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The God Of Small Things

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2926 words Published: 24th Apr 2017

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Intertextuality signifies the inter – connectedness of one text with other texts and it reveals the presence of one text within the other and highlights the fact that no text can have an independent meaning. Every text takes something from the previous texts, and lends something to the future texts. Every text takes something from the previous texts, and lends something to the future texts.

“Intertextuality is the shaping of texts’ meanings by other texts. It can refer to an author’s borrowing and transformation of a prior text or to a reader’s referencing of one text in reading another. ” (Wikipedia).

The term intertextuality was coined by the poststructuralist theorist Julia Kristeva in her article Word Dialogue which was published in 1966. Intertextuality generally signifies that the literary works are not a closed network and are not autonomous in nature. Today, intertextuality is used frequently and it has become a part of our notion as one watching film or TV, reading novel , or experiencing art. Graham Allen describes the concept of intertextuality as one of the central ideas as he argues: ” Texts, whether they are literary or non-literary, as viewed by modern theorists, as lacking in any kind of independent meaning. They are what theorists now call intertextual. The act of reading plunges us into a network of textual relations. To interpret a text, to discover its meaning, or meanings, is to trace those relation [. . .] Meaning becomes something which exists between a text and all other texts to which it refers and relates ” (Allen, Graham., Intertextuality: New Critical Idiom Series. Rutledge Publications, London, 2000, p.1)

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The theory of intertextuality is developed by poststructuralist and postmodern theorists, has become an effective appropriation strategy for postcolonial writers. Postcolonialism is chiefly characterized by questioning and subverting the authority. Pramod K. Nayyar defines postcolonial literature as: ” Postcolonial literatures seek to address the ways in which non-European (Asian, African, South American, but also settler colony) literatures and cultures have been marginalized as an effect of colonial rule, and to find, if possible, modes of resistance, retrieval and reversal of their ‘own’ pre- colonial pasts.” (Nayyar K, Pramod., Postcolonial Literature: An Introduction., 2008, Dorling Kindersley publications, Delhi).

The sense of interconnectedness between different cultures is particularly significant in the postcolonial context, a context which arises due to the meeting of cultures. Arundhati Roy uses global referenced intertextuality to such a great extent in her novel. Intertextuality as a device in literary texts can be deployed at different levels.

Roy makes intertextuality a conscious motif and device. The remark made on the twins in the context of the Kathakali performance: “Trapped in the bog of a story that was and wasn’t theirs. That had set out with the semblance of structure and order, then bolted like a frightened horse into anarchy” (Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New Delhi: India Ink, 1997, p.236). Similarly, a rewriting of texts is suggested in the description of the twins as “Hansel and Gretel in a ghastly fairy tale in which their dreams would be captured and re-dreamed” (Roy, p.293). Roy makes extended references to texts as different as the popular film The Sound of Music (Roy, p.105-11), Heart of Darkness (Roy, p.125-26,199-200,305-06), Chemmeen (Roy, p.218-20), the Kathakali man and his “Great” texts like Kama Shabadam (Roy, p.218-20) and Duryodhana Vadham (Roy, p.229, 234). Many passing allusions are made to texts as disparate as popular soap operas like WWF’s “Hulk Hogan and Mr.Perfect” (Roy, p.28), Shakespeare’s The Tempest, The Jungle Book, The Adventures of Susie Squirrel (Roy, p.58-59), Sinbad the Sailor (Roy, p.80), Julius Caesar (Roy, p.82-83), Ulysses and Penelope (Roy, p.157), the fairy tales about the Three Bears (180) or the Ugly Toad who turns into a handsome prince, Rumplestiltskin (Roy, p.182), Hansel and Gretel, and even literary texts like The Tale of Two Cities (Roy, p.61), The Scarlet Pimpernel (Roy, p.182) and so on (Roy, p.187), a recipe for making jam (Roy, p.195), and the boatsongs of Kerala (Roy, p.196-97). The contexts in which these texts are used are, in general, negative or pessimistic.

Roy in her novel especially in the first few chapters used intertext to create an atmosphere of 1960s. She concentrated on fashion and culture to create that atmosphere. “But the skyblue Plymouth with chrome tailfins was still parked outside..” (Roy, p.2). The reader will eventually realizes that the attributes from the 1950s belong to Kerala and its inhabitants and that many of the attributes from the 1960s the arrival of Sophie Mol with her mother Margaret. “And then they were there, the Foreign Returnees, in wash’n’wear suits and rainbow sunglasses….Maxis and high heels. Puff sleeves and lipstick. Mixy – grinders and automatic flashes for their cameras”(Roy,140).

