Study Guide

The God of Small Things Analysis

By Arundhati Roy

  • Tone

    Alternately Sing-Songy, Brooding, Childlike, and Mature

    The God of Small Things finds our protagonists Estha and Rahel at two very different times of their lives: their childhood, in 1969, and their adulthood, in 1993. As a result, the tone of the novel contains aspects of the childlike and the mature. That isn't to say that the moments of childhood are characterized in a particularly light or fun way, or that adulthood is portrayed in entirely grown-up language. Just as the book itself skips back and forth, so does the tone. For example, the writing often takes on a rhyme-y, sing-songy tone, sounding almost like kids chanting while jumping rope.

    Nevertheless, the moments in which we see this kind of language used are often moments in which serious information is being conveyed. For example, when we find out that the twins are 31, we also learn that Ammu died when she was 31. The narrator darkly rhymes that 31 is "Not Old. Not Young. But a viable die-able age" (1.18-20). Similarly, when we learn about Sophie Mol's "special child-sized coffin," the narrator describes it in a sing-songy manner again: "Satin lined. Brass handle shined" (1.25-26). The cuteness of such sounds and rhymes stands in sharp contrast to the tragic things they are describing. This mix of seriousness and lightheartedness is one way the narrator shows us how complex the events of the novel are for our characters, and how our young protagonists are forced to deal with tough issues at a tender age.

  • Genre

    Family Drama, Literary Fiction

    The God of Small Things revolves around Estha and Rahel's family. We learn about their roots through a series of brief flashbacks, all the way back down the line to the lives of their great-grandparents. The central conflict of the story rests on the death of their cousin, Sophie Mol. What makes this story not just a drama but a family drama is the way the novel explores the effects of Sophie's death specifically on the lives of each member of the family. It pays close attention to the way the family unravels in reaction to the event.

    What characterizes The God of Small Things as a work of literary fiction in addition to a family drama is the complex way the novel unfolds through its focus on the characters. We delve right into the psyches of a number of the characters, and Roy creates a unique perspective for each. Literary fiction tends to focus on style and characterization, and it's hard to find many works that exemplify that as beautifully as The God of Small Things.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    There are a couple ideas to mull over when we think about the novel's title. On one hand, we can focus on the first half of the title and think of the particular person to whom it might refer – the God of Small Things. Who is this person? Well, from Ammu's dream, we get the idea that the God of Small Things represents Velutha, the man whom she loves in spite of the fact that society will never approve of them being together. In her dream (which takes place in Chapter 11 and happens to be entitled "The God of Small Things"), Ammu dreams of a man with one arm who holds her close to him:

    He could only do one thing at a time. If he held her, he couldn't kiss her. If he kissed her, he couldn't see her. If he saw her, he couldn't feel her. (11.5-6)

    When Ammu wakes from her dream, Rahel and Estha are there with her. Ammu notices a curl of shaved wood in Rahel's hair and knows that the kids have been to see Velutha. She also knows something else: "She knew who he was – the God of Loss, the God of Small Things. Of course she did" (11.71).

    Velutha's identity as the God of Small Things is reinforced at the end of the book when we learn about Ammu and Velutha's first romantic encounters. Since they know it's impossible for their love to exist in the real world, they never talk or think about the future, or the "big things"; they stick to the here and now.

    Even later, on the thirteen nights that followed this one, instinctively they stuck to the Small Things. The Big Things ever lurked inside. They knew that there was nowhere for them to go. They had nothing. No future. So they stuck to the small things. (21.68).

    So now that we've thought about who the God of Small Things is, let's take a minute to think about the second half of the title. What exactly are the small things in this book, and why are they important? We've already discussed how the small things sustain Ammu and Velutha's relationship, since thinking about the Big Things is out of the question. But let's also think about the relationship between big and small things in the development of the novel's plot.

