Self-Interest as a Driving Force in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things
Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is a novel about how people’s pursuit of their own interests, influenced by the cultural and social contexts in which they live, ultimately determines their behavior. Through utilizing subthemes of self-preservation, the maintenance of social status/the status quo, and power, she portrays Velutha as the only wholly moral character in the story, who, because of his goodness, becomes the target of frequent deception. Roy argues that human nature is such that human beings will do whatever they feel is necessary to serve their own self-interests.
Roy asserts that people’s fears of upsetting the power balance based in the caste system often leads to a blind acceptance of the status quo and a continuous sense of self-deprecation by individuals at the bottom of the hierarchy. When Velutha’s father fears that his son’s affair with a Touchable will have potentially disastrous consequences for him, he serves his own self-interest and is willing to endanger is son. He exposes the affair to the grandmother of the woman his son is having an affair with, revealing the extreme degree to which caste and conforming to societal norms drive the behaviors of individuals in Indian society; “So Vellya Paapen had come to tell Mamamachi himself. As a Paravan and a man with mortgaged body parts he considered it his duty…they had made the unthinkable thinkable and the impossible really happen…Offering to kill his son. To tear him limb from limb” (242). His fear of disrupting the status quo (i.e. the Indian social hierarchy) is so great that he is willing to sacrifice his own son’s life to protect his own. Rather than considering the genuine love his son might have for Ammu, he puts his own interests before those of Velutha and exposes the affair as an unspeakable wrong that must be stopped at whatever cost necessary. In addition, stating that he “considered it his duty” to notify Ammu’s mother of the affair is proof of the debilitating power of the caste system. Through the voice of Vellya Paapen, Roy conveys that these individuals ultimately hurt those whom they are closest to, due to the fact that they are left thinking that it is in their self-interest to preserve the system that repeatedly limits them, harms them, and oppresses them. Thus, this paradoxical social hierarchy leads to a destructive self-interest, which overpowers most other forces and governs the majority of the decision making of the lower classes.
Self-preservation and the need to maintain a certain status play a major role in how individuals behave. Fulfillment of these desires often comes at the extreme expense of others. When Baby Kochamma, Ammu’s mother, finds out about the affair between her daughter and Velutha, all she can think about is the extent to which their “sin” might affect her own social standing; “He must go,” she said. “Tonight. Before it goes any further. Before we...