God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy shows a surprisingly profound understanding of human nature for such a new author. Her complex novel intertwines the past and present with the subtleties of Indian class and culture to create a rich tapestry of betrayal and spirituality. It is perhaps in her portrayal of the many facets of human betrayal that Roy is at her most proficient and convincing in the novel. Betrayal is a common theme throughout Roy's novel, The God of Small Things, and is seen as adults betray children, society betrays individuals, classes betray castes, and children betray parents, and history and tradition are betrayed.
The impact of betrayal is seen throughout the differing settings of the book; both when the twins are seven years of age in 1969 and when the twins have reached 31 years of age in 1993. Betrayal involves most of the characters in the novel: Rahel, Baby Kochamma, Estha, Chacko, Ammu, Mammachi, Sophie Mol, Murlidharan, and Velutha. As such, betrayal is an important theme within The God of Small Things.
Within The God of Small Things, one of the most disturbing actions of betrayal is that of adults betraying children. One example of such a betrayal occurs with the betrayal by the orangedrink/lemondrink man. In the book, Estha masturbates the orangedrink/lemondrink man, clearly showing the betrayal of childhood innocence. The orangedrink/lemondrink man uses his position of influence and power over Estha to convince her to commit an act that goes against her feelings and beliefs.
For the young twin Estha, his encounter with the orangedrink/lemondrink man becomes marks the end of his innocent and happy childhood, and the beginning of the sad years that follow. As an adult, Estha is haunted by memories of the encounter, and these are often triggered by random words like references to "well-whipped egg white" (thus evoking an image of the orangedrink/lemondrink man's semen). Further, the incest scene at the end of the book clearly demonstrates the betrayal of children by adult figures.
Betrayal takes many forms in The God of Small Things, including the betrayal of the individual by the larger society. The case of Murlidharan accurately describes such a betrayal by society. Murlidharan's profession is, by definition, a service to his larger society. Nonetheless, Murlidharan finds himself homeless. He finds comfort in the small, everyday things, such as his keys and "cupboards, cluttered with secret pleasure" (p. 61).
The betrayal of classes by castes is a powerful form of betrayal in Roy's novel. Velutha is perhaps the most conspicuous example of such a betrayal. Roy describes Velutha as a worthwhile individual, "An excellent carpenter with and engineer's mind" (p.265). However, as an untouchable, Velutha is resented and causes great fear and anger in his coworkers at the Paradise Pickles and Preserves Factory. In daring to work among the "touchables," Velutha betrays the class structure, and is profoundly unsettling to others. Velutha's father notes, "Perhaps it was just a lack of hesitation. An unwarranted assurance. In the way he walked. The way he held his head. The quiet way he offered suggestions without being asked. Or the quiet way in which he disregarded suggestions without appearing to rebel" (73).
The interaction of Ammu and Velutha also shows a profound breaking of social norms. Their affair breaks an ancient taboo against relationships between the untouchable and the 'touchable' classes. In breaking these rules, Velutha has betrayed an ancient, implied code of behavior, thus incurring the wrath of the rest of society. Roy notes that Velutha's actions inspire retaliation that comes from "...civilization's fear of nature, men's fear of women, power's fear of powerlessness"(292). In breaking this code, Velutha becomes less than human to the rest of society. In the end, Velutha's transgressions against the caste system leave him as a man who "left no footprints in sand, no ripples in water, no images in mirrors." (p. 265).
Ammu also suffers greatly for her betrayal of the caste system. She has had an affair outside her community, and this is largely unacceptable. Her ostracism is seen at the funeral of Sophie Mol. Writes Roy, "Although Ammu, Estha and Rahel were allowed to attend the funeral, they were made to stand separately, not with the rest of the family. Nobody would look at them" (p. 5).
Within The God of Small Things betrayal is also seen as children betray parents. Perhaps the most apparent form of this betrayal is when Estha and Rahel lie to their mother. They never really tell Ammu the truth about the death of Sophie Mol, and indeed the reader is left to wonder whether Sophie's death on that December day in 1969 was really an accident. This betrayal and the death of his cousin disturb Estha, creating within him an "uneasy octopus that lived -- and squirted its inky tranquilizer on his past" (p. 12).
While the betrayal of parents by children is seen in the actions of Estha and Rahel, Roy's novel also shows the importance of the betrayal of children by parents. For Pappachi, his betrayal of his wife and children's trust comes out of his frustration resulting from his lack of recognition as an entomologist. It is this frustration that causes Pappachi to regularly beat his wife and children, thus transferring this aggression and anger against the authorities to those he supposedly loves. Pappachi betrays both his wife's and his children's trust as he raises his hand against his family.
The story of Kunti and Karna also reveals a type of parental betrayal. In this myth, Kunti bears her first child out of wedlock, and although she loves him, she must give him away. Years later, Karna confronts his mother's alleged betrayal. Writes Roy, "here were you, he asked her, when I needed you the most? Did you ever hold me in your arms? Did you feed me? Did you ever look for me? Did you wonder where I might be?"
There is also a betrayal of history and tradition depicted in Roy's novel. Roy writes of the Kathakali man, and the profound changes that modernization has brought upon his person. Writes Roy of the traditional glory of the Kathakali Man, "The Kathakali Man is the most beautiful of men. Because his body is his soul. His only instrument. From the age of three he has been planed and polished, pared down, harnessed wholly to the task of story-telling. He has magic in him, this man within the painted mark and swirling skirts" (p. 230). She notes that this former pride has changed dramatically as tradition has died, and his place in society has been destroyed. Writes Roy of his demise, "these days he has become unviable. Unfeasible. Condemned goods. His children deride him. They long to be everything that he is not. He has watched them grow up to become clerks and bus conductors. Class IV non-gazetted officers. With unions of their own. But he himself, left dangling somewhere between heaven and earth, cannot do what they do. He cannot slide down the aisles of buses, counting change and selling tickets. He cannot answer bells that summon him. He cannot stoop behind trays of tea and Marie biscuits. In despair he turns to tourism. He enters the market. He hawks the only thing he owns. The stories that his body can tell. He becomes a Regional Flavour" (page 231).
In Roy's novel, betrayal underlies many of the events and actions that are presided over by the God of Small Things, the god of loss. In The God of Small Things, as the title implies, small things in life build up, and these seemingly insignificant events translate into the behavior of the novel's characters, and impact their lives. Writes Roy, "at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. The…