on The God of Small Things (Color, Subalternity)

A short summary: in chapters 8 and 9, Sophie Mol and everyone make their way home to the Ayemenem House. Mammachi is waiting there, playing violin. In the moments before everyone arrives, she fades back in memory to the start of the pickle business and we explore her abusive background and feelings toward her son. Workers file out of the pickle factory and Sophie Mol arrives. The adults “put on a play” for their guests until Margaret gets all orientalist and Ammu lashes out. Ammu and Velutha develop unspoken feelings for each other. We flash back to Ammu’s youth. Estha, Rahel, and Sophie Mol visit with Velutha, and Roy continues to lay on the foreshadowing. “Things can changed in a day.”

Not bad for under 30 pages.

A couple of things that stuck out to me from these chapters were some mixed motifs and a few good examples of the subaltern theme.

The first motif to pop up in Chapter Eight is elevation. Nine steps lead the way from the driveway up to the Ayemenem House veranda. Red steps also come up at the Abilash Talkies and the hotel that the family stays at. Color meets motif. The communism associated to the communist party contrasts with the elitism represented the staircases.

These contrasting ideas hint at one of the prevailing themes in The God of Small Things: subalternity. Every notion of power in the novel’s relationships is relative. Social caste is one of the important determinants of elitism. The Ipe family is certainly elevated above Velutha’s family. However, other dynamics are in play in the novel’s web of relationships. While Mammachi is elite to Velutha, she is very much subaltern to her husband. The shifting nature of subalternity vs. power is evident in Ammu’s reflection on the past. “In her growing years, Ammu had watched her father weave his hideous web. He was charming and urbane with visitors, and stopped just short of fawning on them if they happened to be white…But alone with his wife and children he turned into a monstrous, suspicious bully, with a streak of vicious cunning” (171) The senior Ipes are simultaneous elite and subaltern depending on their social company. Within their marriage, power is securely Pappachi’s.

Kochu Maria also exemplifies a subaltern voice struggling to stay up in the hierarchy by putting another down. She works under the family, in the kitchen, but sees her Christianity as an elevating force. When she claims that someday Sophie Mol will be the superior to Maria and Rahel, Rahel explains her plans to move to Africa. “’Africa?’ Kochu Maria sniggered. ‘Africa’s full of ugly black people and mosquitoes’”  (175).

Even Ammu, abused by her father and insulted by Margaret, is elite (and sometimes unjust) to her children. In chapter seven, Rahel finds an old notebook of Estha’s. In it, a not from Little Ammu: “If I am Talking to somebody you may interrupt me only if it is very urgent. When you do, please say ‘Excuse me.’ I will punish you very severely if you disobey these instructions. Please complete your corrections.”  Here’s another example of bullying breeding bullying, and its corollary on the societal scale.  

Without rambling any more, some things to consider going forward in the novel are

  1. Where else do we see colors and what themes are they suggestive of?
  2. Do we think of any characters as exclusively elite or exclusively subaltern?
  3. What information do we currently have about “The Terror” and what do we think it was/will be?

Sorry for the late post. For the class’ enjoyment, one of the songs played by Mammachi: