Study Guide

The God of Small Things Family

By Arundhati Roy

Family

Rahel had come to see her brother, Estha. They were two-egg twins. "Dizygotic" doctors called them. Born from separate but simultaneously fertilized eggs. Estha – Esthappen – was the older by eighteen minutes. (1.6)

From the second we meet Estha – in the first pages of the book – we know him as Rahel's twin. Their "twin-ness" isn't just important to the other characters; it shapes the way we perceive them from the very beginning of the novel.

Chacko was Mammachi's only son. Her own grief grieved her. His devastated her. (1.31)

What's key in this quote is the link between Mammachi's reaction to Chacko's grief and the fact that he's her only son. Chacko seems to be up on quite the pedestal. Do you think Mammachi would care about Ammu's feelings in the same way?

"Maybe they're right," Ammu's whisper said. "Maybe a boy does need a Baba." (1.197)

Just as the relationships between the family members we do see matter in this book, the absence of others is also important. Here we see that other people have been telling Ammu that it's not enough for her to play the parts of both mom and dad to Estha. Even she is starting to doubt that she's done a sufficient job.

"Ammu," Chacko said, his voice steady and deliberately casual, "is it at all possible for you to prevent your washed-up cynicism from completely coloring everything?"

Silence filled the car like a saturated sponge. "Washed up" cut like a knife through a soft thing. The sun shone with a shuddering sigh. This was the trouble with families. Like invidious doctors, they knew just where it hurt. (2.238)

Throughout the novel, we see that being related to someone doesn't necessarily mean that you like them or are nice to them. Here we see that Chacko knows exactly how to push Ammu's buttons.

"Feeling hot, baby?" the man like a knot asked Rahel kindly in Malayalam.

Then, unkindly, "Ask your daddy to buy you an Air Condition!" and he hooted with delight at his own wit and timing. Rahel smiled back at him, pleased to have Chacko mistaken for her father. Like a normal family. (2.304-305)

This guy is being a total jerk, but Rahel barely notices it because she's so glad that he sees her family as normal and complete.

Baron von Trapp had some questions of his own.

(a) Are they clean white children?
No. (But Sophie Mol is.)
(b) Do they blow spit bubbles?
Yes. (But Sophie Mol doesn't.)
(c) Do they shiver their legs? Like clerks?
(d) Yes. (But Sophie Mol doesn't.)
(e) Have they, either or both, ever held strangers' soo-soos?
N...Nyes. (But Sophie Mol hasn't.)

"Then I'm sorry," Baron von Clapp-Trapp said. "It's out of the question. I cannot love them. I cannot be their Baba. Oh no."

Baron von Clapp-Trapp couldn't. (4.130-140)

OK, even if you find the kids' preoccupation with The Sound of Music silly, this moment might just be one of the most quietly heartbreaking episodes of the book. Not only do we see that Estha wishes he had a father, he can't even imagine a father capable of loving him. Estha's stomach might be in knots right now, but our hearts are totally in pieces.

"My daughter, Sophie," Chacko said, and laughed a small, nervous laugh that was worried, in case Margaret Kochamma said "ex-daughter." But she didn't. (6.82)

Chacko hasn't seen his daughter since she was a tiny baby. He's still her biological father, of course – nothing's going to change that – but it's pretty clear he's not her "dad," as Sophie will later tell the twins. This moment shows us that Chacko is uneasy and uncertain of his role in Sophie Mol's life.

Ammu turned back to Estha and Rahel and her eyes were blurred jewels.

"Everybody says that children need a Baba. And I say no. Not my children. D'you know why?"

Two heads nodded.

"Why. Tell me," Ammu said.

And not together, but almost, Esthappen and Rahel said:

"Because you're our Ammu and our Baba and you love us Double."

"More than Double," Ammu said. "So remember what I told you. People's feelings are precious. And when you disobey me in Public, everybody gets the wrong impression." (6.172-178)

Rahel is not the only one who is constantly reminded that others see their family as nontraditional. We can see here that Ammu has a difficult line to walk between being tough on her kids, so they can appear to be as good as the next family, and expressing the love she feels for them.

The day that Chacko prevented Pappachi from beating her (and Pappachi had murdered his chair instead), Mammachi packed her wifely luggage and committed it to Chacko's care. From then onwards he became the repository of all her womanly feelings. Her Man. Her only Love. (8.21)

It's OK if you feel a little weird reading this. The narrator is showing us an example of an extremely fine line between familial and romantic love. It seems that Rahel and Estha sleeping together isn't the only moment with overtones of incest in this book; Mammachi's feelings toward Chacko appear to border the romantic, too.

Estha always thought of Pectin as the youngest of three brothers with hammers, Pectin, Hectin and Abednego. He imagined them building a wooden ship in failing light and a drizzle. Like Noah's sons. He could see them clearly in his mind. Racing against time. The sound of their hammering echoing dully under the brooding, storm-coming sky.

And nearby in the jungle, in the eerie, storm-coming light, animals queued up in pairs:

Girlboy.
Girlboy.
Girlboy.
Girlboy
.

Twins were not allowed. (10.44-50)

We catch a glimpse of how Estha's mind works in this quote. He seems to feel like his identity as a twin sets him apart from others, that it's reason enough for others to exclude him. We also get a sense here of how the Love Laws work between Estha and Rahel. The two of them are a pair, but not one that society will allow to be together. In a way, this moment foreshadows the incest they will commit as adults.