The God of Small Things

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The mother of the twins, an independent woman who is both a loving mother and has an “unsafe edge.” Ammu was beaten cruelly by Pappachi as a child, so she grew up with a natural distrust of patriarchal Indian society. She married Baba to escape Ayemenem, but he was an abusive alcoholic so Ammu left him after the twins were born. Ammu is then disgraced because of her divorce, and she causes a huge scandal by having an affair with the untouchable Velutha. After Sophie Mol’s death Ammu “returns” Estha to Baba, as she can’t afford to keep both twins. Ammu dies of a lung disease four years later, alone in a lodge.

Ammu Quotes in The God of Small Things

The The God of Small Things quotes below are all either spoken by Ammu or refer to Ammu. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family and Social Obligation Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the HarperCollins edition of The God of Small Things published in 1998.
Chapter 2 Quotes

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. To use by night the boat that her children used by day. The boat that Estha sat on, and Rahel found.

Related Characters: Rahel Ipe, Esthappen Yako Ipe (Estha), Ammu, Velutha
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the narrator describes Ammu, the mother of the twins and one of the novel's central characters. Ammu has a seeming contradiction at the core of her very being—she has both "the infinite tenderness of motherhood and the reckless rage of a suicide bomber." It is this contradictory nature that makes her such an intriguing character, but that also brings tragedy, particularly for her children (who depend on her "tenderness of motherhood"). As the novel will explore later, it's also suggested that Ammu's contradictions are seen as an affront to the status quo in her society. Women are not supposed to be "unsafe" or "unpredictable," to express their sexuality and "love by night," and it is this "Unsafe Edge" that brings about Ammu's downfall. Roy also introduces more small things here, repeating phrases in a childlike manner (particularly about the boat) while also hinting at tragedy to come.

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“Stop posing as the children’s Great Savior!” Ammu said. “When it comes down to brass tacks, you don’t give a damn about them. Or me.”
“Should I?” Chacko said. “Are they my responsibility?”
He said that Ammu and Estha and Rahel were millstones around his neck.

Related Characters: Ammu (speaker), Chacko Ipe (speaker), Rahel Ipe, Esthappen Yako Ipe (Estha)
Explanation and Analysis:

In an argument in the car, Chacko defends the twins from Ammu's anger, and in response Ammu lashes out at her brother, accusing him of hypocrisy. And indeed, as the only man in a relatively wealthy family, Chacko is the most privileged member of the Ipes. He has the freedom to play at being a Marxist or a sympathetic uncle, but doesn't have to face any real responsibilities or consequences because of these positions—he can use the jargon of Marxism with his workers while still exploiting them and retaining his wealth and power, and he can be kind to the twins when it's convenient for him, without having to really take care of them or sacrifice anything of himself.

In tragic contrast to Chacko's casual attitude towards his sister, nephew, and niece, Estha and Rahel truly desire Chacko's love. Thus they are presumably very hurt (though the narrator tellingly detaches from their perspectives here) when he so easily and carelessly shifts from defending them to calling them "millstones around his neck." This image—of the children as a deadly, hateful burden weighing someone down—will return later, as Ammu repeats it in one of the novel's climactic scenes.

Chapter 4 Quotes

“D’you know what happens when you hurt people?” Ammu said. “When you hurt people, they begin to love you less. That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.”

A cold moth with unusually dense dorsal tufts landed lightly on Rahel’s heart. Where its icy legs touched her, she got goosebumps. Six goosebumps on her careless heart.
A little less her Ammu loved her.

Related Characters: Ammu (speaker), Rahel Ipe
Related Symbols: Pappachi’s Moth
Explanation and Analysis:

Rahel has just said to Ammu, "Why don't you marry him then?"—referring to the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man (who has also just molested Estha). Because of her fraught history with marriage and the social stigma of being a divorcee in a small, conservative Indian town, Ammu is hurt and offended by this question from her child, and in response she says this quotation to Rahel. As with many of the "small things" of the novel, Ammu's words then become a small phrase that has huge consequences.

Here Ammu is seemingly just trying to punish Rahel and make her feel bad for making Ammu herself feel bad, but the fear of being "loved less" is a real and terrifying one for the twins. This then marks the first appearance of "Pappachi's moth" as a symbol of Rahel's inner anxiety, insecurity, and fear. When she hears Ammu's words, Rahel feels like the moth (described just as Pappachi once described the moth he discovered) land on her heart and chill her with the thought of losing Ammu's love. Because of their history, the twins are already insecure about the strength and constancy of Ammu's love, and her statement here, along with the haunting image of the moth on Rahel's heart, will again lead to tragedy later in the novel.

