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).

Sibling Rivalry

While reading King Lear, I couldn’t help but relate and compare and contrast the the familial relationships I observed and analyzed in the play to those of my own. For instance, although still heavily controversial in the Darley house, I have never actually tried to kill any of my siblings. However, competitiveness and sibling rivalry often result in bitter and unkind actions that can be compared to harshness initiated by the same friction in both Regan and Goneril and Edmund and Edgar’s relationships. For example, although none of us have ever attempted to get another sibling completely disowned by our parents, my little sister’s habit of tattletaling on me for my messy room comes pretty close to Edmund’s deceitful plan to distort his fathers perfect perspective on his son Edgar. Furthermore, the competitiveness I observed between Regan and Goneril led me to reflect on the motive for the majority of the fights between my siblings and I. Whether it was my older brother and I fighting about his special treatment as the “golden child” or the weekly quarrels about who can wear who’s clothes with my sister, they all have the common source of jealousy and/or greed. While reading about Goneril and Regan’s cruelty to each other, this nature of sibling rivalry became more and more apparent until their final downfall at the end. From their ending deaths, I inferred the message that sibling rivalry and harshness is, yes, usually very natural, but also very unnecessary and dangerous.

Dangers of Romance

In her single, “Frankenstein” , Claire Rosinkranz exposes the unrealistic idealizations of romantic partners. Claire highlights the absurdity of this standard through her extended metaphor of “building” a perfect boyfriend and bringing him to life along with imagery, repetition, and metaphorical language.

Claire first explains,

I been searching, don’t think it’s out there
Talks for hours, walks in with flowers
Dirty converse, 6’2 and brown hair
Every little thing that I want

(lines 6-7 Pre-Chorus)

Claire’s description of this boy begins with the imagery of him walking in with flowers to specific details about his appearance, like the exact height of “6’2”. This literal blue-print of her ideal boyfriend justifies her first line of the verse hinting at not being able to find the one for her. After these description, Claire repeats, “Every little things that I want” throughout her verses to admit that this boy fits her wants perfectly. However, when Claire sings,

Guess I gotta build my Frankenstein
Draw the picture, color all the lines
When it’s right, I’ll take a test drive
Every little thing that I want

she employs the word Frankenstein for the first time. Listeners correspondingly understand that this boy was magically created and brought to life, dismantling their picture of a “perfect” lover. Claire compares creating an ideal image of a boy to drawing him and creating a Zombie. This metaphor exposes the human desire to shape a person to be an idealization, or exactly what one wants, instead of loving their flaws and who they truly are. Yes, this boy is initially seen as “perfect”, but he is also not human.

Finally, Claire strengthens her perspective when explaining, “He’s my daydream, never a nightmare”(line 20). While initially this line can be interpreted as a way of describing how perfect he is, this metaphor further hints at the irrationality of this idealization. Similar to the comparison of the made up monster Frankenstein, by comparing him to a “day-dream”, she is implying that this version of him is merely a fantasy.

In essence, without dismissing the idea of having standards, Claire reveals romantic idealization strip people of their humanity and flaws are what makes humans lovable and well…human.

Beauty and Brutality

In his novel, Exit West, Moshin Hamid employs the casual description of violence as well as it’s juxtaposition to love to convey the unconditional possibility of life’s inevitable and drastic changes. Specifically, Hamid accomplishes this theme through Saeed and Nadia’s relationship and the harsh and incessantly changing world that it forcibly exists in.

After Nadia gives Saeed a set of keys, a valuable step forward in their romantic relationship, both of them grin, “But when he was gone she heard the demolition blows of distant artillery, the unmaking of buildings, and large-scale fighting having resumed somewhere, and she was worried for him on his drive home…”(66). The quick shift from the love and happiness in their relationship to the violence surrounding them and the lack of security in his safety reveals the reality of how immediate life can change, especially when shifting from a personal bubble to the dangers of the real world.

Furthermore, when Nadia is considering the possibility of moving in with Saeed, Saeed’s mother’s death is abruptly mentioned in the middle of her sentence, Hamid mentions, “and she might have waited much longer had Saeed’s mother not been killed, a stray heavy-caliber round passing through the windshield of her family’s car and taking with it a quarter of Saeed’s mothers’ head”(74-75). Within the topic of taking another monumental milestone surrounding Saeed and Nadias love and relationship, the death of his mother is not only mentioned passively but brutally described. The unexpected cruelness exposes the abruptness of life events and their unpredictability, shown by the natural introduction of this violent death.

Physical Confinement Frees the Mind

At the beginning of the book, Mersault is solely focused on physical desires and stimulation, without much regard for internal reflection. However, towards the end of the book, Mersault is forced to use his thoughts to stay content, and therefore enters a period of reflection, a process we have seen to be very limited and most of the time nonexistent for Mersault. Specifically, when Mersault is in his jail cell, he comes to a realization that life and time are meaningless. Although readers have made inferences on this attitude Mersault has on life even from the beginning of the book, this seems to be the first time Mersault himself realizes why he doesn’t care and has reflected and fully come to the conclusion that life is meaningless.

“For the first time in a long time I thought about Maman. I felt as if I understood why at the end of her life she had taken a “fiance”, why she had played at beginning again…For the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world, Finding it so much like myself…”(p 122).

Here we see Mersault understand not only his Mom but himself. Given that this is the first time we see Mersault reflect on his mothers death, this understanding shows growth, also seen through his self-reflection that follows.

Emotional breakthrough or instinctual feelings of pain?

In his novel, The Stranger, author Albert Camus develops the characterization of Meursault by implementing a dramatic contrast in the intensity of diction by the end of part one. Readers quickly learn that Meursault is unconcerned with the decisions and events in his life through his indifference to his mothers death, his girl-friends marriage proposal, and the violence exhibited by his neighbor and friend. After Marie asked him if he loves her, he describes his feelings as though “it didn’t mean anything” and that he “didn’t think so” while noting that “She looked sad”(35). The reader understands from this neutral diction that Mersaults emotions are never extreme and Mersault is consistently content and uninfluenced throughout chapters 1-5.

Although this carelessness seems to be permanent, Camus employs a moment of extremity for Meursault at the end of chapter six. For instance, Meursault details his emotions and suffering as “cymbals of the sunlight crashing on [his] forehead”, “The sea carried up a thick fiery breath”, “The scorching blade slashed at [his] eyelashes and stabbed at [his] stinging eyes,” and that it seemed as if “the sky split open from one end to the other to rain down fire”(59). This is the most expression readers receive from Mersault thus far and Camus exposes Meursaults intense emotions through the symbollically detailed expression of his pain and the hell like world around him. Moreover, through the words, “crashing”, “fiery”, “scorching”, and “slashed”, Meursault exemplifies strong emotions. Even if it is just a result of physical pain, the detail in emotion Meursault conveys is a strong development from the surface level thoughts he expressed in the beginning chapters.