Study Guide

The God of Small Things Mortality

By Arundhati Roy

Mortality

The Loss of Sophie Mol stepped softly around the Ayemenem House like a quiet thing in socks. It hid in books and food. In Mammachi's violin case. In the scabs of sores on Chacko's shins that he constantly worried. In his slack, womanish legs. (1.97)

This quote portrays Sophie Mol's death as the kind of event everyone is constantly reminded of, in the simplest and quietest of ways. It's not something people come right out and talk about.

After the funeral Mammachi asked Rahel to help her locate and remove her contact lenses with the little orange pipette that came in its own case. Rahel asked Mammachi whether, after Mammachi died, she could inherit the pipette. Ammu took her out of the room and smacked her.

"I never want to hear you discussing people's deaths with them again," she said. (2.80-81)

This is the kind of moment that helps shape a kid's understanding of death. Rahel probably didn't mean to be disrespectful or insensitive – she seems pretty matter-of-fact – but Ammu's reaction teaches her that talking about death is inappropriate.

Ammu died in a grimy room in the Bharat Lodge in Alleppey, where she had gone for a job interview as someone's secretary. She died alone. With a noisy ceiling fan for company and no Estha to lie at the back of her and talk to her. She was thirty-one. Not old, not young, but a viable, die-able age. (7.47)

Ammu's death is a lonely and scary experience. It's especially sad the way the narrator points out Estha's absence. Love and warmth are noticeably missing from the scene. What a terrible way to go.

Esthappen and Rahel both knew that there were several perpetrators (besides themselves) that day. But only one victim. And he had blood-red nails and a brown leaf on his back that made the monsoons come on time.

He left behind a Hole in the Universe through which darkness poured like liquid tar. Through which their mother followed without even turning to wave good-bye. She left them behind, spinning in the dark, with no moorings, in a place with no foundation. (9.37-38)

This moment combines the idea of mortality with a deep sense of loss and insecurity. It shows how Velutha's death is the first step in the process of Estha and Rahel losing all the people closest to them. After Velutha dies, the twins lose Ammu and each other. Everything that was once stable in their lives is now gone.

The lovers make a suicide pact, and are found the next morning, washed up on the beach with their arms around each other. So everybody dies. The fisherman, his wife, her lover, and a shark that has no part in the story, but dies anyway. The sea claims them all. (11.56)

This scene comes from the kathakali performance Rahel goes to see. Notice how it echoes images that are significant in Rahel's life – specifically, death by water. Everyone in the kathakali story dies because of the sea. And even though Sophie Mol's death is the only one in the novel that is directly caused by drowning, you could argue that the river is ultimately responsible for the deaths of Velutha and Ammu as well.

When Sophie Mol was old enough to go to school, Margaret Kochamma enrolled herself in a teacher training course, and then got a job as a junior schoolteacher in Clapham. She was in the staff room when she was told about Joe's accident. The news was delivered by a young policeman who wore a grave expression and carried his helmet in his hands. He had looked strangely comical, like a bad actor auditioning for a solemn part in a play. Margaret Kochamma remembered that her first instinct when she saw him had been to smile. (13.87)

We never actually meet Joe – we know him mainly as Margaret's second husband who died. Nevertheless, the scene of his death, shown here, helps makes his loss real to us.

[Margaret Kochamma] took with her to her grave the picture of her little daughter's body laid out on the chaise lounge in the drawing room of the Ayemenem House. Even from a distance, it was obvious that she was dead. Not ill or asleep. It was something to do with the way she lay. The angle of her limbs. Something to do with Death's authority. Its terrible stillness. (13.93)

This moment directly contrasts with the moment at the funeral when Rahel is convinced that Sophie Mol is still alive.

They ran along the bank calling to her. But she was gone. Carried away on the muffled highway. Graygreen. With fish in it. With the sky and trees in it. And at night the broken yellow moon in it.

There was no storm-music. No whirlpool spun up from the inky depths of the Meenachal. No shark supervised the tragedy.

Just a quiet handing-over ceremony. A boat spilling its cargo. A river accepting the offering. One small life. A brief sunbeam. With a silver thimble clenched for luck in its little fist. (16.24-26).

Sophie's drowning is portrayed in a very matter-of-fact way. We don't see her suffering or struggling; she's merely "handed over" to the river. What's terrible about her death isn't necessarily the way she dies – it's the fact that she's dead.

A sparrow lay dead on the backseat. She had found her way in through a hole in the windscreen, tempted by some seat-sponge for her nest. She never found her way out. No one noticed her panicked car-window appeals. She died on the backseat, with her legs in the air. Like a joke. (17.7)

When you think about it, this death resembles the kind of "point-of-no-return" way that Sophie Mol dies. The sparrow enters an unknown territory and never comes out, just as Sophie Mol climbs into the boat and sets out across the river, never to come out alive again.

Father Mulligan's death did not alter the text of the entries in Baby Kochamma's diary, simply because as far as she was concerned it did not alter his availability. If anything, she possessed him in death in a way that she never had while he was alive. (17.24)

There isn't a sense of loss associated with Father Mulligan's death like there is with Velutha's, Ammu's, or Sophie Mol's. As far as Baby Kochamma is concerned, Father Mulligan wasn't available to her in real life, so how are things any different after he's gone? She hasn't really lost anything.