Orientalism in The God of Small Things

While reading the theory of orientalism, I reflected on how casually and habitually orientalism shows up in television, works of literature, and every day discussion in Western countries. This theme is repeatedly incorporated throughout The God of Small Things,, specifically through its emphasis of “the other” and the power dynamic that this perspective enforces.

Exaggerated contrasts of culture are highlighted with the initial greetings of Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma. For instance, Margaret Kochamma exclaims, “How marvelous!…It’s a sort of sniffing! Do the Men and Women do it to each other too?” which is returned by Ammu, ” Oh, all the time!…That’s how we make babies.” Chacko then requests that Ammu apologizes to which she responds with, “Must we behave like some damn godforsaken tribe that’s just been discovered?”(171). Ammu’s sarcasm and frustration with Margaret Kochamma justifiably stems from the condescension of not only her inquiries, but the suggestion of other cultures being exotic or strange by Westerners as a whole. Moreover, this exaggeration of differences establishes the power of Westerners, as cultures of the East are further pushed into the label of being outsiders or labeled as “the other”.

Furthermore, the idealization of Sophie Mol further emphasizes the presence of this perspective on a global scale. For example, “‘She has her mother’s color,’ Kochu Maria said. ‘Papppachi’s nose’, Mammachi insisted, ‘I don’t know about that, but she’s very beautiful,’…Sundari kitty. She’s a little angel’. Kochu’s Maria’s insistence of Sophie Mol’s possession of solely her mothers physical characteristics and continued use of the word “beautiful” to describe her continues to reinforce the idea of orientalism, especially considering Estha and Rahel’s consequent perspective of what “beauty” is. Roy notes, “Littleangels were beach-colored and wore bell bottom. Little demons were mudbrown in Air-port Fairy Frocks…”(170).

5 thoughts on “Orientalism in The God of Small Things

  1. Cory Y

    What makes The God of Small Things particularly interesting with regards to Orientalism is that it shows the myths and stereotypes that are perpetuated systematically, but it also always takes the perspective of the “Other” in order to show the inherent fallacies present in those falsehoods. I think that’s part of what makes the book effective in dismantling those myths.

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  2. ELIZABETH L

    This was a very insightful analysis and I agree with a lot of your points. It was interesting how you talked about the idealization of Sophie Mol, because I think it’s a very important part of the story that needs to be addressed.

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  3. MADDOX N

    I agree and think that it’s interesting to think about whether The God of Small Things as a perspective of the orient increases or decreases people’s prejudices towards the east. While I feel that the novel defies many orientalist stereotypes, it also shows a cruel side to India.

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  4. GRACE F

    I think this was an interesting scene to bring up because it’s representative of the two worlds finally meeting after so much climbing action previously. We kept reading about Sophie Mol and when I finally got to this scene, it was awkward! There was tension and it could widely be attributed to the cultural divide between East and West.

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  5. ALANI ESPINOSA

    I definitely thought this was a great analysis of how Sophie Mol becomes a vehicle for Orientalism in the novel. I also thought that it’s interesting how even many of the Indian characters in the novel also uphold this idea that the West is somehow more civilized or a place to look up to. The play that they put on when Sophie Mol arrives is all about portraying themselves as more “proper” or put together. They’re all so concerned about appeasing her. I think it recognizes a bigger discussion on how Orientalism and Orientalist media doesn’t just affect western perspectives but the opinions that eastern people may have of themselves, their culture, and their countries.

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