The Profitability of Suffering

In Chapter 3 on page 85, there is a passage that intrigues me. The passage begins with a description of Baby Kochamma and Kochu Maria watching a man sing on a show called The Best of Donahue. The audience is shown a video of him singing in a subway where he keeps getting interrupted by the passing trains. Then the video ends and the man is revealed to be on the stage and begins to play. Roy says of the man: “He was ragged as a rock star, but his missing teeth and the unhealthy pallor of his skin spoke eloquently of a life of privation and despair” (85). The moment that the man is able to achieve his dream of singing on the show is no doubt supposed to be a moment that warms the audience’s heart (and it did if their compassionate clapping is any indication), but Roy does not let the book audience take such a rosy view. She says, “It had been his [the man] dream to sing on the Donahue show, he said, not realizing that he had just been robbed of that show too” (85).

This moment made me think, and thinking about it made me uncomfortable. Particularly the line “The studio audience clapped and looked compassionate”(85) annoyed me. How compassionate were they really? Couldn’t they see what Roy had pointed out? That the man had been interrupted yet again, not allowed to have more than a few seconds basking in the glory of his dream before it was snatched away uncompleted? Then I realized that no they couldn’t. They, just like the man, were caught up in how good the moment felt and completely missed it!

They didn’t see the way the man was being treated like an object. He was given the chance to be on The Best of Donahue, not to show his singing talents as shown by the fact they cut him off, but to give them a sob story. To me, that is a gross perversion of his dream. It is something that people should be repulsed by, and yet they weren’t. They participated in the manipulation of a man’s misfortune for entertainment value and kindness points for Phil Donahue.

If I am being honest though I think the reason they bother me is that, in truth,  I can’t always see what Roy pointed out. It’s easy for me to judge them for not seeing how the man’s misfortune was exploited when the narrator kindly tells me that. Ultimately, that passage made me uncomfortable because it made me wonder how many times had I bought into the manipulation and objectification of another person for entertainment value. I don’t know, I guess I’ll just have to try to pay better attention in the future.

2 thoughts on “The Profitability of Suffering

  1. Yes, Katie, Roy is a harsh critic — a tough standard to live up to. Rarely are we on the giving or receiving ends of that mutual recognition that Benjamin says we all need — and there is no better testimony that the trials and tribulations of the characters in God of Small Things. I mean, it’s a novel of missed connection after missing connection. So I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself.

    But I think Roy ends the novel very purposefully, showing us moments of that mutual recognition — which although they are often limited (Rahel and Estha’s intimacy at the end) and temporary (Ammu and Velutha!) — they are real and important. That’s what we need to strive for — and strive for creating the safe spaces to make those more permanent for everyone.


    1. Katie V.

      I like how you describe it as a novel of missed connect. I think that is a large part of the reason it feels so tragic. You keep seeing how it could go better but yet it never does.


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