CULTURAL VALUES IN ARUNDHATI ROY’S
THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS
By Nor Laili Fatmawati Fs.
Reading novel can be a study on certain society in certain time and place. It is because a novel is not born from inanition, it has some phenomena, worldviews and reasons that become the background of its present. This idea is the main supporter of studying the extrinsic elements of the novel. And one of the ways for doing it, is by applying the sociological approach in analyzing the novel.
Arundhaty Roy’s The God of Small Things is the novel that captures many social values of Indian society. This novel that is set in Kerala (India) after the colonial era describes clearly the culture of Indian society and how it influences many aspects of the society life, including the family life, the neighborhood relationship, political condition and so on. At least, there are three cultural values can be reached after reading this novel, they are about the caste, gender, and cultural transformation in post-colonial era.
The analysis in this paper is extrinsic study of Arundhaty Roy’s The God of Small Things. So, the discussion will be sourced from both novel and some literatures outside the novel. The discussion hopefully can serve the cultural values of India at the time of post-colonial India so that we can examine the influence of the caste system in postcolonial India and investigate the cultural conflicts or differences caused by this system, to re-think Roy’s appreciation of the imperial language, and also to explore how the dominated/colonized culture uses the tools of the dominant/colonizer to resist cultural hegemony.
- Caste in India
Sometimes, people assume that caste is similar to the class. But, according to Dirks (1997 in__________), they are actually different. Class related to the social economic of the people, while caste is the sign ofIndia’s fundamental religiosity, a marker ofIndia’s essential difference from the West and from modernity at large. Caste is one of the traditions that distinguishesIndiafrom other nations, just like racism inAmericaand apartheid inSouth Africa. The caste ofIndiaincludes four varnas, they are Brahmins for the priests, Kshatryas for the warriors, Vaishyas for the traders, and Shudras for the laborers. Outside the caste system are the Untouchables. They are considered polluted and not to be touched.
Because the mobility of the society in the caste system is hard, most people remain in the same caste for their whole life. They interact mostly with only the people in the same caste and they are only allowed to marry the people in the same caste too. Especially the untouchables who are regarded as the people with no caste, they live regardless as their names, untouchable. The character Velutha in the novel is then an exception of caste norms since he works in the factory owned by the Touchable and he can talk with people higher than his rank.
However, the division between the Touchables and the Untouchables is deeply rooted
in Kerala so that Velutha is regarded as a nonhuman asRoywrote in her novel:
“If they hurt Velutha more than they intended to, it was only because any kinship, any connection between themselves and him, any implication that if nothing else, at least biologically he was a fellow creature–had been severed long ago (Roy: 293).
In fact, many untouchable people have the equal “quality” compared to touchable once. Many of them are talented and brilliant. They can do some works as good as the touchable do. But because the identity of “untouchable” labeled them, they can develop or actualize their selves. Take Velutha’s case for example. Despite his untouchability and poor background, Velthutha is a great help to Ammu’s family. Among Valuta’s contribution to Ammu’s family are, he is the best operator of machine in their factory beside he also has great carpentry skills. But, like Mammachi said, if Velutha hasn’t been a Paravan, he might have become an engineer. Unlike the scholarly Oxford-training Chacko, it is Velutha who maintains the new canning machine and the automatic pineapple slicer. It is also Velutha who oils the water pump and the small diesel generator, and so on. So, we can see here that the whole family of Mammachi depends more and more on Velutha. But, Valutha’s identity as the untouchable has made Mamachi’s family can not appreciate him properly.
The caste system has also made the love between Ammu and Valutha cannot be acceptable. However they love each other, Ammu as the touchable never be allowed to have any ‘special relationship’ with Velutha as the untouchable. So that, when they cannot avoid their selves to have sexual relationship as the realization of their love, it is considered as a transgression. The transgression between Velutha and Ammu poses challenges to the traditional norms and social hierarchy ofIndia.
The position of man and woman in society is influenced very much by the culture. In Arundhaty Roy’s The God of Small Things, there are three generations of women who each of them was born and raised under different circumstances. Starting from the oldest generation, there are Mamachi, then the generation of Ammu, and the youngest generation is Rahel. These women live in Hinduism rules that were influenced by the post-colonial effects.
Susan Wadley and Doranne Jacobson (1995 in _______________) conclude that according to Hinduism teaching, there are dual view on women, they are first, woman is benevolent and bestower, second, woman is aggressive, malevolent and destroyer. From this view, woman holds two personalities, they are woman as energy/ power and woman as nature. The woman as energy is called sakti. It means that woman has energy to create life because there will be no life without the present of woman existence. While the woman as nature is called praktri. It is the metaphor of woman who is seen as a field of earth in which a man puts his seed. And the union of the field and the seed is the beginning of life. So, woman as the nature makes the woman as the counterpart of the male (perusa). For bringing this nature, woman tends to be wild and uncultured. That is why woman can be aggressive, malevolent and destroyer.
From these two personalities, Hindu has made the rule for woman as how to behave properly, it is called Dharmasastras. This rule is written in form of Hindu mythology and folklore. One of the teachings says that the ideal Hindu woman is the one who allows her husband to control her and her power. It makes women’s status seems to be lower then men. Men dominate the activities outside the home, while women are in charge of the happenings inside the home.
Mamachi’s family, although their religion is Christian Syria, since they live inIndia, they can avoid their life from being influenced by Hinduism. Mamachi lives under the control of men. She got married in puberty age with seventeen –year-old man who has nearly controlled every step of hers. In the beginning years of their marriage, when Mamachi had been a promising violinist player, she should leave her career because Papachi asked her to leave it.