Chacko’s exwife Margaret and daughter Sophie Mol arrival to Kerala is a turning point to the novel. Ammu, Chacko, Estha, Rahel and Baby Kochamma get into the “… skyblue Plymouth with chrome tailfins …” (Roy, p.2) to pick them up at the airport. The Plymouth car has many symbolic values. “The Plymouth used to belong to Pappachi, Rahel and Estha’s grandfather. Now that he was dead, it belonged to Mammachi, their grandmother” (Roy,35). The grandfather was a man who lived according to the British coloniser’s rules. He was also a patriarch and harassed his family. However, Chacko has taken Pappachi’s role of being the man in the house. The fact that the car is now driven by Chacko, who is a self proclaimed Marxist, which symbolises the new Marxist rulers of Kerala. The car is thus a symbol of entrapment and also it symbolises the delay in modernity in Kerala. This delay in modernity is emphasised at the airport when the family waits for their guests from London.

Estha, Rahel and Ammu are being resistant and suspicious of their guests. This is emphasised by the smell of London and the prosperity brought with the newcomers: “Then, there, among the wash’n’wear suits and shiny suitcases, Sophie Mol…She walked down the runway, the smell of London in her hair. Yellow bottoms of bells flapped backwards around her ankles. Long hair floated out from under her straw hat….”(Roy, p.141). Sophie is a symbol of freedom and therefore a threat to old Keralan values. She represents a breath of fresh air with flapping trouser legs and floating hair. Uncle Chacko’s daughter is only a young girl and still a threat to Esthas and Rahels world. ” Estha was wearing his beige and pointy shoes and his Elvis puff. His Special Outing Puff. His favourite Elvis song was ´Party´. ´Some people like to rock, some people like to roll, ´he would croon, when nobody was watching, strumming a badminton racquet, curling his lip like Elvis. ´But moonin´an´a- groonin´gonna satisfy mah soul, less have a pardy…” (Roy, p.37).

In order to make a good impression on Margaret and Sophie, Baby Kochamma is showing off, pretending she is not as behind the time as the rest of the family: “´Elvis Presley,´ Baby Kochamma said for revenge.´ I’m afraid we’re a little behind the times here.´ Every one looked at Estha and laughed” (Roy, p.145). However, the children’s attraction to Sophie Mol and the modern world is there: “And the three of them, led by Sophie Mol, sashayed across the airport car park, swaying like fashion models, Eagle flasks and Made-in-England go-go bags bumping around their hips” (Roy, p.152).

Further on, in the tragic story, Sophie Mol drowns and at her funeral she is still surrounded by her London-ness: ” She lay in it (the coffin) in her yellow Crimplene bellbottoms with her hair in a ribbon and her Made-in-England go-go bag that she loved” (Roy, p.4). Now her hair is in a ribbon. Modernity and change will perhaps never survive in Kerala. Estha and Rahel’s fear of losing their place in the family is partly explained by the The Sound of Music intertext. Before picking up Margaret and Sophie at the airport in Cochin, the Ayemenem family went to see The Sound of Music. However Chacko and Ammu had different views on the film: “Chacko said that going to see The Sound of Music was an extended exercise in Anglophilia”, while, “Ammu said, ´Oh come on, the whole world goes to see The Sound of Music. It’s a World Hit”( Roy, p.55). Rahel and Estha were on their way to Cochin to see The Sound of Music for the third time. They knew all the songs and to know all the songs is also important to the reader. this time the film would mean something special to the children. Estha and Rahel are scared of loosing their uncle to Sophie Mol and Margaret. They feel as if they are not good enough. In comparison with the children in The Sound of Music, no child would be good enough: “Captain von Trapp’s seven peppermint children had had their peppermint baths, and were standing in a peppermint line with their hair slicked down, singing in obedient peppermint voices…” (Roy, p.110).

Estha is definitely not peppermint clean and he has been molested by the Orangedrink Lemondrink man. Shocked by this experience, Estha wonders if ever a Captain von Trapp, an uncle Chacko or a father could love him and Rahel. Estha imagined that “Captain von Trapp had some questions of his own. (a) Are they clean white children? No. (But Sophie Mol i s.) (b) Do they blow spit bubbles? Yes (But Sophie Mol doesn’t.) (c) Do they shiver their legs? Like clerks? Yes (But Sophie Mol doesn’t) (d) Have they, either or both, ever held strangers’ soo-soos? N…Nyes (But Sophie Mol hasn’t.)” (Roy, p.106).

Apart from Estha’s comparison between him and the peppermint children in the film, there are also several images connected to Baby Kochamma. Baby Kochamma was in her youth very much in love with a Father Mulligan, working in Ayemenem. She decided, at a young age, to become a nun, while waiting for her love for him to be returned. However, the love was never returned and Baby became disillusioned. In The Sound of Music Julie Andrews or Maria is also a nun. The life in the convent does, however, not fit Maria’s personality and neither did it fit Baby Kochamma’s. They both escaped the convent life. Still, Baby Kochamma “liked the early nun bits best” in the film. “Ammu explained to Estha and Rahel that people always loved best what they identified most with” (Roy, p.98).