Chapter 8 Quotes

Suddenly Ammu hoped that it had been him that Rahel saw in the march… She hoped that under his careful cloak of cheerfulness he housed a living, breathing anger against the smug, ordered world that she so raged against… The man standing in the shade of the rubber trees with coins of sunshine dancing on his body, holding her daughter in his arms, glanced up and caught Ammu’s gaze. Centuries telescoped into one evanescent moment. History was wrong-footed, caught off guard.

Related Characters: Rahel Ipe, Ammu, Velutha
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Ammu watches Velutha play with the children, and she sees him as a man, a sexual being, seemingly for the first time. Ammu then thinks about Rahel supposedly seeing Velutha at the Naxalite march, and hopes that he was there—Ammu hopes that even behind his "careful cloak of cheerfulness" Velutha shares her anger at the unjust society that oppresses them both.

As Ammu watches Velutha, then, centuries of caste and gender roles "telescope" into this single moment—another kind of "small thing" affecting many big things. This scene plants the first seed of their forbidden romance, which will break many of the strict rules that Ayemenem society clings to so tightly.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Velutha shrugged and took the towel away to wash. And rinse. And beat. And wring. As though it was his ridiculous, disobedient brain.
He tried to hate her.
She’s one of them, he told himself. Just another one of them.
He couldn’t.
She had deep dimples when she smiled. Her eyes were always somewhere else.
Madness slunk in through a chink in History. It took only a moment.

Related Characters: Ammu, Velutha
Explanation and Analysis:

Velutha discusses the Naxalite march with his brother, and then goes about his chores. He knows he should be afraid that the Ipes (his bosses) saw him there, but he isn't—his anger and the rising anger of exploited workers like him seems to give him new confidence and fearlessness. As he works, Velutha also thinks of Ammu. He tries to hate Ammu because she is wealthy (and an Ipe)—is "just another one of them"—but he finds that he can't. This suggests that Ammu's moment of admiring Velutha was not one-sided—Ammu has also become stuck in Velutha's mind. With this glimpse into Velutha's thought process, then, the narrators shows that he has both the sense of anger at injustice that Ammu hoped he did and a special sympathy (and unwilling romantic attraction) for Ammu herself.

Chapter 11 Quotes

If he touched her he couldn’t talk to her, if he loved her he couldn’t leave, if he spoke he couldn’t listen, if he fought he couldn’t win.

Who was he, the one-armed man? Who could he have been? The God of Loss? The God of Small Things? The God of Goosebumps and Sudden Smiles?

Related Characters: Ammu, Velutha
Explanation and Analysis:

Ammu is napping, soon after the scene in which she was admiring Velutha. As she sleeps, she dreams about a beautiful one-armed man who can only do one thing at a time—"If he touched her he couldn't talk to her," etc. This dream figure is clearly a stand-in for Velutha, though Ammu is seemingly not yet willing or even able to recognize her sudden attraction to him. Importantly, Ammu's dream introduces the novel's title in the text (as the dream man is called the "God of Small Things") and also connects Ammu and Velutha's forbidden love with the theme of small things. Throughout their brief affair Ammu and Velutha will only focus on small things, on "goosebumps and sudden smiles," because the big things surrounding them (like the sexism, classism, etc. that forbids and condemns their romance) are too terrifying and oppressive to face directly.

As the door was slowly battered down, to control the trembling of her hands, Ammu would hem the ends of Rahel’s ribbons that didn’t need hemming.
“Promise me you’ll always love each other,” she’d say, as she drew her children to her.
“Promise,” Estha and Rahel would say. Not finding words with which to tell her that for them there was no Each, no Other.

Related Characters: Rahel Ipe (speaker), Esthappen Yako Ipe (Estha) (speaker), Ammu (speaker), Rahel Ipe, Esthappen Yako Ipe (Estha), Ammu
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrative briefly jumps to a moment after Sophie Mol's death, when Ammu has locked herself in her room with the twins and Chacko batters down the door. In the linear narrative of 1969, Estha and Rahel are in this same bedroom (Ammu has just woken from her nap), and so it's as if the room itself has preserved this memory forever, both backwards and forwards in time—this is a flashback from the scenes of 1993, but a "flash forward" for the plot taking place in 1969.

In another example of Roy's focus on "small things," Ammu concentrates on hemming Rahel's ribbons (even though they "didn't need hemming") instead of directly facing the fact that her life is essentially falling apart around her. The passage also emphasizes the closeness of the twins, a closeness that even Ammu cannot understand. Estha and Rahel don't even think of themselves as separate individuals, but rather as two halves of one whole, a fact that makes their later separation even more tragic and even violating.

