Unconditional Love… Or Not

A common reassuring phrase a child will hear growing up is that there is nothing they can do as a person to make their parents love them less. This phrase is usually used after a fight when a parent and child makes up.

In The God of Small Things, Ammu says to Rahel, “D’you know what happens when you hurt people? Ammu said. When you hurt people, they begin to love you less. That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less” (107).

This exchange of words from Ammu to Rahel stood out to me especially because it defeats everything most children hear throughout their whole childhood. In this scene, Ammu’s unconditional love is being taken away from Rahel after her careless and hurtful words.

Ammu says this to Rahel after Rahel disrespectfully and sarcastically recommends that she marry the Orangedrink Lemondrink man. This enrages Ammu and deeply offends her. In consequence, she tells Rahel that she loves her less now.

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Throughout the book, Ammu is represented in many ways. Ammu places a lot of emphasis on how her children behave and wants them to be good. When Rahel shocks her with this disrespectful comment, she is ashamed and wants Rahel to know that she must behave better if she wants to be loved. Ammu acts this way because she wants society to see that a woman on her own can raise good children without a husband.

3 thoughts on “Unconditional Love… Or Not

  1. mayap

    I think this is a very interesting analysis. I also was taken aback a little when I read that, and I think it is interesting to have a different perspective on parenting. Obviously not all parents will be the same, and feelings and actions are unique to each person. Seeing this play out in this way really gives a different perspective on how all families function differently.

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  2. In another comment (https://storypower.criticsandbuilders.com/2020/04/06/a-sensuous-prose/comment-page-1/#comment-812)– about when Ammu allows Estha to be Returned to Baba and therefore separated from Rahel — I called this the “the tragedy of Ammu’s parenting”: “She loves Estha and Rahel so much as children that need her protection that she continually does not recognize them as adults and full human beings, at least in the sense that they are already feeling the effects of the cruel world — and more than protection, they need someone to acknowledge their pain and listen.” And I think it very much applies here.

    Ammu, obviously because she lacked the recognition of herself by others, wasn’t able to create that full mutual recognition with her children, who needed it — and were open to it — sooo much.

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  3. Katie V.

    It made me so sad whenever Ammu said those things. Children need to feel safe in their parent’s love for them. For children, so much of the world is unknown and scary. They need to be able to know that at the very least their parent loves them.

    It is clear from her reaction to the news that they were missing and her reaction to her separation from them that she loved them deeply but I wonder is Rahel and Esta really knew that at the time, if they were able to trust in the fact she loved them, the way they trusted they loved each other.

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