As I continued reading The God of Small Things, one recurring symbol I noticed was the moth that Pappachi had discovered but not received any credit for. Pappachi’s “greatest setback was not having had the moth he discovered named after him” (23). At this moment, the moth became a symbol of failure, “which tormented Pappachi and his children and his children’s children” (24).
The next time we are introduced to the moth is once Estha and Rahel leave the theater and Rahel makes a snarky comment about Ammu marrying the Orangedrink Lemondrink man. Ammu responds by telling her that hurting people with words will make them love you less.
Once she says this, “A cold moth with unusually dense dorsal tufts landed lightly on Rahel’s heart. Where it’s icy legs touched her, she got goosebumps” (107). Hearing something like this from your own mother at such a young age completely terrified Rahel, and I would’ve been worried about it too. Rahel knew she shouldn’t have said what she did, and immediately after her mother responded she felt like a failure- like she wasn’t loved as much anymore, and that stuck with her for the rest of her life.
Pappachi’s moth returns each time Rahel feels as if she has done something wrong, and the moment she heard Sophie Mol’s silence from the river, “On Rahel’s heart Pappachi’s moth snapped opened its somber wings” (277). Rahel is blaming herself for the death of her cousin and not being able to save her. This cold feeling of failure never leaves Rahel, and she takes it with her for the rest of her life.