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Analysis

The God of Small Things Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Note: Here we present the events of the novel in chronological order – not the order in which we read them.

Initial Situation

The family drives to Cochin to see The Sound of Music and to pick up Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma from the airport.

As the family drives to Cochin, we get a pretty good sense of the groundwork for what's about to happen. We learn about the political conflicts in the region and the way Indian society dictates a very specific place for each person. We get to know the characters and how they interact. The family is full of anticipation of both the movie and Sophie Mol's arrival. And so are we – nothing has happened yet, but we get the sense that something big is about to.

Conflict

Estha is molested; Rahel insults Ammu.

When the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man molests Estha in the lobby of the movie theater, Estha is filled with two emotions: guilt and fear. He feels guilty because he is convinced that he has done something wrong – something he can never confess or explain to anyone else. He's also fearful because the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man knows where he lives – he can come find Estha whenever he wants.

Rahel, meanwhile, insults Ammu, who replies by telling Rahel that hurting people's feelings makes them love you less. Rahel is terrified that Ammu has already begun to love her less, and this fear affects the way Rahel behaves and feels about herself throughout the novel.

Complication

Rahel is convinced that Ammu doesn't love her. Estha is afraid the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man will come for him. Estha thinks Two Thoughts.

As we discussed in the Conflict stage, Rahel and Estha both undergo experiences at the movie theater that cause them to feel extreme fear. As a result of her careless words, Rahel is convinced that Ammu is beginning to love her less. Estha is terrified of the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man. When they arrive back at the house after picking up Sophie Mol, Estha thinks his Two Thoughts: (1) anything can happen to anyone, and (2) it's best to be prepared (10.28-30). He decides they should get a boat to take them to the History House – just in case.

When Ammu screams at the kids that it's their fault she's locked in her room, the kids take it as a sign that they should get out of there. This stage sets us up for the climax: we learn all of the reasons the twins decide to run away, but the most horrifying events have yet to happen.

Climax

Sophie Mol dies.

We know from the very beginning of the novel that Sophie Mol is going to die. It's mentioned repeatedly and alluded to through different objects and memories. So when the moment actually takes place, it's a pretty big deal. The interesting thing about Sophie's death – and also, perhaps, what makes it so climactic for us as readers – is that when it finally happens, we can't really believe it. Our reaction is sort of like Rahel and Estha's: the moment is startling but quiet. Nothing big or dramatic happens in terms of how she dies; what's big and dramatic is the way Rahel and Estha react, and, likewise, the way we feel upon reading about it.

Suspense

Baby Kochamma goes to see Inspector Thomas Mathew and asks to talk to Rahel and Estha.

After Sophie Mol dies, the police come to the History House, where Estha and Rahel have been hiding without realizing that Velutha is there, too. The police beat Velutha senseless, leaving a pool of blood on the floor and the two kids staring at the aftermath. When Baby Kochamma arrives at the police station, Inspector Thomas Mathew grills her. The kids have said that Velutha didn't do anything bad to them, so in the eyes of the law, Baby Kochamma has brought up a false charge against Velutha. The police have lethally beat him for no apparent reason. This means big trouble for Baby Kochamma unless she can clear her name.

What happens next turns our stomachs. Baby Kochamma gets a moment alone with the twins and tells them that Velutha is going to die anyway, and that she has a plan that could save them and Ammu. She convinces them that if they don't go along with her plan, their mother will die in prison because of what they've done wrong. All they have to do is say yes to the question that the inspector asks them. This episode isn't just a huge moment of suspense for us – it's also suspenseful for the characters themselves: the twins wonder if they'll be able to save Ammu and Baby Kochamma waits to find out whether her plan will work.

Denouement

Ammu and Rahel say goodbye to Estha at the train station.

In the aftermath of Sophie Mol's and Velutha's deaths, and the unraveling of the entire family, Rahel and Ammu take Estha to the train station so he can go live with Baba. This is the last time they will ever see each other. The greatest terrors of the novel are over, but the emotional pain that these three characters feel at the train station will persist. There's nothing else for them to really do at this point but say goodbye. It's a terrible moment for each of them, and it's also a painful one for the reader. Ammu tries not to cry, Estha stops speaking for good as soon as the train rolls away, and Rahel screams uncontrollably.

Conclusion

Estha and Rahel meet again 23 years later, when Baba sends Estha back to Ayemenem.

Rahel comes back to Ayemenem from the United States when she hears that Estha has been re-Returned. Even though Estha still hasn't started talking (we never actually hear him speak as an adult), Rahel and Estha still have a silent way of understanding each other. He knows when she returns: "It had been quiet in Estha's head until Rahel came" (1.92). Similarly, she can sense his presence without even having to turn around to look at him. As adults, Estha and Rahel are left to deal with the grief they've suffered through, both together as kids and individually after they were separated. We don't know what the future holds for them, but we are left to hope that they will somehow find a way to pick up the pieces.

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