The God of Small Things

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The God of Small Things, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon

Love comes in many forms in The God of Small Things, but it is most important when it crosses divides of society and duty. The relationship between Estha and Rahel is the strongest of the book, as the two are so close as to almost consider themselves one person. Yet when the young Rahel lists the people she loves she does not include Estha, but instead those she is “supposed” to love according to familial duty. Roy emphasizes the “Love Laws” early and often, foreshadowing the importance she will give to love that crosses boundaries of society and tradition. The central example of this is Ammu’s relationship with Velutha, an Untouchable. This relationship is horrifying to the community and leads to Velutha’s death and Ammu’s exile, but it is also the most positive example of romantic love in the novel.

Unfortunately, love and sexuality often take on more violent and oppressive forms, as Mammachi is beaten by her husband and Estha is molested by the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man. Roy ends the novel with Estha and Rahel’s incestuous union after they are reunited, followed by Ammu’s first sexual encounter with Velutha. The poetic descriptions and juxtaposition of these scenes against violence and death gives them greater impact, and through them Roy shows that love can cross divides of politics and hatred. Even though such love can lead to tragedy, it is still incredibly valuable.

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Love and Sexuality ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Love and Sexuality appears in each chapter of The God of Small Things. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Love and Sexuality Quotes in The God of Small Things

Below you will find the important quotes in The God of Small Things related to the theme of Love and Sexuality.
Chapter 1 Quotes

They used to make pickles, squashes, jams, curry powders and canned pineapples. And banana jam (illegally) after the FPO (Food Products Organization) banned it because according to their specifications it was neither jam nor jelly. Too thin for jelly and too thick for jam. An ambiguous, unclassifiable consistency, they said… Looking back now, to Rahel it seemed as though this difficulty that their family had with classification ran much deeper than the jam-jelly question… They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much. The laws that make grandmothers grandmothers, uncles uncles, mothers mothers, cousins cousins, jam jam, and jelly jelly.

Related Characters: Rahel Ipe
Related Symbols: Paradise Pickles & Preserves
Explanation and Analysis:

In the narrative present, Rahel, who has returned to Ayemenem, looks out at her family's old pickle factory and ruminates on its significance. This passage is a good description of how Paradise Pickles & Preserves acts as an important symbol in the novel.

On the simplest level, pickling things is about preserving them, and as Roy has already shown, many things are preserved for years in Ayemenem and the Ipe household (most notably "the Loss of Sophie Mol"). The symbol is complicated, however, with the mention of the illegal banana jam—which is illegal because it can't be defined as strictly jam or jelly. This absurd and humorous fact becomes significant to Rahel in hindsight, as it brings up ideas of breaking boundaries, and shows how far society will go to maintain the status quo: even banning a food just because it doesn't fit into a convenient category. This "small thing" then connects to the "big thing" of love: "who should be loved and how...and how much," a phrase repeated many times in the novel, and one that will become much more important later on.

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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.

“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

She was aware of his libertine relationships with the women in the factory, but had ceased to be hurt by them. When Baby Kochamma brought up the subject, Mammachi became tense and tight-lipped.
“He can’t help having a Man’s Needs,” she said primly.
Surprisingly, Baby Kochamma accepted this explanation, and the enigmatic, secretly thrilling notion of Men’s Needs gained implicit sanction in the Ayemenem House. Neither Mammachi nor Baby Kochamma saw any contradiction between Chacko’s Marxist mind and feudal libido.

Related Characters: Mammachi (speaker), Navomi Ipe (Baby Kochamma), Chacko Ipe
Explanation and Analysis:

Mammachi loves her son Chacko intensely, even with a kind of quasi-romantic love, and so she is initially hurt by his many "libertine relationships" with his factory workers. She eventually decides to accept these affairs, however, although she even goes so far as to pay money to Chacko's lovers so that she can see them as "prostitutes" and thus more easily scorn or ignore them. Mammachi and Baby Kochamma's acceptance of Chacko's affairs as "Men's Needs" that "he can't help" then highlights the extreme double standard in the house and society in general. Chacko's "Men's Needs" are seen as something almost sacred, while Ammu's sexuality (particularly later in the novel) is seen as shameful, sinful, and hateful.

The narrator also rather sarcastically points out Chacko's hypocrisy in these affairs, as he likes to play at being a Marxist, but still enjoys his "feudal" powers. He is the wealthy factory owner, and so can exploit his workers even sexually, undercutting any ideals of worker equality he might profess to hold.

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.

Vellya Paapen began to cry. Half of him wept. Tears welled up in his real eye and shone on his black cheek. With his other eye he stared stonily ahead. An old Paravan, who had seen the Walking Backwards days, torn between Loyalty and Love.
Then the Terror took hold of him and shook the words out of him. He told Mammachi what he had seen. The story of the little boat that crossed the river night after night, and who was in it. The story of a man and woman, standing together in the moonlight. Skin to skin.

Related Characters: Mammachi, Vellya Paapen
Explanation and Analysis:

Vellya Paapen, Velutha's father, weepingly confesses to Mammachi what he has seen—that Velutha and Ammu are having a secret affair. Vellya Paapen surely knows that something terrible will happen to Velutha as a result of this revelation, but in this tragic moment social obligation and the power of cultural norms win out over familial love. As the passage itself says, the conflicted Vellya Paapen ultimately chooses "Loyalty" over "Love." It is because of this confession that "the Terror"—the novel's tragic climax—truly begins.

The scene again shows the lingering strength of the caste system in places like Ayemenem, even though it has technically been abolished for years (at this point in the novel). Vellya Paapen, like Mammachi, remembers the old days when castes were even more rigidly divided, and Untouchables even more ostracized and oppressed, and he has clearly internalized this external oppression to the point that he truly feels that he and his sons are inferior to people like Mammachi. Thus he is willing to betray Velutha to his fate, feeling that Velutha has truly broken a sacred social law by daring to love Ammu.

Chapter 20 Quotes

There was very little that anyone could say to clarify what happened next. Nothing that (in Mammachi’s book) would separate Sex from Love. Or Needs from Feelings…
But what was there to say?
Only that there were tears. Only that Quietness and Emptiness fitted together like stacked spoons… Only that what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief.
Only that once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.

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

This scene is the climax of the novel's 1993 storyline—the day when Estha and Rahel are finally reunited after twenty-three years. After acting distant and wary for a while (and Estha remaining silent, as he now has for years), the twins here lie down together and cry, and then they have sex.

The narrator presents the twins' act as, like their Ammu's affair with Velutha, breaking the "Love Laws" (through committing incest, in this case), but also describes it as being like one person who was split in half becoming whole again. This controversial and ambiguous act is not a "happy ending," certainly, or even a resolution to all the tragedy Estha and Rahel have experienced, but is at least a definitive expression of the "hideous grief" that has haunted the twins for so long. As described in an earlier passage, they never used to even consider themselves separate individuals, but only two parts of one whole, and now they have at least been fully reunited—and can hopefully begin to heal together after this expression of grief.

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.