An Unsentimental Bildungsroman
When one thinks of childhood, death and sadness are not usually the first words that come to mind. Bildungsroman is defined as a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character. It typically ends on a positive note, with the hero’s foolish mistakes and painful disappointments behind him and life of usefulness ahead (Wikipedia contributors). In this essay, I will argue that The God of Small Things written by Arundhati Roy is in fact an unsentimental bildungsroman that closely depicts the tragic lives of Rahel and Estha and gives the naïve readers who believe childhood consists of laughter and happiness a better understanding of the horrifying experiences that one’s childhood could entail. To understand the significance of Estha and Rahel, the “two egg twins” in the novel, it is important to know their relationship is that of “one”. At the beginning of the story the author makes this very clear. “Esthappen and Rahel thought of themselves together as Me, and separately, individually, as We or Us. As though they were a rare breed of Siamese twins, physically separate, but with joint identities” (4). This statement not only indicates the inescapable linkage these characters have, but also introduces the theme of the novel. Even as adults, there was never a time when they were not communicating, although they were thousands of miles apart. The twins were linked together in a way that no one would ever understand, not even Rahel’s husband. “What Larry McCaslin saw in Rahel’s eyes was not despair at all, but a sort of enforced optimism. And a hollow where Estha’s words had been. He couldn’t be expected to understand that. That the emptiness in one twin was only a version of the quietness in the other. That the two things fitted together. Like stacked spoons. Like familiar lovers’ bodies” (21). The twins’ relationship is so intimately intertwined that they feel each other’s emptiness, sense each other’s desires. Throughout the novel the connection between the two grows and fades, but in the end the two are closer than ever. Giving the readers a strong sense of the characters relationship from the beginning ominously creates the idea that these two are going to suffer extreme tragedy that will split them apart. Besides the love Estha and Rahel share for each other, the most crucial downfall to their tragic childhood is the lack of unconditional family love. If the two twins were accepted for who they were, the events that take place in this novel would have panned out much differently. Baby Kochamma, their Great Aunt proved that family love didn’t exist for these two characters. “In the way the unfortunate sometimes dislike the co-unfortunate, Baby Kochamma disliked the twins, for she considered them doomed, fatherless waifs. Worse still, they were Half-Hindu Hybrids whom no self-respecting Syrian Christian would ever marry.” (44). The only love laws that existed were those that stated who you could love, and how much. There were no love laws that expressed the love you needed for your family. The unconditional love that one needed to feel in order to love oneself. Baby Kochamma is the woman every mother tells their children about; when people aren’t nice to you, it is because they are insecure about themselves. Her lack of British inheritance is the root cause for the hate she feels for the others who lack the same things she does. Throughout the novel Baby Kochamma has a strong dislike towards the twins. She will find any opportunity to humiliate them. They will never be good enough; they will never be Sophie Mol. “That whole week Baby Kochamma eavesdropped relentlessly on the twins’ private conversations, and whenever she caught them speaking in Malayalam, she levied a small fine which was deducted at source. From their pocket money. She made them write lines – “impositions” she called them – I will always speak in English, I will always speak in English. A hundred times...
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