I recently read this paper about feminism within GOST and thought this sentence summed up my thoughts perfectly: “The God of Small Things portrays the truthful picture of the plight of Indian women, their great suffering, cares and anxieties, their humble submission, persecution and undeserved humiliation in male dominating society.” (article here!) As a reader we get to see the unique experiences of being a woman in 20th century India, a time when women had little autonomy and faced the prospect of arranged marriages and were essentially barred from receiving education. We also get this window into severely abusive relationships. Some of the most powerful moments I’ve read so far have been about Ammu’s and Mammachi’s experiences with abusive and controlling husbands.
I specifically like that Roy gives female characters a sense of agency even in a deeply patriarchal society; Ammu chooses who to marry, when to leave the marriage, and reclaims her life, and Mammachi runs a successful company on her own. Even after reading these last few chapters, my favorite passage is still when Ammu’s background is described. To me, this remains one of the most powerful scenes and is laced with a lot of great feminist discourse. In describing Ammu’s wedding, Roy writes:
“Ammu had an elaborate Calcutta wedding. Later, looking back on the day, Ammu realized that the slightly feverish glitter in her bridegroom’s eyes had not been love, or even excitement at the prospect of carnal bliss, but approximately eight large pegs of whiskey. Straight. Neat”.(39)
In class we talked about how these lines are the kind that stay with you for the entirety of the book. This is an especially powerful moment because Roy builds up the excitement of a wedding and young love, and then completely subverts expectations all in two sentences. A page before Roy wrote, “…in the pit of her stomach she carried the cold knowledge that, for her, life had been lived. She had one chance. She made a mistake. She married the wrong man” (38). This entire scene functions to emphasize Ammu’s struggle for independence. In what she thought was an act of independence- running away to marry a man her parents disapproved of- was instead an entry-way into an abusive marriage. Ammu’s realization is even more hard-hitting because of Roy’s syntax. She employs many stand-alone paragraphs and one-word sentences like “Straight” and “Neat”. Her writing style emulates how heavy and tragic Ammu’s past was, making this scene even more powerful.
As I touched on earlier though, what I appreciate with the story is that Roy gives these female characters autonomy. After bearing the brunt of male domination-from her father denying her education, to marrying an abusive husband, to raising kids alone- Ammu reclaims her body. In another powerful paragraph Roy beautifully writes:
“Occasionally, when Ammu listened to songs that she loved on the radio, something stirred inside her. A liquid ache spread under her skin, and she walked out of the world like a witch, to a better, happier place. On days like this there was something restless and untamed about her. As though she had temporarily set aside the morality of motherhood and divoree-hood”(43)
The phrase “liquid ache” combined with words like “witch”, “restless”, and “untamed” evoke this sense of female liberation. Ammu is further described as wearing flowers in her hair and taking midnight swims. She is also described as having this deep, almost insatiable, love for her children and having this sporadic energy that mirrors the women’s liberation movement in the 70s. Moreover, I think all of the female characters in GOST play such a pivotal role in defining the common female experience. Over four generations, we see a lot of similarities with all of these characters, but we also get to see their individual agency and yearn for happiness in a patriarchal society.