Pappachi’s moth is introduced at the beginning of the novel. It is the moth that he discovered but he did not get credit for. His moth also marks the beginning of his abusive tendencies towards Mammachi. The moth represents his anger and the fear in others that accompanies his temper tantrums. It is said that Pappachi’s moth haunts the family, “tormented him and his children and his children’s children,” (24). But in a broader sense, the moth symbolizes any uncomfortable feelings in uncontrollable situations.
The moth becomes most prevalent for Rahel. In situations where she feels scared and out of control, Arundhati Roy places descriptive imagery to depict the moth landing, tiptoeing, and envolepoing Rahel’s heart. An example of this is when Ammu tells Rahel that when she hurts people, they love them less. Roy describes, ” A cold moth with unusually dense dorsal tufts landed lightly on Rahel’s heart. Where its icy legs touched her, she got goosebumps. Six goosebumps on her careless heart. A little less her Ammu loved her” (104). This is a scary moment for Rahel. Her mother just told her that her careless words made her love Rahel less. Especially for a child, that is very frightening and unexpected. Rahel doesn’t want her mother to love her less, and feels guilty, and so the moth lands on her heart to remind us of Rahel feeling insecure. The moth motif continues throughout the novel, and comes back at one of the most critical points of the novel as well, specifically when Esta and Rahel lose Sophie Mol to the river. Roy depicts, “On Rahel’s heart Pappachi’s moth snapped open its somber wing” (295). Again, Rahel feels unsure, scared, and as though she might have just killed her cousin. This causes the moth to come back. Another interesting thing about this passage is that it suggests that the moth never truly leaves Rahel, it just opens at certain times. This connects to the idea that Pappachi’s moth will truly haunt his descendants forever, never leaving their hearts. Finally, I would like to point out that the moth also seems to become present at times when Rahel is exposed to darker feelings and emotions. Feeling of abandonment and of fear of murder are not typical feelings small children have. The moth is there to guide Rahel into more adult feelings that contrast her normally childlike manner.