Chapter 13 Quotes

“Because of you!” Ammu had screamed. “If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be here! None of this would have happened! I wouldn’t be here! I would have been free! I should have dumped you in an orphanage the day you were born! You’re the millstones round my neck!”

Related Characters: Ammu (speaker), Rahel Ipe, Esthappen Yako Ipe (Estha), Ammu
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Ammu's angry, careless words to her children partly set the novel's "Terror" in motion, causing the twins to try to run away—an act which then leads to Sophie Mol's death and later Velutha's as well. Here Ammu again shows her contradictory, volatile nature, as she longs to be free and independent, but feels bound by her children and her own love for and responsibility to them. Usually this is an internal struggle for her, but in this moment of anger and desperation Ammu gives voice to her darkest thoughts. (Note also that she echoes Chacko's casually cruel phrase from earlier in the book, when he called both the twins and Ammu "millstones around his neck.")

As we've seen before, the twins have a constant sense of anxiety and insecurity, worrying that Ammu doesn't love them, just as earlier Ammu suggested that Rahel's careless words made Ammu love her a little less. Here that fear is seemingly realized, and the twins decide to run away in despair.

Chapter 19 Quotes

The twins looked up at her. Not together (but almost) two frightened voices whispered, “Save Ammu.”
In the years to come they would replay this scene in their heads. As children. As teenagers. As adults. Had they been deceived into doing what they did? Had they been tricked into condemnation?
In a way, yes. But it wasn’t as simple as that. They both knew that they had been given a choice. And how quick they had been in the choosing! They hadn’t given it more than a second of thought before they looked up and said (not together, but almost) “Save Ammu.” Save us. Save our mother.

Related Characters: Rahel Ipe (speaker), Esthappen Yako Ipe (Estha) (speaker), Rahel Ipe, Esthappen Yako Ipe (Estha), Ammu, Navomi Ipe (Baby Kochamma)
Explanation and Analysis:

Baby Kochamma tries to convince the twins to lie and say that Velutha indeed kidnapped them and killed Sophie Mol: repeating the lies that Baby Kochamma herself first told to the police. Baby Kochamma is trying to protect herself, because if it's determined that she lied and Velutha was beaten without reason, then she would be punished—but here she cleverly frames the twins' choice as one of "saving Ammu" or not. If they lie, Baby Kochamma suggests, Velutha (who, she says, will die either way) will take all the blame, and Ammu will be saved—but if the twins deny Baby Kochamma's story, then both they and Ammu will go to jail (supposedly for the murder of Sophie Mol).

When faced with this choice, Estha and Rahel quickly decide to go along with Baby Kochamma, offering just a whisper of "Save Ammu." This small, two-word phrase has vast repercussions, then, as the narrative suddenly steps back and defines this as the moment the twins truly lose their innocence. Their decision to "Save Ammu" clearly haunts Estha and Rahel for years, as they question whether they were really tricked and innocent, or if they knew what they were doing—if they freely chose family over honesty, loyalty over truth, and comfort over suffering.

Chapter 21 Quotes

Even later, on the thirteen nights that followed this one, instinctively they stuck to the Small Things. The Big Things ever lurked inside. They knew that there was nowhere for them to go. They had nothing. No future. So they stuck to the small things.

Related Characters: Ammu, Velutha
Explanation and Analysis:

The final chapter describes Ammu and Velutha's brief love affair, ending on a note of hope and romance despite all the tragedy that we know will follow these events. Once again the "small things" hide the "big things" here, as Ammu and Velutha cling to each present moment, each tiny fragment of their surroundings, to avoid facing the many social, cultural, personal, and historical forces that would divide and crush them. When the two lovers only see the small things, they can briefly forget that he is an Untouchable and she from a wealthy, upper-caste family; that she is a divorcee with two children and he a poor factory worker; that she represents the ruling class and he the rebelling worker class. This is the beauty of Ammu and Velutha's love, and also its downfall—it was only ever a fragile, fleeting thing, and so could never survive the larger forces that seek to destroy it.

