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Gender Expectations in "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy

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Throughout the world, many countries face social problems which are usually influenced by the differences between the citizens of that society. Different scenarios can be taken in place when talking about the struggle that many individuals face and that deal with the social problems that are brought upon them. When talking about the struggle that people deal with, the caste system can be shown in contrast to how an entire country can be responsible for the creation of a caste system that often differentiates people based on their occupations and job responsibilities into different castes. This can be displayed when the higher class can walk over the lower-class individuals while the people in the lower class are unable to do anything about it. People belonging to different castes are not the only ones that face discrimination, sexism is also a huge example of discriminatory problems found in many countries where women are treated as individuals less capable than men as they lack the same amount of physical strength, even if they may be more capable in different areas. Many countries as a whole also develop stereotypes that help them place others into a mental class system where one might believe for another person to be a more or less capable individual than themselves. Within the novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy showcases the truthful picture of the troubles of Indian women, specifically their suffering who and what they care about, their anxieties, and under deserved humiliation in a male-dominated society. From a psychoanalytic perspective, Roy uses satire and writing techniques in her novel, The God of Small Things, to communicate certain truths about the source of India’s social problems, such as the caste system and how women are portrayed in India. Roy emphasizes prominent issues that are evident in this novel that including the behaviors of the patriarchal society and the effects of a male-based authority seen in the way Pappachi treats Mammachi. In addition, the novel explores the issue of the inequality of women, which is seen through Ammu, who goes against the gender expectations placed on her by the hegemonic society she lives in. This novel involves the prominent issue that includes the discrimination arising from the caste system, in which a division in the society of social classes was created.

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To begin, the caste system plays a crucial role in India as it originated over two thousand years ago. Roy foreshadows the idea that the concept of difference is imposed on humans and this is conveyed in the caste systems shown in The God of Small Things. In the novel, there are two main social groups: The Untouchables and the Touchables. One of the main characters in the novel, Velutha, is characterized as an untouchable that grew up with the Ipe family and later on in the novel becomes a very qualified carpenter and helps Mammachi in her pickle factory by fixing all the machines. A lot of times throughout the novel, we see Velutha is given some rough punishments than normal for crimes that have not even been proven to be committed by them. An example of this would be how Velutha was being beaten to death even though the police officers did not have any evidence other than Baby Kochamma’s testimony. We see this sense of discrimination against the untouchables repeatedly, but it is most significant in a discussion between Chacko and Comrade Pillai, where Pillai says: But see comrade, any benefits that you give him, naturally, others are resenting it. They see it as a partiality. After all, whatever job he does, carpenter or electrician or whatever it is, for them he is just a Paravan. It is conditioning they have from birth. This I have told them is wrong. But frankly speaking, comrade, Change is one thing. Acceptance is another. You should be cautious. Better for him you send him off. (Roy 264)

Although Comrade Pillai is the head of the Communist Party in Ayemenem, he puts on a false appearance. As the main ideology for comofism is equality for all, Pillai is an example of hypocrisy. We can see a visual example of this of how he wants to see all men being treated equally, but we can see the untouchables being treated as lesser people rather compared to how touchable are treated. As he attempts to change the views of their community, what he truly believes on the inside is not in people’s control. He participates in marches and places laws for his party but when it comes to applying these changes, he turns Velutha away. However, Comrade Pillai is quick to address that even though people may support change, it would not be as easy for them to accept the people that they have been casting aside for as long as they can remember. The caste system has been an Indian tradition for many long decades, and this is considered a part of society where it shows that India’s untouchables are still considered to have the lowest jobs, live in constant fear of public humiliation, and remain disassociated from citizens of the upper-caste. An article published by National Geographic talks about how the police and government and several different villages in India do support the caste system. Reporter Hillary Mayel tells readers, “There have been large-scale abuses by the police, acting in collusion with upper castes, including raids, beatings in custody, failure to charge offenders or investigate reported crimes' (Mayell, Hillary). This research quote supports the extremities of the Caste system as occupations as noble as police officers and government officials are supporting these essentialist ideologies. Many crimes go unreported due to the fear of retribution, intimidation by police, and simply the knowledge that these professions will do nothing to help. The brutality in all of this is that people like police officers and government officials are known for their ability to help citizens in need. Moreover, they swear to an oath to protect and serve the citizens they represent, although knowing that they support such behavior loses all the credibility they have. This relates to the novel since police officers and government officials are similar to Comrade Pillai as they both work for citizens. In conclusion, a caste system is a form of social stratification of the Touchables and the Untouchables in Indian society. This is analyzed through the novel, National Geographic and the lens of the psychoanalytic theory as it is a belief that indicates right or wrong given to citizens by society.

