The Orientalist Mindset Through “The God of Small Things”

“The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy brings a lot of issues to light, and compelling storytelling on the part of Roy helps emphasize systematic issues in interesting ways. A common theme one can associate with “The God of Small Things” is the orientalism and orientalist mindset present throughout the story, as well as how that affects characters and their perceptions of others. Roy does an excellent job of depicting the negative effects an orientalist mindset can have on a person’s perspective and worldview, as well as how society’s natural perception is not often prone to change. Although the story itself has a compelling plot, the way issues of class, politics, as well as societal issues are immersed into the story make it extremely informative and beneficial to read. Many societal issues are highlighted throughout the story, specifically those regarding the orientalist mindset and how it can be detrimental.

For example, from the beginning of our introduction to Margaret Kochamma and Sophie Mol, it is evident that they feel out of place, and they already have a predisposed idea of what they will be experiencing on their holidays. Although Roy does not shove these misalignments in your face, she does make it a point for readers to notice the difference in perspective, as well as how it is ultimately untrue and even offensive. For example, Ammu remarks sarcastically to Margaret Kochamma after she asks a question about Kochu Marie smelling Sophie’s hands, asking whether or not it is a custom. Although to Margaret it may have seemed like an innocent question, so few words really put into perspective the misinformation that many people have, especially those with previous notions and opinions about things they have not experienced.

Roy’s specific use of words and articulation of these differences shed light on how destructive the orientalist mindset can be, as it creates the expectation of stagnancy, without the anticipation of growth or development. Roy does an excellent job of bringing awareness to these differing perspectives and how although there is a lot of tradition and custom, such is true in any culture, and the division of “The East” and “The West” stems from a lot of misinformation and assumptions.

The Forgotten Daughter

The story of King Lear is an interesting one, and it follows a myriad of characters and their development as they face the challenges of living in a monarchy. One particular character however stood out to me, King Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia. At the beginning of the play, Cordelia is more or less banished from the kingdom, due to her unwillingness to exaggerate when it came to her love for her father. Even at the start, we as readers, or the audience, can see that Cordelia is written to be honest. However, we can also see that she will not be rewarded or even recognized for this honesty, which is where we can see the first glimpses of a possible tragedy in King Lear.

Unfortunately, throughout the play, we do not get to see a lot of Cordelia, as she has been effectively shunned from her family and her life. However, as the play goes on, King Lear learns the gravity of his mistake, in terms of entrusting his eldest two daughters with his kingdom, simply because they were full of kind words, which fueled his ego. The idea of a tragedy in itself is to see these seemingly random and tragic events happen, while also keeping in mind the intentional lesson that is behind many of these events. For example, as Lear is slowly going mad, he begins to reflect on where he went wrong, and he realizes how his treatment of Cordelia should have differed. Needless to say, Lear grew as a person, but back to Cordelia.

Personally, I believe everyone could learn a thing or two from Cordelia simply based on her limited actions throughout the play. We mainly see Cordelia at the beginning of the play and at the end of the play. Although throughout this time Cordelia has gained recognition and power, being the queen of France, she returns with the same humility and grace she initially had. One of the more important lessons that can be taken from King Lear is that of humility, and how wrong things can go when we as humans start relying on our egos and greed to fuel our livelihood. It is important, I think, to take note of Cordelia’s humility, and how much concern she still had for her father and his wellbeing upon her return, despite his treatment of her being so harsh as to banish her completely. Although there was no happy ending, there are many lessons we can take away from King Lear, even more specifically from the individual characters we are introduced to.

Poetry Until Death

A poem is a poem, and every poem is different in the way it flows and impacts the reader. However, every song starts as a poem. “Repeat Until Death” is part of the album “Birthplace” written by Welsh artist Novo Amor. The song itself transports the listener into another world with its dream-like instrumental, but when diving deeper into the lyrics, one can interpret the poetic nature of this song.

Low, a part of me now
A palm to my mouth
I said it, almost

Snow, brother, I’ll bet it all gold
Shudder with blood in my nose
I had it, almost

Don’t go, you’re half of me now
But I’m hardly stood proud
I said it, almost”

Recurring throughout the entirety of the song, at the end of each verse is the word “almost”. Although it may seem like an innocent or unimportant addition, the placing of the word almost works to describe the pain that goes along with raising your hopes only to be disappointed again and again. In a way, this song serves as a self-reflection for the speaker, and the repetition of the word “almost” in the context of this song insinuates regret. As each verse goes on, the speaker describes a time in their past in which they were so close to obtaining what they wanted, and the end result was simply always “almost”. Throughout the song, Novo Amor depicts how you can give yourself to a person to the point where they become half of you, only to take more of you until there is nothing left.

Oh, I’ve been low
But dammit, I bet it don’t show
It was heaven a moment ago
Oh, I had it almost
We had it almost”

Further along in the song, the artist describes the pain of loving someone with a series of highs and lows, with things never working out the way they should. The transitional use of “I”, and then to “We” when describing “almost” further emphasizes the meaning of the song, in terms of the way two people can become one. The use of the word “dammit” preceding “I bet it don’t show” speaks to the frustration the artist feels when it seems as if they try and try but can never seem to be fully satisfied. In addition, the comparison of the artist’s relationship to heaven further adds to the contrast of the negative emotions present throughout the song. This addition serves as a good juxtaposition to emphasize the helplessness felt when something that felt like heaven falls apart.