    The narrator pays a lot of attention to Sophie Mol's death as the one big central event of the novel. The question that keeps coming up is whether Sophie Mol's death was totally random, or whether a combination of many smaller events made it inevitable that she would die. Maybe it's the small things that cause one big bad thing to happen: Margaret deciding to move out of her parents' house led her to meet Chacko. Estha's singing in the lobby led to his being molested, which in turn led him to want to run away. One small thing Rahel says causes her to worry that Ammu hates her. Somehow, all of the small decisions and events of the novel lead to Estha and Rahel running away from home and bringing Sophie Mol with them, which brings on not only Sophie Mol's, but also Velutha's death.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    One of the most distinctive characteristics of The God of Small Things is the way it jumbles time. We're actually farther ahead in the future on the first page of the book, which plunks us down in 1993, than we are at the end of the book, which shows us a scene in 1969. What's interesting about the ending is that even though it's the end of the book, it's not actually the end of the story. In fact, the end of the book places us at the beginning of things, so to speak.

    Ammu has just left the dinner table on the day of Sophie Mol's arrival and goes outside to listen to the radio and have some alone time. She thinks of Velutha and walks out to the river, part of her expecting him to be there waiting for her. She doesn't see him, but he is there, floating in the water. They end up making love right there on the riverbank, and we learn that they continue to do so every day for the next thirteen days.

    None of the drama surrounding Sophie Mol's death has happened yet. As a result, the end of the novel seems suspended in time. We already know, having read the rest of the book, that the relationship between Ammu and Velutha will lead to their downfall. Here, however, we see a version of their love that isn't tainted by blame or shame; it's just about the two of them, living their lives day by day and step by step. The novel ends with Ammu saying to Velutha, "Tomorrow" (21.82), because that's the only thing she can guarantee him. We've spent the whole book knowing what's going to happen and trying to figure out how it happened, so in a way, the ending of the book is the last piece of the puzzle.

  • Setting

    Ayemenem, Kerala, India, December 1969 and June 1993

    With several brief exceptions, The God of Small Things for the most part takes place in a town called Ayemenem, in Kerala, India. One of the trademarks of the novel is the way it jumps back and forth in time between 1969 and 1993. These jumps in time are just as important in creating the setting of the novel as the geographic space is.

    To begin, let's look at Ayemenem in 1969 when Estha and Rahel are kids. The novel's most important moments take place in this setting. Ayemenem in 1969 appears to be in a state of change, which we can see through the generational differences among the characters. The community is starting to embrace Communism, which seeks to empower the poor and working classes, and to eliminate class and caste distinctions.

    The older characters – Baby Kochamma, Mammachi, and even Vellya Paapen, who is a victim of the caste system – don't seem to be down with the changes that are starting to happen. They long for the time when everybody's place in society was neatly spelled out for them.

    On the other end of the spectrum, you have Rahel and Estha, who are only seven years old and pretty oblivious to social rules. When Rahel sees Velutha waving a communist flag, for example, she sees it more as a cool accessory than a symbol of the social unrest permeating their community.

    Those in the middle generation – Ammu, Chacko, and Velutha – seem to have the most complex relationship with the changing times. They simultaneously feel constrained by the social rules of the past and inspired to rebel against them. Chacko declares himself a Marxist, and Ammu and Velutha embark on a forbidden affair. Maybe it's because the plot events of 1969 take place in such a murky social climate that things seem to go totally out of control for everyone.

    Ayemenem in 1993 is a much different place. There is no longer the same kind of tension between different groups. The whole political climate is way more subdued, and everything that happened before only exists in memory. Everything is quiet. Baby Kochamma and Kochu Maria spend their days side-by-side eating popcorn and watching TV, letting the house fall to pieces around them. Baby Kochamma's garden turns into an overgrown mess. Even the river, once the unstoppable physical force that took Sophie Mol's life, lies quiet. The Ayemenem of 1993 shows us the eerie aftermath of a tumultuous past.

  • What's Up With the Epigraph?

    Never again will a single story be told
    as though it's the only one.
    – John Berger

    If someone were to ask you what happens in The God of Small Things, you might stutter and go, "'s really complicated – just read it." Or you might say [Spoiler Alert!] "OK. There are these twins whose mom loves someone she's not supposed to. Then their cousin comes to visit. The mom gets mad at the twins and they try to run away. Their cousin goes with them and she drowns, and the mom's lover is blamed."

