The God of Small Things

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Pappachi’s Moth Symbol Icon
The actual moth was an insect that Pappachi discovered while he was Imperial Entomologist, and he believed it to be a new species. Later in his life, other lepidopterists decided that the moth actually was a new species, but they didn’t name it after Pappachi and he considers this the greatest failure of his life. The narrator muses that this moth has haunted the family ever since, beginning with Pappachi’s bursts of rage and domestic abuse. In the present day of the novel, Pappachi’s moth becomes an eerie symbol of fear and unhappiness, particularly for Rahel. When something bad happens she feels the moth with “unusually dense dorsal tufts” land on her heart, and when she feels safer or more loved the moth lets go for a while.

Pappachi’s Moth Quotes in The God of Small Things

The The God of Small Things quotes below all refer to the symbol of Pappachi’s Moth. 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 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.

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Chapter 16 Quotes

“Sophie Mol?” she whispered to the rushing river. “We’re here! Here! Near the illimba tree!”
Nothing.
On Rahel’s heart Pappachi’s moth snapped open its somber wings…
There was no storm-music. No whirlpool spun up from the inky depths of the Meenachal. No shark supervised the tragedy.
Just a quiet handing-over ceremony. A boat spilling its cargo. A river accepting the offering. One small life. A brief sunbeam. With a silver thimble clenched for luck in its little fist.

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

Estha and Rahel are trying to run away to the History House, convinced that Ammu has rejected them. Sophie Mol convinces the twins to let her join, and the three children take the small boat across the newly flooded river. The boat tips, however, and Sophie Mol drowns—the event foreshadowed from the novel's start, and the beginning of the powerful, lingering entity of "the Loss of Sophie Mol."

While Sophie Mol's is essentially one of the climaxes of the book, and becomes a long-lasting tragedy for the entire Ipe family, Roy portrays the actual moment of her drowning with her usual method of describing "small things"—a technique here used to poignant and tragic effect. Sophie Mol's death is portrayed as a small and random accident, a "brief sunbeam" extinguished without drama or fanfare. It is only the "big things" that exist at its edges that turn it into such a monumental event.

Pappachi's moth also returns here as a symbol of Rahel's fear and anxiety, as she realizes she has lost her cousin, and that everything is about to change.

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Pappachi’s Moth Symbol Timeline in The God of Small Things

The timeline below shows where the symbol Pappachi’s Moth appears in The God of Small Things. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Pappachi’s Moth
Family and Social Obligation Theme Icon
Indian Politics, Society, and Class Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Change vs. Preservation Theme Icon
Small Things Theme Icon
Earlier in life Pappachi had worked as an “Imperial Entomologist,” and once he discovered a moth he believed was a new species. He was not believed about this until years later,... (full context)
Chapter 4: Abhilash Talkies
Family and Social Obligation Theme Icon
Indian Politics, Society, and Class Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Small Things Theme Icon
...Rahel that when you hurt someone, they love you a little less. Rahel feels Pappachi’s moth land on her heart, and she is terrified that Ammu now loves her less. (full context)
Chapter 6: Cochin Kangaroos
Family and Social Obligation Theme Icon
Change vs. Preservation Theme Icon
...a curtain and won’t come out, as she is afraid of Ammu’s anger and the moth on her own heart. (full context)
Chapter 7: Wisdom Exercise Notebooks
Family and Social Obligation Theme Icon
Change vs. Preservation Theme Icon
Small Things Theme Icon
In 1993 Rahel looks through Pappachi’s study, where mounted moths and butterflies have disintegrated into dust. Rahel reaches into her old hiding place behind a... (full context)
Chapter 16: A Few Hours Later
Small Things Theme Icon
...swim to shore and grab a low-hanging tree, but Sophie Mol disappears. Rahel feels Pappachi’s moth land on her heart as she realizes Sophie is probably drowned. (full context)