Marriage Under the Patriarchy

In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, women have difficulty escaping the confines of the patriarchal society in which they live. No matter what caste the women are born into, all of the women in the novel face struggles and suppression. Specifically, one of the biggest struggles women face in the novel is the societal pressure to get married and the issues that come along with these marriages. 

For example, Ammu was at a disadvantage when trying to find a husband: “Since her father did not have enough money to raise a suitable dowry, no proposal’s came Ammu’s way” (38). In the patriarchal society that is India’s caste system, a marriage is arranged by the father of the bride. It is the father’s responsibility to produce a dowry to entice a man to marry his daughter. 

After failing to find a suitor, Ammu married a man against her father’s wishes, and it turned out poorly for Ammu: “She was twenty seven that year and in the pit of her stomach she carried the cold knowledge that, for her, life had been lived. She had had one chance. She made a mistake. She married the wrong man” (38). I think that this reflects the absolute dependence on men that women in the caste system have. Roy’s diction shows no hope for Ammu’s future, and that is solely because she married the wrong man.

Additionally, Rahel also faces the consequences of living in a patriarchal society: “Rahel grew up without a brief. Without anybody to arrange a marriage for her. Without anybody to pay her dowry and therefore without an obligatory husband looming on her horizon” (18). With the way Roy shows marriage as being necessary for a woman in the novel, the societal pressure of marriage looms over Rahel and marriage seems impossible for her at this moment without a father to arrange it. This conveys how women have absolute dependence on their fathers to find them a husband and secure the future that they are expected to have. 

Instead, Rahel decides that she wants to live her own life and break free from these societal expectations: “So as long as she wasn’t noisy about it, she remained free to make her own enquiries: into breasts and how much they hurt. Into false-hair buns and how well they burned. Into life and how it ought to be lived” (18). This quote truly conveys Rahel resisting what is normally expected for a woman and her desire to be in control of her destiny. 

I think that in the novel, marriage overall has a negative impact on the characters and their struggles with the pressures of marriage are very evident. The societal pressures of marriage, such as the absolute dependence on men that the women have to have, the belief that having a successful marriage makes or breaks your future, and society dictating who you can and cannot marry, is absolutely confining and it’s no wonder why marriage is depicted so poorly in the novel.

2 thoughts on “Marriage Under the Patriarchy

  1. JULIA Y

    Totally agree! I did my first blog post on this a bit ago and touched on a similar idea. I think this book does a great job with showing how different women of different generations feel the effects of the patriachy. I think with Ammu though, we actually get to see this really interesting side of female liberation. She chooses to marry who she wants (although not sure how much of a choice it really was) and when her marriage ends, she is changed. She listens to music and wears flowers in her hair. To me, it really emmulated second wave feminism. I think Roy also writes in insane nuance of abusive relationships which was interesting.

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  2. Agreed. You have a nice breakdown of the way the novel sees marriage as an oppression force — one of the “Love Laws” that act as barriers to healthy relationships rather than a catalyst for them.

    Having said that, the novel does not demonize relationships; it just values the ones based on love and mutual recognition, rather than the “Love Laws.”

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