Next, gender discrimination is shown in India since the beginning of time. Roy analyzes the social issue of women in India through The God of Small Things by examining a hegemonic society that has a power structure through male-based authority. To begin, the character Pappachi, the father of Ammu, is seen in the novel as a cruel bitter man. One of his great discoveries that he came upon was that he found a new species of moth, however, the discovery is not credited until after his retirement when the moth is named after another entomologist. The credit of finding out that the species belongs to another entomologist is Pappachi's biggest failure in life, as this resulted in Pappachi taking all of his frustration and anger out on his wife Mammachi, as he constantly abuses her.

Pappachi would not help her with pickle-making because he did not consider pickle-making a suitable job for a high-ranking ex-Government official. He had always been a jealous man, so he greatly resented the attention his wife was suddenly getting. … Every night he beat her with a brass flower vase. The beatings weren’t new. What was new was only the frequency with which they took place (Roy 46).

This quote signifies Pappachi as a husband and a father where it’s evident that he thinks of himself as a man of higher class, someone who should be valued more than a person that works in a pickle-making factory. Moreover, when Mammachi’s business starts becoming successful, instead of acknowledging and appreciating the work Mammachi puts in, his jealousy is channeled through beating his wife. Relating this quote to research conducted by the International Research Center on Women, “Men feel the need to gain as much power and control as they can, they steal away power and control from women. They deny women the right to make decisions so that they can make them for them, leaving women unable to direct their own lives so that they can direct their lives for them. Ultimately, they’re trying to increase their sense of significance and status, to offset the discontent and sense of lack created by humans” (Taylor, Steve). This research was conducted by men in India as it shows that they believe that sometimes women have to be beaten. This is shown as people have accepted this in the society that they live in as it contributes to the factor of how women are to be treated. The beliefs and stereotypical roles put forward by the society include how women must maintain their gender expectations to be accepted in society and be considered female. This research quote can be seen connected within the novel, as where it can be seen that Pappachi feels that Mammachi’s significance in society is higher than his and this results in him inflicting pain on her. Furthermore, as they live in a patriarchal society, Mammachi’s main role is to care for the needs and desires of Pappachi as well as accept her inferiority. As Mammachi did not cater to his needs and did not follow the superstructure designed, it is revealed that the beatings were not new, just more frequent than usual. In conclusion, Pappachi is a character in the novel who portrays the view of men in Indian society, analyzed through research from the International Research Center on Women, and lens of the psychoanalytic theory as a narcissist with an imbalanced ego.

Thirdly, the effects of abuse and lack of freedom that women in India face can be compared to the novel by examining the protagonist’s actions as an individual who experiences the trauma of abuse growing up. One of the main characters, Ammu, is shown as a strong independent woman that grows up with the trauma of abuse in her past. While growing up, Ammu was beaten by her father and this contributed to Ammu's hatred toward the patriarchal society that India consists of. After Ammu's marriage, she finds out that her husband turned out to be an abusive alcoholic that had no respect for her and from this, she leaves him with her twins, Estha and Rahel, and travels back to her original home in Ayemenem. From her failed marriage, Ammu suffers a lot like it as she develops many different personalities. This is evident in the novel when Roy says “What was it that gave Ammu this Unsafe Edge? This air of unpredictability? It was what she had battling inside her. An unmixable mix. The infinite tenderness of motherhood and the reckless rage of a suicide bomber. It was this that grew inside her, and eventually led her to love by night the man her children loved by day” (Roy 44). Ammu is one of the most inspirational characters in the novel as she portrays herself as both a strict and loving mother. She can resist social norms and this is evident in how she was not ashamed of her divorce. Ammu’s ability to resist gender expectations and roles makes her unique when compared to other women in her household as they are all dependent on what others think. Through all this Ammu as an independent woman wants to see her children behave well and grow up in a society where they can be accepted without a dominant living father figure in their household. With all the trauma that Ammu had experienced growing up her positive identity and self-esteem shows that she is still a very contrasting character when compared to typical Indian women. According to the Hindu Business Line, author B. S. Raghavan, tell readers that:

The revolutions in knowledge, information, communications, technology, and social mores seem to have made no difference to women’s perception of themselves as submissive and deferential subordinates, as homemakers, child-bearers and child-readers and generally as the supporting cast, and not as decision-makers and game-changers in their own right. So much so that they would rather silently put up with domestic abuse, including beating and other forms of mental and physical torture, than complain to their parents, leave alone sue the husbands under the provisions of appropriate laws relating to penal offenses or divorce (Raghavan, B. S).

