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.
Love and Sexuality ThemeTracker
Love and Sexuality Quotes in The God of Small Things
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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!”
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.
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.