Transcending Trauma

I found that the structure of The God of Small Things was somewhat similar to the structure of Beloved and was therefore successful in conveying a similar message. Both novels arbitrarily shift from past to present, similar to how past trauma from Ayemenem and repressed memories from Sweet Home emerge throughout the novels. Although trauma lingers in both novels, the characters are able to find ways of battling through and lessening the pain of their trauma. Sethe’s relationship with Paul D allows her to persevere through her trauma by keeping it in her memories but detatching herself from the painful aspects. 

Similar to Sethe and Paul D, Estha and Rahel are drawn to each other not only because they are twins but because of their shared trauma. Before Rahel and Estha reconnect, she marries Larry McCaslin, an American, but gets divorced because her “Emptiness” overwhelms her. In describing Rahel’s marriage, Roy writes:

He didn’t know that in some places, like the country that Rahel came from, various kinds of despair competed for primacy. And that personal despair could never be desperate enough. That something happened when personal turmoil dropped by at the wayside shrine of the vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation. That Big God howled like a hot wind, and demanded obeisance. Then Small God (cozy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own temerity

Estha is the one for Rahel because unlike Larry, he lived through the same traumatic experiences as Rahel and is able to understand her in a way that Larry cannot. Both novels communicate the idea that victims of shared trauma can transcend their experiences by using relationships with other victims to create a community of healers.

2 thoughts on “Transcending Trauma

  1. Karim A.

    I also saw this connection between the two novels, and I found it interesting how each book was a different experience but ultimately got at the same theme.


  2. Thanks, Lizzy, for making this connection. As I’ve mentioned in a few other comments, I’m sure Roy had read Beloved — by the early 1990s it was already being held up as one of the greatest novels ever written — and I see Morrison’s influence on her, in terms of her play with time and point of view, but also — as you eloquently argue — it the preoccupation with memory and trauma.

    And you make a great point about Larry McCaslin. In one of my first Messages of the Day, I argued that his inability to recognize Rahel’s trauma — and the trauma of people in general who don’t live with privilege — was a message to us — the American audience for the novel. We are asked to recognize the trauma of Rahel and Estha in a way that he did not — even though he loved her, in his own way.


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