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Ammu Character Timeline in The God of Small Things

The timeline below shows where the character Ammu appears in The God of Small Things. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Paradise Pickles & Preserves
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...and strangers from each other. The narrator describes their birth. The twins’ parents, Baba and Ammu, were driving to the hospital when their car broke down, so they had to take... (full context)
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...funeral for Sophie Mol, Estha and Rahel’s cousin and the daughter of their uncle Chacko, Ammu’s sister. Sophie was visiting from England when she died. At the funeral Ammu, Estha, and... (full context)
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After the funeral Ammu and the twins go to the police station, and Ammu asks to see someone named... (full context)
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...when Baby Kochamma acted self-righteously pious even though much of the trouble was her fault. Ammu consulted a “Twin Expert” about separating her children, and the expert said that it would... (full context)
Chapter 2: Pappachi’s Moth
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The narrative picks up in 1969 as Estha, Rahel, Ammu, Chacko, and Baby Kochamma drive in the family’s blue Plymouth to Cochin, where they will... (full context)
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The narrator gives various descriptions of the characters in the car. Ammu currently has no surname, as she can only choose between her ex-husband’s name or her... (full context)
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Ammu is twenty-seven years old, and she remembers her past, mostly her fatal mistake of marrying... (full context)
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After Estha and Rahel were born, Ammu’s husband (Baba) tried to prostitute her to his boss in order to keep his job... (full context)
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The narrator describes Ammu’s “Unsafe Edge,” how on certain days she would seem dangerous and wild, like she had... (full context)
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...“haunt” all his descendants with fear and misfortune. Mammachi still cried when Pappachi died, and Ammu told the twins it was because Mammachi had gotten used to her husband and his... (full context)
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...rolls down the window, leans out of it, and yells for him. Velutha disappears and Ammu and Baby Kochamma pull Rahel back into the car, furious. (full context)
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As they keep waiting the twins think about Ammu telling them the story of Julius Caesar. Estha used to act out the Et tu,... (full context)
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Estha and Rahel blow spit bubbles in the car, which infuriates Ammu, as it reminds her of Baba. Chacko comes to the childrens’ defense, and the angry... (full context)
Chapter 3: Big Man the Laltain, Small Man the Mombatti
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...do, as he has the same habits every day. Rahel follows him to his room, Ammu’s old room, which is obsessively clean. She watches Estha undress, studying his nakedness for familiarity.... (full context)
Chapter 4: Abhilash Talkies
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Back in 1969 the family reaches the cinema hall, which is called “Abhilash Talkies.” Ammu, Baby Kochamma, and Rahel go into the girls’ bathroom and take turns peeing into the... (full context)
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...The people in the audience get angry, but Estha can’t seem to help singing, so Ammu sends him out to the lobby. (full context)
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...these white children who seem more deserving of love than he. Estha gets nauseated and Ammu takes him into the bathroom. He retches and washes his hands and face many times,... (full context)
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The Orangedrink Lemondrink Man is polite and friendly to Ammu, but he also mentions that he knows exactly where Paradise Pickles is. Estha knows that... (full context)
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As they are walking out Ammu compliments the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man’s friendliness, and Rahel unthinkingly says “why don’t you marry him... (full context)
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...his sickness. The family goes up to Chacko’s room, where he is feasting. Rahel asks Ammu to punish her, but Ammu says “some things come with their own punishments.” Then Estha... (full context)
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...for Joe. Rahel can’t sleep either, and she asks Chacko worriedly if it’s possible that Ammu will love Sophie Mol more than she loves the twins. Chacko says anything is possible. (full context)
Chapter 6: Cochin Kangaroos
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...it is the day of Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma’s arrival at the Cochin Airport. Ammu dresses Rahel in a special dress, and Rahel feels like an “Airport Fairy” ready for... (full context)
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...referencing Shakespeare. When Chacko introduces Estha, Estha refuses to say “how do you do” and Ammu furiously promises him a punishment later. Meanwhile Rahel has disappeared behind a curtain and won’t... (full context)
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Ammu then sends the twins off to say hello properly, and they talk briefly with Sophie... (full context)
Chapter 7: Wisdom Exercise Notebooks
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...years before. Estha appears in the doorway but doesn’t say anything. Then Rahel finds that Ammu had hidden something there as well, four old “Wisdom Exercise Notebooks” that the six-year-old twins... (full context)
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Rahel reads through the notebooks and laughs at their childlike stories. Under many of them Ammu had written corrections, and the narrator muses how Ammu never finished her “corrections” in her... (full context)
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On this last visit Ammu had just been fired from her receptionist job for being sick too often, and Rahel... (full context)
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Rahel never saw Ammu alive after that. Ammu died alone in a lodge at age thirty-one. She had been... (full context)
