Note: Here we present the events of the novel in chronological order – not the order in which we read them.
In the anticipation stage, the hero of the novel feels incomplete and hopes for some kind of gratification. For Estha and Rahel, being stuck in the car on a sweltering hot day just trying to get to their favorite movie is an experience full of anticipation. The whole family is apprehensive about meeting Sophie Mol. Despite the distractions on the road (namely, the traffic-stopping march of Communists through the streets), they try their best to keep focused on what's ahead.
In the Dream stage, the hero is set on his or her course, and things seem to be going well. For Rahel and Estha, going to see The Sound of Music is one of the greatest joys they can imagine. They love the movie; they've seen it multiple times and know all the songs. Rahel tries her best to capture this memory and preserve it for the future. This is the last moment of carefree happiness in the novel.
In this stage, things start to go wrong, almost without warning. Rahel and Estha both undergo experiences that rip them from their comfort zone and leave them feeling unsettled and fearful.
To begin with, Estha has to leave the theater to stand in the lobby because he can't stop singing. While he's in the lobby, the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man molests him – he makes Estha touch him you-know-where. This act fills Estha with extreme shame and unhappiness – he feels that he has done something wrong, and thinks what he's done has made him unlovable. It makes him sick to his stomach. What's worse is that the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man knows that Estha lives in Ayemenem and that his family runs Paradise Pickles and Preserves. Estha figures that the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man might come try to find him at any time. This realization fills him with unspeakable fear.
Rahel's experience is totally different. She speaks to Ammu carelessly and rudely, telling her that she should marry the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man if she thinks he's such a nice guy. For a woman like Ammu – who married a man who treated her horribly and is now looked down upon by society for being divorced – these words are supremely hurtful. She tells Rahel that careless words make people love each other less. Rahel is filled with fear not only that Ammu loves her less, but that when Sophie Mol arrives, Ammu will love Sophie more than she loves her. This fear gnaws at Rahel throughout the novel.
In the Nightmare stage, things spin wildly out of control. The day Sophie Mol dies is a day of confusion for the whole family, even before Sophie Mol leaves the house.
When Vellya Paapen comes to tell Mammachi about his discovery of Ammu and Velutha's affair, there's no turning back. Mammachi and Baby Kochamma fear the shame such news will bring upon their family. They lock Ammu away in her room until they can figure out what to do. When Ammu blames the twins for her situation, they decide to run away, and Sophie decides to go with them. The catch is, they want to cross the river, and Sophie Mol is not a strong swimmer like the twins are. When their boat capsizes, they realize with horror that Sophie Mol is dead.
In the meantime, Baby Kochamma gets the police to go after Velutha, and they beat the smack out of him with their batons and boots. The twins see the whole violent scene. All of these events are beyond what any of the characters ever could have imagined, and they all happen in the same day. The events of the day are characterized by an extreme sense of loss of control.
After Sophie Mol's death, nothing will ever be the same for Rahel, Estha, Ammu, or Velutha. The happy part of their lives is over. The four people who love each other the most are separated, for the most part permanently. Velutha dies from his injuries. Estha has condemned Velutha under Baby Kochamma's orders, and, even though Velutha would have died anyway, Estha feels incredible guilt and pain. The family decides to send Estha back to live with Baba. Even Rahel and Ammu are separated, and Ammu eventually dies. Aside from the literal deaths of Ammu and Velutha, a different kind of death is at work here: the permanent loss of the simplicity and happiness that once existed in their lives.