Imagine…

With our last year at OPRF coming to an unusual end, I’d like to add one last song to our playlist. Imagine by John Lennon, is a musical piece I would argue is poetic and a good listen during these times.

Within the lyrics, John envisions a world without borders, religion, and material possessions. Only with the elimination of these three can there finally be a “real” world peace. The elimination of nationalities, religion, and one’s economic class would create a unified Earth in Lennon’s mind.

Instead of focusing on John’s powerful vision of world peace, I would like you to utilize the difficult but not impossible tool Lennon encourages. Lennon guides the listener to use their imagination to envision a world without social constructs that divide us from one another. I on the other hand, encourage you to use this song to escape the confinements of your couch, bedroom, floor, wherever you are currently sitting during this lovely quarantine.

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

The above stanza is the hook for “Imagine.” It appeals to the sensuous dimension of poetry with Lennon speaking of the sensation of unity with the words “one” and “us.” The use of “one” creates a sensation of a single entity, with the choice of “us” creating a feeling of a single united entity. Lennon furthermore connects with the emotional dimension with the usage of “hope.” By using “hope,” Lennon inspires the listener making an emotional connection. Finally, Lennon continues into the imaginative dimension with the use of “dreamer.” A dreamer uses his/her imagination, and in this context Lennon is a “dreamer.” By labeling himself as a “dreamer” he inspires his listeners and followers to become like him, a dreamer.

Whether you listen to the song with focus specific to Lennon’s vision, or you utilize his lyrics to liberate yourself from quarantine and venture into the depths of possibility, Lennon’s work “Imagine” is a piece of poetry.

History: A Vicious Cycle

In The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy oftentimes repeats certain phrases and words. Some examples include the lines “a viable, die-able age” (pages 5, 310), “The God of Small Things” (250, 274, 312), and “tomorrow” (321) (a word that already implies repetition and routine). Roy does this specifically when writing about major plot points. These include Ammu and Velutha’s relationship being contrasted with Estha and Rahel’s incestuous encounter. The breaking of the Love Laws in these affairs, and the constant occurrences of loss and mortality throughout the novel. 

When these themes are being detailed, Roy describes them using phrases that are often repeated when discussing separate, but similar, events. In doing so, she is able to communicate the idea that they’re not the only thing happening again and again in this novel. Rather, they are used to create a sense of deja vu that effectively expresses one idea. Where these phrases pop up, again and again, something else is repeating too: the breaking of the Love Laws, the re-enacting of history, and the human inclination toward carnal gratification. We are constantly making the same mistakes, breaking the same rules, and dying in the same ways as our ancestors. 

History, Roy argues, is shaped like a circle. Mankind gladly enforces it through acts of defiance and rebellion that echo those or the past. By using certain words and symbols over and over again, she signals to the reader when she’s detailing an event that has happened, in some way or shape, before when someone is repeating history when it is more evident than ever that repetition lies in the nature of humanity.

Trauma in God of Small Things

Throughout the novel, God of Small Things explicitly says that Sophie Mol’s death is the catalyst for the destruction and subsequent dissemination of Rahel and Estha’s family. However, it is possible that the subtext of the novel suggests an underlying cause of this dissemination: trauma. Each and every character experiences unspoken trauma in their own way, manifesting itself into brittle family ties, the breaking point being Sophie Mol’s death. Although her death ultimately did lead to its dissemination, trauma was the underlying cause of the state of the family after Sophie Mol’s death, exhibited by how all of Rahel, Estha, and Ammu’s actions leading to Sophie Mol’s are predicated by each of their individual traumas.

Early on in the novel, Arundhati Roy explains that Ammu moves in with Mammachi and Pappachi because her alcoholic husband was abusive. At first, Pappachi has a hard time believing this because he was a wealthy Christian Englishman. Additionally, she was physically emotionally abused by her father who was also a wealthy businessman. Ammu began resenting her children because, “…their wide-eyed vulnerability and their willingness to love people who didn’t really love them exasperated her and sometimes made her want to hurt them…,”(42).  Her trauma from her past relationships is part of why she acts in the way that she does. She begins resenting wealthy Englishmen, which may have been part of why she fell in love with and had an affair with Velutha, who was a dark-skinned, lower class and Marxist man. This is significant because this leads to Mammachi and Baby Kochamma locking her in her room so that she would not see Velutha any longer, which leads to her lashing out at her children, saying that she did not love them and blames them for her situation. Her anger at this moment at them clearly is rooted in her resentment toward her children due to their naivety and connection to her ex-husband, despite them clearly having little to do with Mammachi and Baby Kochamma’s actions. This leads to them running away and rowing a boat down the river, the boat tipping over, and Sophie Mol eventually drowning. Sophie Mol becomes a symbol of how when trauma is unspoken, it can cause great distress to a person’s relationships. So much so in this case that it leads to Sophie Mol dying and Estha and Rahel having to move away, and their family to be destroyed as Ammu goes to “fend for herself”.