“Oh, I can’t seem to let myself leave you
But I can’t breathe anymore
Oh, I can’t seem to not need to need you
And I can’t breathe anymore”

Finally, at the end of the song, the speaker gives up and reveals that the damage is not worth the reward. The figurative use of “But I can’t breathe anymore” is very powerful in this context as it speaks to the physical effect that emotional trauma can have on people. At a certain point, the pain is too much, and it feels suffocating, which is put into words in a poetic way throughout the entirety of this song.

Security Blanket

The novel Exit West follows Saeed and Nadia, a young couple living in a country that is becoming more war-torn by the day. They then leave their country through magical doors, eventually ending up in Marin County, California. From the beginning of the story, it was evident that Saeed and Nadia would not have a normal relationship, but the lack of normalcy throughout the story allows for a deeper understanding of what it really means to be in a relationship.

As the story moves forward, Saeed and Nadia’s relationship blossoms, and after a certain amount of time, they are all the other has. Throughout the novel, we as readers are taken on the journey with Saeed and Nadia, and the narrative perspective, as well as the amount of descriptive detail, really puts you into the perspective of Saeed and Nadia. We see their arguments, their good moments, as well as aspects of their relationship that occur individually. Due to the nature of their country as well as their lives at the beginning of the story, the couple became a sense of security for each other, the one consistent thing in an ever-changing world. It is only when Saeed and Nadia individually develop their own rhythm that we see the couple’s dynamic change.

Due to their new jobs and meeting of new people, it is evident that Saeed and Nadia do not explicitly need each other anymore. Still, in a long-term relationship such as theirs, love and care can still be present even when other aspects of the relationship are not. Sometimes things do not work out, but dwelling on the past takes up space in the future. Exit West teaches us about endings in a way, and that oftentimes what we may see as the end may not be so. For example, at the end of the story, Saeed and Nadia reunited after decades, and after time apart we see the love and care is still present, “for they were former lovers, and they had not wounded each other so deeply as to have lost their ability to find a rhythm together”(230).

Life and Death

Throughout the story we are taken on a journey through the perspective of Meursault, although his perspective is often one impartial to the happenings of his own life. Although Meursault does not seem to care one way or the other for most things, throughout the story small pieces of insight are introduced as to why he acts with such impartiality, and does not react “appropriately” in many situations. For example, frequently during the story it is held over Meursault’s head that he did not cry at his mothers funeral. During his trial, when questioned, “The director then looked down at the tips of his shoes and said I hadn’t wanted to see Maman, that I hadn’t cried once”(89). The reoccurring mention of Meursault’s lack of tears for his mother adds another air of mystery to the story, as we know of Meursault’s mundane nature. However, in a way it is still confusing to see his reaction based on the societal imprint, and how society’s standards of how we are “meant to react” to something may not always apply. Continuing through the story the question of why Meursault did not cry was at the back of my head, as again, it is so ingrained that it seems ridiculous almost to react in the way Meursault did. However, nearing the end of the story Meursault begins to open up his perspective and speak more about the meaning of life and death. It is during this time that he again reflects on his mother, something he does often throughout the novel despite his seeming indifference.

Meursault gives us some final insight near the ending of the story, as he is making realizations as he knows he will not be free or alive much longer. Meursault states, “So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again. Nobody, nobody had the right to cry over her”(122).

Although the characters in the story shame Meursault for his reaction to his mother’s death, in a way I find it admirable. In the beginning of the story, with no context, it seems like something is purely wrong with Meursault. However, I believe with this simple line he somehow explained everything. I find it admirable that he has enough consciousness to recognize the meaning of his mother’s life, and to know and acknowledge how she wished or deserved to have her life celebrated.

One Way or The Other

“The Stranger” by Albert Camus features a main character who is seemingly impartial to everything in his life. In the beginning of the story, the main character Meursault, has just lost his mother. However, this is one of the instances where we get our first glimpse into Meursault’s apathetic nature. He has a neither positive nor negative reaction to the death of his mother, but rather thinks of the situation as he does with most others, logically.

For example, the first line of the story is presented as: “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know” (3). Even from the first line Meursault shows no emotion or reaction to the loss of his mother, but instead makes it into a factual statement. Continuing through the story we can continue to see his apathetic view toward many things in his life, including his job and his relationships.

Although the writing is fairly simple the story in itself is perplexing due to the structure of many of the comments made by Meursault. Due to his impartiality, the story is told from a seemingly unbiased viewpoint, even though much of the story revolves around Meursault and his life.

This early in the story it is still mostly a mystery as to why Meursault views the world from this perspective, but he gives some insight when he mentions, “But when I had to give up on my studies I learned very quickly that none of it really mattered” (41). This statement, along with most others throughout the story thus far is not followed with any elaboration, which speaks more to Meursault’s apathetic nature.