Margaret Kochamma’s Display of Orientalism

Throughout “God of Small Things,” the reader is able to see how India is viewed from the Western world from tourists that are encountered throughout the novel, but specifically through the eyes of Margaret Kochamma. One of the first instances of the view of India from a tourists perspective is when the family goes to the airport to pick up Margaret Kochamma and Sophie Mol. Other Western families are also arriving and being greeted by their Indian relatives. Roy describes their encounters, “With love and a lick of shame that their families who had come to meet them were so… gawkish. Look at the way they dressed!” (134). The way the Western relatives disapprove of their Indian family is a display of orientalism. Westerns like to believe that what they do– the way they act, dress, talk– is the only “normal” way. Later in this passage, the Indian families are referred to as dirty. The way that the Westerners are treating the people in India is mainly based of Orientalism, and growing up believing that Indians are not well dressed, shameful, and dirty.

Margaret Kochamma’s role and her Orientalist view adds even more to the novel, and is arguably very important to the novel as a whole. When Margaret Kochamma told her coworkers she was going to India “The Heart of Darkness,” as the book describes it, they tell her that “Anything can happen to anyone” and “It’s best to be prepared” (252). Without saying it, her coworkers are implying what many Westerners think, that India is an unsafe country, especially for white people. Margaret Kochamma has reservations about bringing her daughter there for this exact reason. But, her worst fears are realized and her daughter dies in India. The fact that the whole book basically revolves around this event, one so deeply rooted in orientalism shows how important Orientalism is to this book. What is even more interesting to me is that the outside or Western view of India as unsafe is partially supported, with Sophie Mol dying. But it also refutes Orientalism because her death does not happen in the way most Westerners probably would’ve expected (something like a scary man kidnapping you off the street). Instead it is her own family, two young kids, who accidentally kill her.

2 thoughts on “Margaret Kochamma’s Display of Orientalism

  1. Lizzy L

    Monty, I really appreciated this post and how you connected orientalism to Margaret Kochamma and to novel’s main conflict- the death of Sophie Mol. When we started learning about orientalism I simply connected it to the fact that we Americans were straying from our preconceived notions of what life in India is like by reading about people in Kerala that was not simplified for American readers.

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  2. Monty, you have such a great point about how Sophie Mol’s death would seemingly affirm the Orientalist perspective of Margaret and others — the idea that India is indeed a backward country. And this is a point that is really necessary to remember as we start discussing how the coronavirus is affecting and will continue to effect developing country. The point isn’t that India is as advanced as England in 1969. The point is that India is full of human beings, with the complexity and subjectivity that defies the very idea of stereotypes. So it’s not that Worse Things happen in India; it’s how the Western world interprets them.

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