This is also exhibited by Estha’s trauma within the story. When Estha is at the movie theater to see The Sound of Music, he is sexually assaulted by the “Orangedrink Lemondrink Man.” Estha is traumatized by this and becomes afraid of the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man because he knows where he lives. This becomes a significant part of his decision to run away, besides Ammu telling him to go because he realizes that, “(1) Anything can happen to anyone. and (2) It’s best to be prepared,” (186). He realized the best preparation to protect himself from Orangedrink Lemondrink Man is to leave the place where Orangedrink Lemondrink knows he lives. It is his and Rahel’s combined efforts of running away, and heading to the History house. Sophie Mol tags along, and ends up drowning, causing her death. This decision making caused by Estha’s effort to avoid trauma, because of his past trauma.

Rahel’s trauma is somewhat smaller but still important to the accumulation of trauma that led to Sophie Mol’s death and the subsequent dissemination of her family. After seeing The Sound of Music Rahel makes a snide comment about how Ammu should marry the Orangedrink Lemondrink man, unaware of his encounter with Estha. To this, Ammu responds, “‘When you hurt people, they begin to love you less…’,” (107). This is traumatic to Rahel because it makes her believe that Ammu does not love her. She continues to think this when Sophie Mol arrives and is adored by everyone in her family. This thought process is the precursor to her, Estha and Sophie Mol’s decision to leave because of both her ideas that Ammu didn’t love her, and Estha’s ideas that lead them to leave and try to get to History House by boat.

The accumulation of trauma here is clearly the catalyst for the dissemination of Rahel and Estha’s family rather than merely Sophie Mol’s death.

 

Sex, Violence, and Their Disturbing Similarities

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.

Was Chacko Actually in Love?

One of the main themes in The God of Small Things is society and class. Margaret Kochamma plays a big role in this since she is English and that makes her of high social class. Chacko met Margaret Kochamma during his time at Oxford and during a flashback the narrator states, “He had no pressing reasons to stay in touch with his parents. The Rhodes Scholarship was generous. He needed no money. He was deeply in love with his love for Margaret Kochamma and had no room in his heart for anyone else”(234). The text says that Chacko was deeply in love with his love for Margaret Kochamma so does this mean the he did not actually love her?

I think that this text shows how caught up in class Chacko became with Margaret Kochamma which forced him to fall in love with her. He fell in love with her because she was a white British woman and that is what society told him to value. While he may have loved her I think that it is more likely that he fell in love with her status and the status that he would receive if he married her. The Kochamma family is largely composed of Anglophiles which is why Sophie Mol’s arrival is so important. They are treated like royalty and the whole family goes out of their way so that they will think highly of them.

I do not think that Chacko truly loved Margaret and think that he was in love with her status. If Chacko truly loved Margaret he probably would have tried harder to keep their marriage alive instead of spiraling and giving up. If Chacko loved her then Margaret probably would have loved him back and would not have fallen in love with Joe. Chacko was in love, but he was in love with status instead of Margaret.

Baby Kochamma’s role in The God of Small Things

Baby Kochamma is an essential character to understanding the impact of social status and class on the characters in the novel, The God of Small Things. Baby Kochamma has always strived to belong in the highest social class possible. Her image is extremely important to her which is why she needed to have Velutha taken out of her life when she found out about Ammu’s affair with him. Her pure Syrian Christian niece was not allowed to have an affair with an untouchable because it would hurt the family’s reputation and look negatively upon her.

Baby Kochamma is similar to a lot of older people in America today. She is unwilling to change with the times even though the caste system was abolished about 15 years beforehand. However unlike in our world today some Americans believe that they are superior to other races but the civil rights act was passed 60 years ago. Just like Baby Kochamma’s treatment towards Velutha they try to put themselves above others and continue to oppress humans because of the color of their skin which puts them in a lower class. The book teaches the importance of social classes and even when abolished the prejudices held against people that were once considered lower class.

Baby Kochamma believes that she is superior to everyone else because of her superiority complex that being a Syrian Christian gives her. Roy portrays her as a negative and unlikeable character since she possesses old fashioned ideology that needs to be abolished.

Gen Z and Orientalism

One of the biggest things that separates Gen Z from the generations before it is that we have all grown up in a post-9/11 world. Those of us in the class of 2020 weren’t even alive before it. So how does that shape our view of the Eastern world?

Orientalism has been present in the United States for a very long time, but many people credit the attacks on the World Trade Center with heightening it. After the attacks, the media created a narrative where the Middle East was synonymous with terrorism, and that has continued through
Gen Z’s entire lifetime. For some in this generation, the only images they’ve seen of the Eastern world are ones of terror cells and desolation. And now we’ve all lived through President Trump’s attempts at a “Muslim ban,” which absolutely stoked the xenophobic fire.

Despite all of this, I believe that Gen Z has the capability to change the American rhetoric around the Eastern world. Although we all don’t remember a time before 9/11 and the stereotypes and racism that followed, we are able to recognize over-generalizations and call people out when they are misinformed. We are continuing to challenge the norms in the media and entertainment industries around telling Eastern stories. Perhaps we, as a generation, will be able to break down the idea of “otherness” that comes with Orientalism and appreciate each other’s cultures without fear.