    When it all comes down to it, the central events of The God of Small Things are pretty straightforward. What makes the story so rich and complex is the variety of perspectives that feed into it. The epigraph, which comes from John Berger's 1972 novel G., tells us just that. There isn't just one way of telling a story. Anyone involved in what's happening would tell it differently, see the events in a different way, or place the emphasis on a different aspect of it. While the plot of The God of Small Things is very simple when you break it down, it's made complex by the number of points of view feeding into it. Sure, you can say this is a story about Sophie Mol's death and the repercussions of that event, but by delving into the perspectives of the different characters, we are pushed to consider multiple reasons why it (and all of the ensuing fallout) had to happen.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (5) Tree Line

    We're not going to lie – there's a lot going on in this book, and very little of it is directly to the point. There's a lot of unfamiliar material to process. For example, we didn't really know anything about Marxists in India before reading this book, did you? On top of all of that, the narrative doesn't just shift from one point of view to another; it also swoops back and forth in time. We get the story out of order and are left to piece it together just as we're figuring out what's going on. Seriously, we know the ending before we even meet half the characters!

    That said, this is the kind of book you aren't going to want to put down. You don't need to know all the ins and outs of the Indian caste system, what Anglophilia is, or the political atmosphere in 1969 to be able to identify with the characters and figure out what these things mean to them. (If you're interested, though, check out the "Setting" section!)

  • Writing Style

    Nonlinear, Multi-Perspectival

    There are a couple of things we need to cover when we talk about style in The God of Small Things. One important aspect of the novel's style is the way it takes into account each character's personal history. This is not to say that each character is a protagonist, or that we know each character equally. Like the epigraph tells us, there is more than one way of telling a story. (See "What's Up with the Epigraph?" for more.)

    Even though we largely see the novel from Rahel's perspective, we get a pretty good idea of each character's back-story. This is important because we learn certain things about the characters that are only known to them. Our experience of the story would be totally different if we were only following one person's point of view – we'd be missing out on a lot of key information. One interesting way in which Roy creates a distinct point of view for Rahel and Estha is by capitalizing certain words or phrases. We see how kids envision particular ideas as being very important.

    The other crucial aspect of the novel's style is that the narrative is nonlinear, meaning that we experience the events out of order. We know at the beginning that Rahel and Estha are being reunited as 31-year-olds after being separated over 23 years ago. We know they are the same age now that their mother Ammu was when she died. We know that Sophie Mol is the name of a girl who died when they were kids.

    Then, when we read further, we go back in time and meet these people as living, breathing characters. We know their fate ahead of time, but we have to jump around in time to figure out how the events happened. The novel doesn't just jump back in time once and then move sequentially into the present. Instead, we find ourselves alternately in 1969 and 1993, collecting the pieces of the puzzle until we know in the very last lines of the very last page exactly how we got to the moment we saw play out on the first page.

    The narrator reinforces the concept of knowing what happens before we see it happen when Rahel goes to see the kathakali performance in 1993:

    It didn't matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don't surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover's skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don't. (12.8)

    We're not saying that by making this observation, the narrator is saying that the story he or she is telling is a particularly great one; that's up to us to decide. The key point of this moment, though, is that it draws our attention to the way the story is told in the first place. Like Rahel at the kathakali performance, we jump into the novel at random points in the characters' lives and figure out the story from there.

  • Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

    The History House

    OK, just to clear things up, there are two different versions of the History House in the novel, one metaphorical and one literal.

    The first is the imaginary house that Chacko uses as a metaphor for India's, and the family's, history. He explains to Estha and Rahel that they come from a long line of Anglophiles, but the story of their true family background lies somewhere else:

    They were a whole family of Anglophiles. Pointed in the wrong direction, trapped outside their own history and unable to retrace their steps because their footprints had been swept away. He explained that history was like an old house at night. With all the lamps lit. And ancestors whispering inside.

    "To understand history," Chacko said, "we have to go inside and listen to what they're saying. And look at the books and the pictures on the wall. And smell the smells."

    If you don't get that right away, don't worry – we were re-reading this quote and scratching our heads too. Let's take it one step at a time. When Chacko says the family is made up of Anglophiles, he means they are overly fascinated with all things British ("Anglo" = British, "phile" = love). By identifying with the British, they lose sight of who they really are and where they come from. To understand history – not only their family's personal history, but the broader history of which their family's story is just one small part – they have to seek out ways of learning about the past.