It was during those few months they spent inViennathat Mammachi took her first lessons on the violin. The lessons were abruptly discontinued when Mammachi’s teacher Launsky-Tieffenthal made the mistake of telling Pappachi that his wife was exceptionally talented and in his opinion, potentially concert class (Roy: 50).
This case is not the only one that shows us the domination of man as a husband on a woman as his wife. The other case is the fact that there were some domestic violence occurred in Mamachi’s family. Papachi, in his life time often beat Mamachi with a brass flower vase. In addition, Papachi insulted Mamachi as she was never allowed to sit in hisPlymouth, until after his death.
The other man who has dominated Mamachi’s life is Chaco, her privileged and Oxfordeducated son. When he returned home after his divorce from Margaret, he takes over Mamachi’s pickle factory and referring to the factory as “… my factory, my pineapples, my pickles” (Roy: 57) without regarding Mamachi who has started and develop the factory beforeChaco returned home.
Facing these facts, Mamachi has done nothing except accepting what have done on her. Whatever her husband has done, as a virtuous woman, she should accept it because it is the obligation of being woman as the culture has ruled her society.
Ammu, the woman in the second generation in the novel is the one who mostly restricted by situation. Because her parents hold the traditional rules ofIndia, she lives as the second. As the matter of fact, her parents give more affection to his brother for being a man than her as a woman. Moreover, after being single mother of two children, her position in society is worse. She has no other choice but live in her parents’ house and wait for marriage proposal.
When the marriage proposal came, Ammu leaves Ayemenem and lives inCalcuttawith his second husband. But, unfortunately, his second husband is unemployed and one day he sold Ammu to his manager. This case caused Ammu do the second divorce that makes her position worse in society. It is because the society believe that a good woman should live with her husband and accept whatever done by her husband. So, divorced woman for them is considered as very bad position that symbolizes the rebellion of un-virtuous woman.
Ammu’s love to Vatutha is also become a forbidden love for being contradict to the cultural law at that time. As explained in the previous sub-chapter, the touchable people or the people who have certain caste will never be allowed to have any relationship to the untouchable people. This is why, Ammu’s love to Valutha cannot be acceptable for both people in Ammu’s caste like Mamachi and Baby Kochama, and also for people in Valutha caste like his father who revealed their secret love to Ammu’s family.
From the character of Ammu, we can learn that Ammu is the woman who tries to rebel the Hindu values and patriarchy system in Indian society. Unlike her mother, she cannot accept the bad attitudes and actions of her husband and prefer the divorce than keeping her marriage. Ammu is also the example of a member of society who breaks the communal laws ofIndia.
Rahel, Ammu’s daughter is the woman who has no place in both her family and society. Living in her grandparent’s house, she does not enable to live like normal child. She lives as the witness of injustice on her mother’s life. As Rahel is growing up unwanted, she never experiences the real Hindu tradition because no one regards her present, so that, Rahel becomes a free woman who unlike her mother, she is not restricted by the mental restriction of the Hindu tradition. This is why, at her return to Ayemenem, she answer an old man who asked about her marital status by “We’re divorced” (Roy: 130), without worrying what will the old man assume about her answer.
Cultural Transformation in Post-Colonial Era
The Colonial has left many effects inIndia. One of it is the cultural transformation. There are some ‘cultural properties’ ofIndiahave been influenced by the colonizer culture. The colonial has made the Indian people regard the colonizer’s culture more than their own.
One example of it is the decrease of the native language inIndia. As we know, language is the important component of culture. Colonialism has made most of Indian people prefer the colonizer’s language than their own language. They honor very much the people who can speak English. They think that English is the symbol of modernism, intellectuality and cultured people. Because of this fact, their ways of thinking begins to follow the colonizer’s way of thinking. They prefer the British’s way of life, style and culture and think that their own is left behind. As we have known, language is the main tool to change one’s ideology. When the ideology was changed, willy nilly the culture will also be changed, sooner or later.
There is the other clear incident that shows how Indian people begin trying to break their own social system. It is when some Karavan people do the demonstration to break the caste system inIndia. This incident is indeed not sponsored by the colonial, but by the teaching of Marxist that is new at that time. But, colonial who has came by education for the Indian people has made the educated Indian are brave to change their own culture that according to them is injustice. They have tried to skip the castes that are coming from the Hindu teaching and replace it with the equality as one idea of Marxist.
Arundhaty Roy’s The God of Small Things is the novel that is rich of cultural values ofIndia in the time after the colonialism. It includes the phenomena of caste, gender and cultural transformation. After comparing these phenomena with the real condition of Indian society in the same time, we can conclude that Arundhaty Roy has excellently captures the condition ofIndia with her novel.
The system of caste inIndiahas big impact to the position of people in society. It becomes the important consideration when someone wants to make relationship with the other people. The discussion about caste in this paper will guide us to understand the symbol of river presented in the novel. The river that is told cutting across in front of Velutha’s house is the symbol of the limit/ boundary between Velutha as the untouchable and Ammu’s family as the touchable once.
Beside the caste, gender is also an important consideration in arranging the position of men and women in Indian society. The gender rule inIndiais influenced very much by the teaching of Hindu that becomes the major religion. The rule has makes the possibilities for man to dominate the woman. And for the people who break this rule, there will be some negative consequences from the society for his/ her like what has happened to Ammu.
The other phenomenon related to the social value in this novel is the appearing of cultural transformation after the colonial era. The colonial has made the Indian people regard the colonizer’s culture more than their own. It can be seen by the fact that the Indian prefer the English than their own language, where as, language is the main tool to change one’s ideology. When the ideology was changed, willy nilly the culture will also be changed, sooner or later.
Roys, Arundhaty. 1997. The God of Small Things. At __________________
Dirks. 1997. Caste in India. At __________
Wadley, Susan and Jacobson, Doranne. 1995. Woman in Hinduism India. At _______________)