Although Baby Kochamma escaped the convent life, she somehow still identified with the nuns. She is jealous of other people’s love and happiness, and especially Ammu’s: “They [the nuns] had complaints to make to their Reverend Mother. Sweetsinging complaints. About Julie Andrews, who was still up in the hills, singing The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music and was, once again, late for mass”:

She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee,

Her dress has got a tear.

She waltzes on her way to Mass And whistles on the stair…

And underneath her wimple

She has curlers in her hair! (Roy, p.99-100)

These lyrics will lead the reader back to Baby Kochamma’s feelings about Ammu and Ammu, a divorced woman, who should feel shame and guilt over her failures, does the contrary and is in love. ” She subscribed wholeheartedly to the commonly held view that a married daughter had no position in her parent’s home. As for a divorced daughter – according to Baby Kochamma, she had no position anywhere at all. And for a divorced daughter from a love marriage, well, words could not describe Baby Kochamma’s outrage.” (Roy, p.45). Thus, within the interpretation of The Sound of Music the reader also has to know the intertext Let it Be by The Beatles in order to link Baby Kochamma to the nuns, Julie Andrews to Ammu and jealousy to love.

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Ammu is in love with the untouchable man Velutha. She has known him all her life and although he is untouchable, Ammu’s family has treated him with a certain amount of respect. However, this does not mean that they would accept a relationship between her and Velutha. Therefore, on some days , Ammu cannot help feeling happy, although sad about the fact that he is untouchable for her. She sometimes wakes up to the sound of music, just as anyone being in love does. Still, Ammu knows that the laws say Let it Be. However, as the reader delves further into the plot, Ammu is touched by the untouchable Velutha. Thus, the line “I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me” refers to their nightly meetings. Mother Mary is Baby Kochamma, speaking for the rules given by Christianity and Caste systems and yet, Mother Mary is also love, in the shape of Velutha. Through this maze of imageries the reader can understand how Baby Kochamma hates Ammu.

The novel eventually develops into several tragedies where one of them is the horrifying ending of Ammu’s and Velutha’s relationship and Velutha’s death. There are many coinciding circumstances, although it is Baby Kochamma’s jealousy and personal disappointments that will have the most devastating consequences. In the film, Rolf is the oldest peppermint daughter’s boyfriend. He is a trustedperson, as if he belonged to the family. He becomes, however, a Nazi and betrays the family von Trapp. Sadly, a parallel between him and Baby Kochamma can be found. Baby Kochamma also becomes a betrayer, although she is one in the family (Roy, p.313-320). She turns from a nun into a betrayer. This imagery, it is also linking Baby Kochamma’s betrayal with a negative view on Christianity. There are again a multitude of messages cooperating on different levels in the intertext The Sound of Music.

Uncle Chacko, the self proclaimed Marxist, who in a way is a betrayer as well. From being almost as a father to Estha and Rahel, he turns his back on them when Margaret and Sophie arrive. Uncle Chacko is thus a symbol of Marxist ideas and the Marxist government ruling Kerala at that time, a government picking the ‘best’ apples from the basket of Marxism, just as Chacko does.

The Love in Tokyo intertext was a successful Bollywood film released in 1966. The film plot involves forbidden love affairs just as in The God of Small Things. However, the most important symbol from this intertext is the “two beads on a rubber band” holding Rahels hair together:” Most of Rahel’s hair sat on top of her head like a fountain. It was held together by a Love-in-Tokyo – two beads on a rubber band, nothing to do with Love or Tokyo. In Kerala Love-in-Tokyos have withstood the test of time, and even today if you were to ask for one at any respectable A-1 ladies’ store, that’s what you’d get.” (Roy, p.37)

Rahel and Estha are twins. I get the impression from Roy that twins form a unit, and that when they are separated, they are just halves. They are “Two beads on a rubber band” (Roy, p.37). One of the many tragedies in this story involves Estha being sent away to live with his father, while Rahel stays in Ayemenem. The children do not understand the causes of all the tragedies and as children often do, they blame themselves. When they meet in Ayemenem again, they have not seen each other for twenty years. They have therefore not bean able to deal with their complexes of guilt and separation.

As Rahel saw her brother in the bathroom, she thought of him: “He was a naked stranger met in a chance encounter. He was the one that she had known before life began. The one who had once led her (swimming) through their lovely mother’s cunt” (Roy, p.93). Now, imagine the two beads, Rahel and Estha, being pulled apart as much as it is possible. As the rubber band is at its breaking-point and the puller has to let go, the beads will slip out of hands and by the force of the pulling, crash into each other: “They were strangers who had met in a chance encounter. They had known each other before Life began. There is very little that anyone could say to clarify what happened next. Nothing that (…) would separate Sex from Love. Or Needs from Feelings (…) Only that there were tears. Only that Quietness and Emptiness fitted together like stacked spoons (…) Only that what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief.” (Roy, p.327-328)

Roy uses intertextuality to a great extent in order to give the story a deeper meaning than what it encompasses on a surface level. However, since a deeper meaning can be found in most fictional work when analysing images and metaphors.


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