    When Chacko says that history is like an old house at night, with all the lights on and ancestors whispering inside, he suggests that everything they need to know to understand who they are is right in front of them – they just have to look and listen carefully. The problem is, according to Chacko, that they can't go into this house:

    "[…] because we've been locked out. And when we look in through the windows, all we see are shadows. And when we try and listen, all we hear is a whispering. And we cannot understand the whispering, because our minds have been invaded by a war. [...] A war that has made us adore our conquerors and despise ourselves." (2.95)

    Understanding who they are and where they come from is so close to them, and yet just out of their reach. Loving England (the country that colonized India) means loving India, and perhaps even themselves, less.

    Of course, Estha and Rahel don't really understand what Chacko is getting at, and it's OK if we don't either at this point. Since we're getting this moment filtered through their childhood perspective, it seems almost intentional that we should be a bit confused, too. When Chacko talks about history as a house, the twins think he's saying history is a house – a real one. And they think they know exactly which one it is:

    Estha and Rahel had no doubt that the house Chacko meant was the house on the other side of the river, in the middle of the abandoned rubber estate where they had never been. Kari Saipu's house. The Black Sahib. The Englishman who had "gone native." Who spoke Malayalam and wore mundus. Ayemenem's own Kurtz. Ayemenem his private Heart of Darkness. (2.92)

    If there's one most mysterious house in all of Ayemenem, it's the one across the river, in the "heart of darkness" – the darkest, most unknown and unexplored territory around as far as Estha and Rahel are concerned. (For more background on the references in this quote, check out our guide to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.) This is yet another example of Estha and Rahel's childlike version of reality; they take Chacko's metaphor literally.

    Kari Saipu's house, then, becomes the second version of the History House that we encounter in the novel. It even starts to become the History House in our own eyes, since we know that when Estha and Rahel talk about going to the History House they mean going to the long-dead Kari Saipu's abode. The History House, as the site where Velutha and Ammu meet in secret as lovers, where Estha and Rahel hide after Sophie Mol drowns, and where Velutha is nearly beaten to death, becomes an important emblem of the personal history that our characters both witness and experience.

    Pappachi's Moth

    Pappachi's moth takes on several meanings in the novel. On the most basic level, it refers to the insect Pappachi discovers one day and believes to be a yet-undiscovered species. This is the big moment of his career, and, as we find out, "his life's greatest setback was not having had the moth that he had discovered named after him" (2.73). Later in Pappachi's life, some lepidopterists (butterfly experts) decide that it is actually a separate species of moth, but they don't name it after Pappachi – they name it after someone he doesn't even like. As a result, Pappachi is particularly cranky for the rest of his life.

    When we learn the back-story of Pappachi's moth, we also learn that "Its pernicious ghost – gray, furry and with unusually dense dorsal tufts – haunted every house that he ever lived in. It tormented him and his children and his children's children" (2.76). Now, reading this, we don't exactly imagine that the ghostly image of a moth is literally creeping around the house and lurking in dark corners. Nevertheless, Pappachi's moth makes many appearances throughout the novel, specifically in moments when Rahel experiences fear. The narrator usually describes Rahel's fear as the icy feeling of Pappachi's moth's legs and wings upon her heart.

    The first time we encounter Pappachi's moth, Rahel has just insulted Ammu, who responds that careless words cause people to love each other less. Rahel feels a strange sensation she has never felt before:

    A cold moth with unusually dense dorsal tufts landed lightly on Rahel's heart. Where its icy legs touched her, she got goosebumps. Six goosebumps on her careless heart. A little less her Ammu loved her. (4.239-240)

    In instances where Rahel feels more secure and more loved, the moth tends to let go of her heart a little bit. In moments when Rahel feels especially fearful, though, the moth is eerily present. For instance, when Rahel realizes that Sophie Mol has drowned, we don't read anything as direct as "Rahel was terrified." Instead, the narrator shows us her fear by using the symbol of Pappachi's moth:

    On Rahel's heart Pappachi's moth snapped open its somber wings. Out. In. And lifted its legs. Up. Down. (16.18-24)

    We don't know about you, but this moment totally creeps us out – and we're pretty sure it's supposed to.