This research quote goes against the equality rights that women want as they are starting to believe that these gender roles are what they are good for. Many women in India that get abused think that keeping silent is another way for them to be okay with the way that they are being treated, however, this can have some negative effects on them not only physically but mentally as well on the way they act and think. In terms of Ammu’s children, Ammu wants to raise Rahel in a way that she can be an independent woman. Indian women are setting an example for their daughters or even sons, illustrating that accepting these forms of abuse is admissible. In contrast, when Ammu is abused by her husband, not only does she divorce him, but she also dares to hit him back with a vase and face her community as well as her family after the terrible mistake of leaving for freedom. In conclusion, the aspect of women in India conveyed through Ammu and other women in the Indian society is analyzed through the Hindu Business Line and lens of the psychoanalytic theory as these women are all attempting to deal with their superego.

Lastly, Caste Discrimination is the most complex human rights issue facing India today. In Indian society, primary younger generation Indians, though largely ignorant about its scope and practice, appear ready and willing to learn about untouchability and work towards its true abolition. The caste system seems to be something that many people in India have accepted and from this, caste discrimination shows to affect the struggle of women that are against exploitation in a male-dominated conservative society. Moreover, Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things” foreshadows the caste problem that is faced by the untouchables in an educated society. It explores the role of politics and its effects on the common men. In “The God of Small Things”, Roy’s character Velutha portrays his black complexion and his low birth suggesting his social inferiority and the resultant segregation and subjection that he is subjected to. The laws of India's caste system are conked out by the characters of Ammu and Velutha, an Untouchable or Paravan. Velutha works at the Paradise Pickles and preserves factory owned by Ammu's family. Yet, because he is an Untouchable, the other workers rail against him and he is remunerated less money for his work. Velutha's occurrence is disquieting to many who believe he proceeds above his station. His father comments on this problem: 'Perhaps it was just a lack of hesitation. An unwarranted assurance. On the way, he walked. The way he held his head. Quietly, he offered suggestions without being asked. Or the quiet way in which he disregarded suggestions without appearing to rebel' (Roy, 73). In the context of this novel, Roy portrays Velutha as someone who doesn’t adopt a different lifestyle simply because he is of an apparent lower class. Velutha doesn’t adhere to the unfortunate limitations placed upon him to the idea of a lower class and he openly acts in a way that implies that he doesn’t regard himself being an inferior person. Hindus believe that being an untouchable is punishment for having been bad in a former life. By being good and obedient, an untouchable can obtain a higher class. Velutha’s lack of triumph causes him many problems throughout the novel. The caste system has been an Indian tradition that dates back to 1200 BCE (BBC), if not further and it is considered a part of society, which shows that it would be hard to change regardless of how many people support it. This idea is supported by the fact, that “Changing an organization’s culture is one of the most difficult leadership challenges. That’s because an organization’s culture comprises an interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communications practices, attitudes and assumptions” (Forbes). The history of a culture can help us understand the problems that one can face when trying to introduce change into a longstanding tradition. Over time a culture develops itself into the roots of the community and different values and processes are developed surrounding that specific culture. After all this time, when one tries to change it, even with the support of all those involved, it can still be a huge challenge as you are not only changing the culture, rather you are changing the mindsets of all the people that you want to impact, something not everyone complies with. When you look at these problems through a psychoanalytic view, it is easy to find that different kinds of shame take part in forming these mentalities. In conclusion, the caste discrimination can be seen connected through the psychoanalytic theory as its beliefs also show signs of resentment since the untouchables start to resent the touchable who caused them to feel shame.

In conclusion, Roy uses to use satire and writing techniques such as the use of rich character voices in the novel The God of Small Things showing strong emotions to address truths about the sources of India’s social problems such as the caste system and the inequality that women face in India, observed through the psychoanalytic lens. As the caste system plays a crucial role in the discrimination of many Indians, the concept of segregation amongst classes can be compared to the concept of supthe ergo as it restricts the way Indians perceive other Indians of the lower class. Even though all of these social problems vary in size and frequency, they came together to form the tragedy that takes place in the novel, which includes a man losing his life for crimes he did not commit, as well as the destruction of countless others.

 

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