Chapter 8: Welcome Home, Our Sophie Mol
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...and Rahel slips away to play with him. Velutha tosses her up and down and Ammu watches them together, admiring Velutha’s bare torso and smile. She suddenly hopes that Velutha was... (full context)
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Velutha notices Ammu’s gaze, and history is “caught off guard.” Velutha notices “simple things,” such as the fact... (full context)
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...and Margaret Kochamma insensitively asks if that is how men and women kiss here too. Ammu responds sarcastically, saying she feels like part of a “tribe that’s just been discovered,” and... (full context)
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No one knows where Ammu learned her rebelliousness and feminism, as she hadn’t been taught or read about it. She... (full context)
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After Ammu leaves, Kochu Maria cuts the cake and serves a piece to everyone while Mammachi plays... (full context)
Chapter 10: The River in the Boat
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...(so they don’t have to believe in ghosts) and then visit the History House while Ammu is napping. (full context)
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Rahel goes in for her “Gnap” and lies awake until Ammu falls asleep. She imagines Estha waiting for her by the river (holding the Marxist flag... (full context)
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...Estha momentarily forgets the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man. Velutha returns and finds that he thinks of Ammu when he sees the twins now. He joins in their make-believe and then helps them... (full context)
Chapter 11: The God of Small Things
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Meanwhile Ammu is still napping, and she dreams about a beautiful one-armed man who can only do... (full context)
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In real life the twins are actually standing over the sleeping Ammu, worried that she is having a nightmare and trying to wake her up by making... (full context)
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Ammu turns on the radio and it is playing a song about star-crossed lovers lost at... (full context)
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Estha and Rahel start to climb all over Ammu’s body and kiss her, trying to bring her back from the dream-world. Ammu eventually gets... (full context)
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While Ammu is in the bathroom, the narrator elaborates on the bedroom (where Estha and Rahel still... (full context)
Chapter 13: The Pessimist and the Optimist
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...morning of Sophie Mol’s death all three of the children had been missing for breakfast, Ammu was locked in her bedroom, and the river was swollen with a recent rain. Mammachi... (full context)
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...“the Terror” takes over and he tells Mammachi what he has seen – Velutha and Ammu are lovers, and they take a little boat across the river every night to Kari... (full context)
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...tells her the story. Baby Kochamma immediately “blooms,” seeing all this as righteous punishment for Ammu, the twins, and Velutha. Baby Kochamma tells Mammachi they must send Velutha away before the... (full context)
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...that Mammachi’s rage “unspooled.” She imagines her daughter and an Untouchable together and the shame Ammu has brought on the family forever. She, Baby Kochamma, and Kochu Maria trick Ammu into... (full context)
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...she tells Inspector Thomas Mathew that Velutha came to the house and tried to rape Ammu the night before. She says the disappearance of the children and Sophie Mol’s death must... (full context)
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...insane with grief. She only vaguely remembers the following days: Chacko’s presence, the funeral, and Ammu’s eviction from the house. (full context)
Chapter 16: A Few Hours Later
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A few hours later Estha and Rahel decide to run away, taking to heart Ammu’s words that they are “millstones around her neck.” Estha has already equipped the History House... (full context)
Chapter 19: Saving Ammu
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Inspector Mathew says that unless the “rape victim” (Ammu) files a complaint or the children identify Velutha as their kidnapper, Mathew will have to... (full context)
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...no forgiveness for this crime, and that they will have to go to jail and Ammu will too. She then describes the horrors of prison. The only way to lessen the... (full context)
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Baby Kochamma ends her speech by posing the choice as “saving Ammu” or sending her to jail. The children say “Save Ammu,” and the narrator wonders whether... (full context)
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When Ammu went to the police station after Sophie Mol’s funeral, Baby Kochamma became terrified that her... (full context)
Chapter 20: The Madras Mail
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...away on the train to Madras. Estha looks out the window of the train at Ammu and Rahel. The twins won’t realize until years later Ammu’s role in “loving a man... (full context)
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Meanwhile Ammu promises that she will see Estha soon, and she, Rahel, and Estha begin describing their... (full context)
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The narrative then moves back to 1969, the night that Sophie Mol arrives in Ayemenem. Ammu puts the twins to bed early, but they can tell she isn’t angry with them... (full context)
Chapter 21: The Cost of Living
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Later that night Ammu feels restless, and she goes out onto the porch and listens to the radio in... (full context)
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Meanwhile Velutha is floating in the river, thinking about Ammu. He sees her and, as if accepting his eventual fate, swims slowly towards her. Ammu... (full context)
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Afterward Ammu both laughs and cries, and she feels safe in Velutha’s arms despite the danger of... (full context)