Study Guide

The God of Small Things Guilt and Blame

By Arundhati Roy

Guilt and Blame

But worst of all, [Estha] carried inside him the memory of a young man with an old man's mouth. The memory of a swollen face and a smashed, upside-down smile. Of a spreading pool of clear liquid with a bare bulb reflected in it. Of a bloodshot eye that had opened, wandered, and then fixed its gaze on him. Estha. And what had Estha done? He looked into that beloved face and said: Yes. (1.202)

At this point in the book, we still aren't sure what this quote is referring to (Estha's betrayal of Velutha). We do get the overwhelming sense that Estha has been burdened with guilt for an extraordinarily long time for answering "yes" to a question to which he (and we) can be sure he should have said "no."

"Ammu," Rahel said, "shall I miss dinner as my punishment?"

She was keen to exchange punishments. No dinner, in exchange for Ammu loving her the same as before. (4.260)

When Ammu tells Rahel that hurting others' feelings causes them to love you a little less, Rahel feels extremely guilty for speaking carelessly. She tries to take punishment wherever she can to make up for what she's done. The guilt she feels haunts her through Sophie Mol's visit, pressing her to watch Sophie and Ammu closely to make sure that Ammu doesn't start loving Sophie more.

So eventually, though she knew that her friends and colleagues at the school would think it odd – her running back to her first husband just as soon as her second one had died – Margaret Kochamma broke her term deposit and bought two airline tickets. London-Bombay-Cochin.

She was haunted by that decision for as long as she lived. (13.91-92).

This is the kind of thing that anyone would tell Margaret not to blame herself for. How could she have known that Sophie Mol would die in Ayemenem? And yet everyone feels this kind of regret at some point. When was the last time something went wrong and you said to yourself, "if only I hadn't...?"

Margaret Kochamma never forgave herself for taking Sophie Mol to Ayemenem. For leaving her there alone over the weekend while she and Chacko went to Cochin to confirm their return tickets. (13.99)

It's interesting to think about how much blame gets thrown around for Sophie Mol's death. It seems everyone has a part in it. Margaret is willing to blame others, but she still blames herself for coming to Ayemenem in the first place.

It was only later, when the world collapsed around them, after Sophie Mol's body was brought to Ayemenem, and Baby Kochamma unlocked her, that Ammu sifted through her rage to try to make sense of what had happened. Fear and apprehension forced her to think clearly, and it was only then that she remembered what she had said to her twins when they came to her bedroom door and asked why she had been locked up. The careless words she hadn't meant.

"Because of you!" Ammu had screamed. "If it wasn't for you I wouldn't be here! None of this would have happened! I wouldn't be here! I would have been free! I should have dumped you in an orphanage the day you were born! You're the millstones round my neck!" (13.101-102)

Much like a delicious chocolate cake, this quote is made up of layers of guilt. We see Ammu quietly blaming herself for the "careless words" she said to the twins without meaning. By blaming the twins for her circumstances, she is putting guilt on their shoulders, which ultimately pushes them to run away.

[Margaret Kochamma] never forgot her irrational rage at the other two younger children who had for some reason been spared. Her fevered mind fastened like a limpet onto the notion that Estha was somehow responsible for Sophie Mol's death. (13.167)

Margaret Kochamma doesn't even know why Estha might be responsible for Sophie Mol's death. (It was his idea to cross the river, after all.) But that doesn't stop her from blaming the twins and hating them for living while her daughter died.

Three or four times, swimming up through thick layers of drug-induced sleep, [Margaret Kochamma] had actually sought Estha out and slapped him until someone calmed her down and led her away. Later, she wrote to Ammu to apologize. By the time the letter arrived, Estha had been Returned and Ammu had had to pack her bags and leave. Only Rahel remained in Ayemenem to accept, on Estha's behalf, Margaret Kochamma's apology. I can't imagine what came over me, she wrote. I can only put it down to the effect of the tranquilizers. I had no right to behave the way I did, and want you to know that I am ashamed and terribly, terribly sorry. (13.169)

Here, guilt meets blame. Even when she's drugged out of her mind, Margaret Kochamma still blames Estha for Sophie Mol's death and slaps him around...and then she feels guilty about it. Of course, she doesn't admit that she truly does blame Estha – she blames the drugs.

Baby Kochamma looked at them for a long time before she spoke again.

"Your lovely little cousin's body is lying in the drawing room. The fish had eaten out her eyes. Her mother can't stop crying. Is that what you call playing?" (19.38-39)

Baby Kochamma is really, really good at laying on the guilt – especially when her own butt is on the line and she has to find someone else to blame.

"It's a terrible thing to take a person's life," Baby Kochamma said. "It's the worst thing that anyone can ever do. Even God doesn't forgive that. You know that, don't you?"

Two heads nodded twice.

"And yet" – she looked sadly at them – "you did it." She looked them in the eye. "You are murderers." She waited for this to sink in.

"You know that I know that it wasn't an accident. I know how jealous of her you were. And if the judge asks me in court I'll have to tell him, won't I? I can't tell a lie, can I?" (19.42-45)

Wow, how devilishly evil is Baby Kochamma right now? She knows exactly what game she's playing – she has to convince the kids that they're to blame for Sophie Mol's death. Her slow, deliberate way of talking terrorizes them into thinking that they have no other choice but to blame Velutha in order to save Ammu.

[Baby Kochamma] gnawed like a rat into the godown of Chacko's grief. Within its walls she planted an easy, accessible target for his insane anger. It wasn't hard for her to portray Ammu as the person actually responsible for Sophie Mol's death. Ammu and her two-egg twins. (19.101)

Again, if there's one person who's a master at playing mind-games and dispensing blame, it's Baby Kochamma. In moments of disbelief and sorrow, it's easy to pin blame on someone else just to help make sense of what's going on. This is what ends up happening between Chacko and Ammu.