    Rahel's Watch

    As a child, Rahel wears a toy wristwatch:

    [The wristwatch] had the time painted on it. Ten to two. One of her ambitions was to own a watch on which she could change the time whenever she wanted to (which according to her what Time was meant for in the first place). (2.12)

    So every time Rahel looks at her watch, it's ten minutes to two. Big deal, right? Well, let's think a little deeper and consider the role time plays in the novel. For one thing, it doesn't always work the way we expect it to. Like Rahel and Estha, we experience the present and past almost simultaneously. But when we're in the past, we're in a very specific two-week period, and in the present we're in a very specific span of just a couple of days.

    Unlike most other novels that start at one point and move forward through time at a normal pace, The God of Small Things is, for the most part, frozen in time. We get a little bit of filler information about what happened to Rahel as a young woman, but we don't live through those experiences with her. By the same token, we really never find out what happens in Estha's life in the 23 years that pass between the day he is Returned to Baba and the day he comes back to Ayemenem.

    Just as Rahel's watch has "stopped" permanently and always displays the exact same time, so are the events in the novel frozen. Rahel's watch, then, can be viewed as a symbol of how one brief moment in her life – the days surrounding Sophie Mol's death – was in a way the only time that mattered.

    Paradise Pickles and Preserves

    Along with Rahel's watch, Mammachi's pickle factory can be viewed as another symbol of the freezing of time. The whole purpose of pickling and preserving is to take something with a short shelf life and make it last basically forever. (Or at least until you open the jar and eat what's inside.) It might seem like kind of a stretch to compare, let's say, Sophie Mol to a jar of banana jam, but it doesn't seem to be an accident that the family is in the preservation business. The preservation and persistence of certain memories is central to the novel, and having a pickle factory as a focal point of the house in Ayemenem serves as a constant reminder of this.

  • Narrator Point of View

    Third-Person (Omniscient)

    The narrator of The God of Small Things is not a character in the story, but rather tells the story from a distance. He or she moves the narrative forward by delving into each character's perspective, showing us how things look from where they're standing. This strategy works well with the general style of the writing, where we're picking up bits and pieces of the plot as we go. (For more on this, see "Writing Style"). Similarly, the narrator gives us bits and pieces of information about each character, including information unknown to others – for example, Baby Kochamma's diaries, Estha's private fears, and Velutha and Ammu's long-brewing love.

    That said, even though the narrator approximates the thoughts of a number of characters while staying outside the action (a technique called free indirect discourse – learn to love it!), it's worth noting that we spend a large chunk of the novel following Rahel around, both as a child and as an adult. As a result, it's sometimes easy to slip into thinking that the entire novel is told from Rahel's point of view. In fact, our omniscient narrator manages to get us to experience multiple points of view by the time we turn the last page.

  • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

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

    Anticipation Stage

    The whole family is in the car on their way to see The Sound of Music and to meet Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma at the airport.

    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.

    Dream Stage

    They get to the Abilash Talkies and are about to see their very favorite movie. Rahel feels they are all happy together as family.

    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.

    Frustration Stage

    Estha is molested at the movie theater. Rahel speaks unkindly to Ammu and worries like crazy that everyone will love Sophie Mol more than her. Both twins start to feel massively insecure.

    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.

    Nightmare Stage

    Within the span of a day and a night, Vellya Paapen tells Mammachi about the affair between Ammu and Velutha, Sophie Mol drowns, and the twins watch helplessly as the police ruthlessly beat Velutha.

    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.

    Destruction or Death Wish Stage

    The family is separated for good. Estha is Returned to Baba. Velutha dies. Ammu eventually dies.

    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.

  • Plot Analysis

    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.

  • Three Act Plot Analysis

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

    Act I

    The family goes to Cochin to pick up Margaret Kochamma and Sophie Mol from the airport. On the way, Estha is molested, Rahel wonders whether her mother still loves her, and we see Velutha marching with communists.

    Act II

    Everything explodes around the same time: Vellya Paapen reveals that Velutha and Ammu are having an affair, and Sophie Mol drowns in the river.

    Act III

    Estha is Returned; Ammu gets sick and eventually dies; and Rahel bounces around aimlessly until she is reunited with Estha at the age of 31.