Repetition in “The God of Small Things”

Over the course of reading The God of Small Things (italics were not available in the title, sorry), I noticed that certain phrases kept recurring over and over again, word for word. Some examples of this trend: “Thirty-one. Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age,” “the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much,” “The God of Loss. The God of Small Things,” “Anything can Happen to Anyone.” These are only a few, but you get the picture.

I was curious why these peculiar phrases kept recurring in this manner. It’s almost like the book’s thoughts are being regurgitated back at the reader, instantly recognizable and in reference to the same phrase countless other places in the book. I don’t have a lot of hard evidence for my theory, but I think that’s it — the repeated phrases serve as anchors, or way-points. They are there to guide the reader back to other places in the novel, to remind them of other specific passages and moments.

However, the phrases aren’t alluding to other events in the book so much as they are alluding to the same events, simply retold from a different frame of reference or perspective, which ties into the unique storytelling method Roy sets up in the novel. The God of Small Things has an extremely non-linear approach to its plot; the first chapter is the end of the plot, while the last chapter takes place somewhere nebulously in the middle. The plot jumps around between events future and past, sharing different characters’ roles in the tragedy that unfolded.

The repeated phrases in The God of Small Things give the plot connection and cohesion. They link disparate elements page-count-wise, such as the first chapter and the time we learn about Ammu and Velutha’s relationship proper, or the trauma Estha faces when he is sexually assaulted and the resulting fear that leads him to try to run away with Rahel and Sophie Mol later. These phrases provide order to a fractured story. They create a through-line where none otherwise exists. The God of Small Things is not a normal story. It’s a traumatic set of memories, linked only by the themes and words dispersed among them.

4 thoughts on “Repetition in “The God of Small Things”

  1. Jane V

    This book wasn’t like anything I read before, and the repeated phrases were key to keeping the reader on track. It felt like in every tangent story Roy told, it was always linked back in by one of these phrases before I got really confused.

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  2. Yeah, great point, Finn. I think for some people the repetition is overwhelming — or a little heavy-handed. It’s more than just a few phrases. By the time you get to the last 1/3 of the book, it feels like almost every line was written before (and every time I read the book, I make another repetition connection).

    The idea that these phrases are not reminders of many moments, but different perspectives on the same traumatic moment, really gets at the way the novel makes you feel the inescapability of the trauma.

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  3. Alexis S

    I would agree, there is a lot of repetition in this book. I have never seen anything like it. It gives the reader this deja-vu feeling which is pretty neat. It brings back the reader’s mind to trauma events, like it does with the main characters which is a cool way to be able to empathize with them.

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  4. Zack T

    I agree . The repetition and extension of metaphors in the book did not just make it cohesive but also extremely poetic. The way that certain ideas were repeated and then intertwined with other repeated ideas made the book really come alive. It gave me more to think about when I saw new ones together, and added familiarity.

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