In The God of Small Things, Roy ingeniously exposes and denounces the politics of the subaltern through questions of corporeality gender and race positioning. She does so, however, in a way that escapes facile dichotomous divisions and obvious essentialist oppositions. At the core of her critique is a social and cultural system that not only stifles individual freedom and social mobility but also, and above all, represses the expressions of the body and the discourses of desire. Arundhati Roy successfully builds a narrative that focuses on bodily encounters that defy authoritative discourses and function as frontiers of cultural and social contacts. “Edges, Borders, Boundaries, Brinks and Limits” (Rao, Pg. 5) are depicted as loci devised by a web of socio-historical relations that the narrative undermines and revises. Roy’s characters, both male and female, and their various forms of displacement, question the cultural inscriptions of the ‘disembodied’ body, thus giving evidence to the permeability of the corporeal entities that are inevitably socially regulated.
The maltreatment of the subaltern is one of the major issues in the novel. The term ‘subaltern’ was popularized by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist in the 1920s and 1930s as a surrogate for the term ‘proletarian class’ in order to counter Fascism. In India, the term was catapulted by the Subaltern Studies Collective writing in 1982 on Southern Asian history and society from a ‘subaltern perspective’. In the preface to Subaltern Studies, Volume I, Ranjit Guha propounded a working definition of ‘subaltern’. “The word subaltern…stands for the meaning as given in the Concise Oxford Dictionary that is of inferior rank. It will be used as a name for the general attitude of subordination in South Asian society whether this is expressed in terms of class, caste, age, gender and office or in any other way”. (34) In the third chapter of the novel entitled “Big Man the Laltain, Small Man the Mombatti” artistically symbolizes the subalternity of Ammu and Velutha. Ammu and Velutha represent the Mombatti whereas those opposing their unorthodox love affair represent the Laltain.
Roy represents the miserable and pathetic condition of untouchables in the novel. In the novel, the laws of Indian caste system broke down by the characters Ammu, the central protagonist and Velutha, an untouchable. Velutha works at the Paradise Pickles and Preserves Factory owned by Ammu’s family. He is an untouchable thus the other workers resent him and is paid less money for his work. Hindus believe that being an untouchable is the punishment of the previous birth. But by being good and obedient, an untouchable can obtain a higher rebirth. Velutha’s lack of complacency causes him various problems throughout the novel. “It was not entirely his fault that he lived in a society where a man’s death could be more profitable than his life had ever been”. (Roy 267)
In Hinduism one believes in rebirth. This is a considerable...