Arundhati Roy’s novel, The God of Small Things, while heralded as a part of the modern literary canon, has often been criticized for its sexual themes and plot points. On pages 97-100, Estha is sexually abused by an adult man. Pages 316-321 depict the sexual relationship between Ammu and Velutha side-by-side with Estha and Rahel’s sexual encounter, which has been called disturbing by some. What these critics fail to realize, though, is why Arundhati Roy includes so much sexual content. The Answer? To deliver a message.
Nearly all the conflict in the novel – from Ammu sleeping with an Untouchable to so many of the story’s women being physically abused. From Baby Kochamma’s desire for Father Mulligan – to even Estha being molested, is all caused by people succumbing to the body’s inclinations toward sex, violence, and physical indulgences. The body, Roy claims, governs the mind, and consequently, it writes the ever-repeating story of History itself.
A person’s body is their most powerful force of communication. It can make love, it can hurt others, it can drown and leave a family devastated. It is a catalyst for so many happenings in one’s life, plagued by desire and rage and it’s constant teetering between life and death. Roy’s explicitly sexual content, along with her emphasis on physical description (the depiction of Comrade Pillai’s body on pages 257-258 as disgusting and ugly directly mirrors his character), show the reader that the body and its needs comprise much of what drives the novel’s plot – what drives history itself, and the story of mankind. Hence, these sex scenes are justifiable: they are instances of a greater theme manifesting, of something bigger than sex taking place. They are moments in which lives and families are torn apart, all at the hands of the human body and its power.