Study Guide

The God of Small Things Versions of Reality

By Arundhati Roy

Versions of Reality

Only Rahel noticed Sophie Mol's secret cartwheel in her coffin. (1.44)

This is Rahel's version of what happens at Sophie Mol's funeral. When Rahel seems to see something that other people don't, we enter a world that is completely hers.

When they lowered Sophie Mol's coffin into the ground in the little cemetery behind the church, Rahel knew that she still wasn't dead. She heard (on Sophie Mol's behalf) the softsounds of the red mud and the hardsounds of the orange laterite that spoiled the shining coffin polish. (1.46)

Seriously, when we first read this we had to stop and wonder for a second: is Sophie Mol really still alive? What clues us in that this might just be Rahel's version of reality is the way she seems to experience the burial herself – she hears the mud covering the coffin as though she's inside it. In order to do this, Rahel has to delve into her own imagination, where anything is possible.

Inside the earth Sophie Mol screamed, and shredded satin with her teeth. But you can't hear screams through earth and stone.

Sophie Mol died because she couldn't breathe.

Her funeral killed her. (1.48-50)

Isn't this a nightmare everyone has had at one point or another? Before we get totally sucked in to this moment and think, "She was buried alive! Oh, the humanity!" and tear out our hair, just take a second to think – is this something the narrator reports objectively, or are we still seeing the funeral through Rahel's eyes?

If we re-read this moment from Rahel's point of view, we learn a couple of things: first, it seems that when Sophie Mol is buried, her death hasn't yet really sunk in with Rahel. Second, if it's the funeral that kills Sophie Mol, then Rahel can't be held responsible – and neither can Ammu or Estha. By creating a new lens through which to view Sophie Mol's death, Rahel can take away some of the blame that's falling on her family's shoulders, if only to alleviate her own feelings of guilt.

Still, to say that it all began when Sophie Mol came to Ayemenem is only one way of looking at it.

Equally, it could be argued that it actually began thousands of years ago. Long before the Marxists came. Before the British took Malabar, before the Dutch Ascendancy, before Vasco da Gama arrived, before the Zamorin's conquest of Calicut. Before three purple-robed Syrian bishops murdered by the Portuguese were found floating in the sea, with coiled sea serpents riding on their chests and oysters knotted in their tangled beards. It could be argued that it began long before Christianity arrived in a boat and seeped into Kerala like tea from a teabag.

That it really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how.
And how much. (1.207-210)

This quote is full of what might seem like obscure references, but what it's basically doing is pushing us to think about what caused everything to fall apart for Estha and Rahel. Did everything come crashing down because Sophie Mol came to Ayemenem? Or do the events of the novel happen as a result of decisions, actions, and rules that were made thousands of years before any of our characters were even born? Do things happen for a reason, because they're part of this huge plan, or do they just happen because the world is fickle like that?

"It was Velutha!" she explained with a smile. "And he had a flag!"

The flag had seemed to her a most impressive piece of equipment. The right thing for a friend to have.

"You're a stupid silly little girl!" Ammu said. (2.247-249)

Here we see how one situation can be viewed in two completely different ways. To Rahel, seeing Velutha with a flag marching in a parade is something to be excited about. Ammu, on the other hand, is not so jazzed – she knows it'll be bad news for Velutha if Chacko and Baby Kochamma find out what he's up to.

[Estha] knew that if Ammu found out about what he had done with the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man, she'd love him less as well. Very much less. He felt the shaming churning heaving turning sickness in his stomach. (4.245)

We can be pretty sure that if Ammu ever found out that Estha was molested, she wouldn't be upset with him. She'd be unbelievably angry at the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man, but she would never actually blame Estha. Yet, in Estha's mind, what happened to him is his fault, and he carries it around as his shame.

"Anything's possible in Human Nature," Chacko said in his Reading Aloud voice. Talking to the darkness now, suddenly insensitive to his little fountain-haired niece. "Love. Madness. Hope. Infinite joy."

Of the four things that were Possible in Human Nature, Rahel thought that Infinnate Joy sounded the saddest. Perhaps because of the way Chacko said it.

Infinnate Joy. With a church sound to it. Like a sad fish with fins all over. (4.310-312)

Here we see the difference between an adult's and a child's version of reality. Chacko is sort of rambling just to answer Rahel's questions so she'll stop pestering him – we even detect a hint of sarcasm in his voice. In Rahel's mind, though, these random words might as well be written in stone. While Chacko says anything is possible, Rahel deems the four things he names as the only things that are possible because they are the only things he mentions.

This quote is a great example of how the novel uses capitalized words to deem certain ideas or names as particularly significant in Estha and Rahel's minds. The fact that "infinite" is misspelled also heightens the mismatch between the adult's pronouncement and the child's understanding.

Ammu touched her daughter gently. On her shoulder. And her touch meant Shhhh....Rahel looked around her and saw she was in a Play. But she had only a small part.

She was just the landscape. A flower perhaps. Or a tree.

A face in the crowd. A Townspeople. (8.48-50)

This moment turns the way Rahel understands her role at home upside-down. All of a sudden, things are totally different than they usually are. Rahel's realization that they're in a "play" shows us that everyone here is playing a part to some extent – they aren't being themselves. Sophie Mol's arrival topples over Rahel's reality; she goes from being one of the leads to being the "nobody" in the background.

[Ammu] was surprised at the extent of her daughter's physical ease with him. Surprised that her child seemed to have a sub-world that excluded her entirely. (8.85)

Here, Ammu sees that Rahel's world is different from the version she had imagined. It seems that up until now, Ammu had never really imagined that there were parts of Rahel's life that she didn't know about and that she even now can't access.

Rahel put on her sunglasses and looked back into the Play. Everything was Angry-colored. Sophie Mol, standing between Margaret Kochamma and Chacko, looked as though she ought to be slapped. (8.218).

This moment is a great example of how Rahel interprets what her senses tell her. Here, the red lenses of her sunglasses make the world look angry to her, but we might guess that that's because she's already angry. And as for the Sophie Mol part – we all know what it's like to see someone else getting all the attention and feeling mad that they don't really deserve it.